Phillies

Manny Machado and Bryce Harper aren't feeling Philadelphia, according to report

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Manny Machado and Bryce Harper aren't feeling Philadelphia, according to report

The baseball world goes into a brief slumber during the period between Christmas Eve and New Year's. Last year at this time, a few minor moves were finalized by teams on Dec. 26, and Wade Davis signed a multi-year contract with the Rockies on Dec. 29, but other than that, there weren't any moves of consequence until mid-January.

Obviously, at this point, the decisions of both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will come in the calendar year 2019. And the longer the Phillies go this offseason with a roster including neither, the more antsy and worried fans are going to get. It's already evident, the unease from a fan base that was expecting at least one of the stars to put pen to paper and join the Phillies.

It's interesting how much the narrative has shifted this offseason and it's again why you can't put much stock in random gossip at the beginning of free agency. Remember when anonymous executives were telling a few national baseball reporters that the Phillies were the heavy favorite to get Machado/Harper and that the entire MLB offseason ran through them? 

That eventually shifted to the more measured sentiment that maybe the Phillies don't get one of them, despite the money they're willing to spend. The Phils cannot force anyone to sign with them, all they can do is offer the most money, which at the end of the day, they probably will for Machado.

The latest bit of info from Joel Sherman of the New York Post won't make anyone around here feel much better.

"Word is neither player particularly likes Philadelphia and both would have preferred the Yankees, who have shown little interest in Harper," Sherman wrote Wednesday.

Machado liked Philly enough earlier this month to make it his third visit in a week that included prior stops to hear the sales pitches of White Sox and Yankees. And if/when the Phillies offer him upwards of $300 million, Machado and agent Dan Lozano will like that too. If nothing else, it will give them leverage. 

And if, at the end of the day, all Machado's camp seeks is leverage from a deep-pocketed team, what else can the Phillies do? 

It's been clear since midseason that Machado would like to be a Yankee. Truth be told, that's where I expect him to land at this point, and I can already envision the introductory press conference with him donning a Yankees cap and saying, "This is where I always wanted to be. All those years playing the Yankees 20 times a year, I knew this was the right fit for me."

The Phillies will likely need to outbid the Yankees to get Machado but there's a limit to everything. They're not going to outbid the Yankees by $100 million over the same number of years under contract, for example, despite the Phils' desperation to land a star. Nor should they need to. If it requires beating the Yankees' offer that substantially, then it shows the player never really wanted to be here, to begin with.

The same four teams continue to hover around the talks for Machado and Harper. The Phillies and Yankees are the two likeliest spots for Machado; the White Sox and Dodgers are the two likeliest spots for Harper.

It would make things interesting if Machado were to sign first with the Yankees. Then, with no star infielder on the board, the Phillies' attention would shift to Harper, creating a bidding war against the Dodgers and White Sox that might be easier to win, and one that doesn't include a strong preference from Harper, at least none that has been made as public as Machado's affinity for the Yankees.

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Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss how Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down at the plate. Is there any connection whatsoever between spring training and regular-season productivity?

This is an important season for Nick Pivetta. Is he ready for it, and what went into naming him the starter in Game 2?

Also, an injury update on Rhys Hoskins.

1:00 — Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down.
3:00 — Any carryover between spring training and real baseball?
6:00 — Why is Nick Pivetta starting Game 2?
13:00 — Phillies want a consistent batting order.
17:00 — Is Odubel Herrera starting to "get it?"
20:00 — Update on Rhys Hoskins.
22:00 — Next Phillie in line for an extension.

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