Phillies

Evolution of free agency is hurting players but could help Phillies with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

ap_bryce_harper_manny_machado.jpg
AP Images

Evolution of free agency is hurting players but could help Phillies with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

It's been a strange MLB offseason. Or maybe it's been a normal MLB offseason, by the current standards. 

Here we are on Jan. 10 and the top three players on the free-agent market (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, A.J. Pollock) remain unsigned and the best catcher (Yasmani Grandal) was forced to take a one-year deal. 

The "middle class" of baseball players is no longer getting paid like it was from around 2007-16. Front offices are smarter now and more shrewd with their investments. It means fewer albatross contracts and probably more profits for owners ... but does that benefit the common baseball fan in any way?

Consider this: Free agency opened 73 days ago and there is only one position player who has signed a contract guaranteeing more than $10 million over at least three years. Andrew McCutchen. That's it. Just five years ago, this is the kind of contract teams were giving fifth starters like Scott Feldman.

It's a decline from even last offseason, which was a bad one for players. Last year, seven such contracts were given to position players. This offseason, Harper and Machado will obviously get them but will anyone else? At this point, a guy like Pollock might find it more worthwhile to take a high-priced one-year deal and re-test the market next year. It's what Grandal did by agreeing Wednesday to a one-year, $18.25 million deal with the Brewers, a contract nobody would have seen coming at the beginning of the offseason.

Another ominous sign for players looking to cash in: There are reportedly no more than four teams seriously pursuing either Harper or Machado. By most accounts, it's the Phillies, Yankees and White Sox after Machado and the Phillies, Nationals and Dodgers after Harper. That could change if a mystery team swoops in, but so far, neither race includes as many competitors as expected.

Part of that is because contenders like the Cubs and Indians aren't looking to add payroll and teams like the Giants, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Rangers are retooling. You can't really blame those latter four teams because they're more than one Bryce Harper away from seriously contending. (Then again, the same could be said of the White Sox and perhaps the Phillies.)

According to USA Today, the White Sox offer for Machado is around $200 million. Before your jaw drops, we don't know how many years were involved in that offer. If it's five years, $200 million, that's a fair annual salary for Machado. If it's 8 years, $200 million, they should've been laughed off the phone or out of the room.

When the offseason began, nearly the entire baseball world expected Machado and Harper to get between $300 million and $400 million. MLBTradeRumors, which does a good job forecasting contracts, projected a 14-year, $420 million deal for Harper. An offer close to that now seems remote.

Unless the pace and competitiveness of free agency changes, the Phillies have even less of an excuse to not land one of the two megastars.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.

 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

A group of Phillies prospects was in town this week for the organization’s annual prospects education seminar.

One of those lessons came from a legend.

Brian Dawkins, the most motivational athlete this city has ever seen, shared with the group his thoughts on playing in Philadelphia and responding to the passionate fan base.

“Playing in Philadelphia is different,” Dawkins said. “If you get on the field, there is a 99.99 percent chance you will be booed. The thing I always knew though was that you may boo me that one time but I’m not gonna make the same mistake again.”

The group included Alec Bohm, the Phillies’ top offensive prospect, and Cristopher Sanchez, a pitching prospect with a 100 mph arm profiled here by Jim Salisbury.

Check out the video here if you’re seeking some extra juice at the gym or just want to see Weapon X drop some jewels.

More on the Phillies