Bryce Harper hysteria mounts for Phillies as Manny Machado mania ends

Bryce Harper hysteria mounts for Phillies as Manny Machado mania ends

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies officials started daydreaming about the possibility of putting Manny Machado in red pinstripes a couple of years ago. They tried to trade for him in July. They hosted him as a free agent at Citizens Bank Park in December, wined and dined him in Center City and subsequently made him multiple contract offers.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Phils' long pursuit of the Gold Glove infielder ended.

General manager Matt Klentak got a phone call from Machado's agent, Dan Lozano. Machado was ready to move on a contract offer from the San Diego Padres, later reported to be worth $300 million over 10 years.

Did the Phillies want to stay in the game?

"There's a certain value that we believe a player brings and we were willing to be aggressive," Klentak said in a meeting with reporters later in the day. "If the reports are true, then this contract will exceed our valuation and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away.

"We've made no secret. We're really happy for Manny. We like the player. I think San Diego will be a very good fit for him. We made our bid, put our best foot forward and he ended up signing with the Padres.

"Over the course of four months, we had ongoing dialogue. We were certainly engaged with Danny throughout and Manny would have been a good fit, but again, you have to draw the line somewhere. The Padres are getting a great player."

Klentak would not say what the Phillies' best offer was. He shook his head "no" when asked if he would have done anything differently during the negotiations.

According to sources, Machado had been coveted by the Phillies' baseball operations and analytics staffs. Both believed that in this free-agent market, he offered the best possible roster upgrade because he is an elite defender at third base in addition to being a top offensive talent.

But news of Machado's decision was not met with disappointment in all circles of the Phillies organization and it certainly was not met with disappointment by the fans.

The folks in the box office have favored this winter's other big free agent, Bryce Harper, over Machado, whose controversial comments in October about not hustling created concerns about how he'd be received by hard-nosed Philadelphia sports fans.

Harper remains the overwhelming free-agent choice of the fans, and Machado's decision to play in San Diego, coupled with the Phillies' desire to make a big free-agent score in this winter of stupid money, puts enormous public pressure on the club to land the 26-year-old outfielder.

Klentak was asked if he'd spoken with Harper's agent, Scott Boras, in the wake of the Machado news.

"I'm not going to answer that," he said.

It is difficult to imagine the opportunistic Boras not having reached out to the Phillies after Machado's signing. Phillies officials met with Boras and Harper in Las Vegas in January and the two sides remain in contact. In fact, there has been an uptick in conversation between the two sides recently.

All along, observers of this free-agent drama have believed that Machado would sign before Harper. Now that Machado has set the bar, Harper will try to jump over it. There is some industry thought that he is seeking $326 million, which would put him above the $325 million that Giancarlo Stanton got in a contract extension with the Miami Marlins.

The White Sox, Giants and Nationals, along with the Phillies, have had interest in Harper. But can any other team play in the neighborhood of $300 million? The White Sox said they weren't willing to go that high for Machado. The Giants' interest seems tied to a short-term deal. The Nats reportedly offered $300 million to retain Harper in October, but there are questions about whether the offer still exists after a busy winter of transactions in Washington.

The Phillies are very leery about bidding against themselves. That caution might have hurt them in their bid to sign Machado. It could hurt them in their quest to land Harper. By the same token, they could be rewarded if they remain patient on Harper because it is very difficult to identify which teams are really in on him. This might be a field of just one.

Klentak would not say what the Phillies' valuation of Harper is. He would not discuss what the "walk-away" point would be on Harper, though there clearly would be one.

The Phillies have largely had a productive offseason. They got better with Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. But from Day 1, this offseason was about landing one of the big ones and there's only one of them left. Gulp.

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Timing getting better for Bryce Harper, who strokes two singles

Timing getting better for Bryce Harper, who strokes two singles

CLEARWATER, Fla. — While most of his teammates traveled to Florida's east coast for a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, Bryce Harper stayed back in Pinellas County and got some extra at-bats in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex.

Harper, who had gone hitless in his first eight official at-bats of the spring, batted four times and stroked his first two singles of the spring in a game against a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team. Both were hard-hit balls to the right side of the diamond.

One day earlier, Harper joked about going hitless in his first five games with the Phils. After his first hit Monday, he playfully called back to the dugout to see if someone could retrieve the ball as a souvenir.

Harper also grounded out and struck out in the minor-league game. He played four innings in right field.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto and reliever David Robertson also appeared in the minor-league game.

Hitting coach John Mallee liked the way Harper swung the bat.

"His timing is getting better and he's starting to put the ball on the barrel more," Mallee said.

Harper will continue his defensive work on Tuesday. He will also track pitches in the bullpen. That can be valuable for a hitter trying to get his eyes ready for the season.

Harper is expected to start in right field when the Phillies host the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater on Wednesday.

On the road, the Phillies lost, 4-1, to the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla. 

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As the Phillies limped to the finish line with 20 losses in the final 28 games last season, some players basically checked out.

"I think in September our players could have been more engaged," manager Gabe Kapler confirmed to reporters in Jupiter, Fla., on Monday. "With the players I thought could have been more engaged, those conversations were had. I addressed every situation that clearly needed to be addressed last year in appropriate settings."

Kapler spoke in response to an ESPN story that told of how Carlos Santana smashed a television at Citizens Bank Park after seeing a couple of teammates playing a video game during a ballgame against the Atlanta Braves on the final weekend of the season.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta did not deny that some team members played video games in the clubhouse last season. He added that he did not believe video games were played during games.

Kapler said he was unaware of any of his players playing video games while the baseball game was in progress — "That's unacceptable, 100 percent," he said — but he did not deny that Santana trashed some equipment in the video room.

"In the middle of the summer, the chemistry of the clubhouse was very good," said Kapler, whose club was in first place in the NL East in early August. "As we struggled at the end, understandably, tensions ran high. When that happens, players tend to react. 

"Carlos became frustrated as happens in high-tension situations. He responded by smashing up some TVs. I don't think that's uncommon. I don't think it's uncommon to see players get frustrated in high-tension situations. That happens in every clubhouse environment. "

Kapler said he spoke personally with Santana after the incident and addressed the team in a meeting. The manager opened spring training last month by saying he planned on having more clubhouse boundaries in his second season.

"We are putting steps in place to ensure that when tensions run high again, players communicate and look out for each other," Kapler said. "I care deeply about our clubhouse culture and we are collectively doing everything we can to continue to monitor these situations, and to improve that."

On Monday, Rhys Hoskins defended his manager and said the incident involving the video games and Santana's reaction was not a poor reflection on Kapler's leadership.

What does Kapler think?

"When things aren't going the way that they should, it is always my responsibility to step up and be accountable for those things," Kapler said. "And I will do that in this situation as well."

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