Most likely 'Mystery Team' candidates for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

Most likely 'Mystery Team' candidates for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado

There is no club — not the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs or any other high-roller — that is as aggressive year to year as "Mystery Team."

No matter which star it is available in free agency or trade, Mystery Team always does its due diligence.

And guess what? Last week, when it came out that the Phillies would meet with Bryce Harper Saturday in Vegas and that the Yankees' interest in Manny Machado was more lukewarm than anything, Mystery Team emerged for Machado's services! This couldn't possibly be a move for negotiating power by Machado's representatives, right? No way.

Yet even though the timing was suspicious, Mystery Team can never be counted out. We have seen far too many examples in recent years of a superstar ending up signing or being traded to a team that was not reported to be after him. And it makes some sense because if you have legitimate interest in a star, it's more beneficial in most cases to fly under the radar and make your move at the very end.

Some high-profile recent examples of Mystery Team getting its man:

• Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees in 2017

• Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks in 2015

• Robinson Cano to the Mariners in 2013

• Albert Pujols to the Angels in 2011

• Cliff Lee to the Phillies in 2010

These were all surprising announcements. Stanton was linked most heavily to the Giants and Cardinals. Pujols was linked most to the Marlins and Cardinals. Many expected Cano to re-sign with the Yankees and Greinke to re-sign with the Dodgers.

This offseason, the teams most publicly after Harper have been the Phillies, Nationals, White Sox and Dodgers, with those last two teams perceived to be far behind the Phils and Nats in terms of willingness to spend what it takes.

The teams most publicly after Machado have been the Phillies and White Sox, with the Yankees now a distant third.

If one of the two superstars ends up with a team not on those lists, it won't be a complete shock. 

Mystery teams for Harper

The mystery teams to watch out for with Harper are the Cubs and Giants, two teams that have had very quiet offseasons for different reasons. 

The Cubs have been quiet because of all their humongous expenditures in recent years (Yu Darvish, Jason Heyward, Jon Lester, etc.) and upcoming deals that will need to be done (Kris Bryant).

The Giants have been quiet because they're already running a high payroll, are not close to being the best team in the NL West, and have a weak farm system.

But Harper has made clear in the past his affinity for both cities, Chicago and San Fran. And quite obviously, he'd be a coup for either team, if they meet his price tag. 

Don't completely count out the Astros, either. They reportedly tried hard to acquire Harper ahead of the 2018 trade deadline. They already have plenty of outfielders (George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp) but Harper is the caliber of player who supersedes need.

Mystery teams for Machado

The Yankees have become such an afterthought over the last two weeks that they've gained Mystery Team status for Machado. Many viewed the signing of second baseman D.J. LeMahieu as the final sign that the Yankees were moving on from the thought of signing Machado. Their infield is crowded with LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres capable of playing second base, Didi Gregorius (when healthy), Torres and Troy Tulowitzki capable of playing shortstop and Miguel Andujar at third base.

But the Yankees have tried all offseason to trade Andujar, who is a below-average defender and may never replicate his offensive success of 2018. So far, no dice. If the Yankees find the right return for Andujar, signing Machado again becomes a real possibility.

The Cardinals, prior to acquiring Paul Goldschmidt, seemed like a contender for Machado. But you don't trade for Goldschmidt to not re-sign him at season's end, and it's unlikely St. Louis commits huge money to both. 

Quite frankly, there just aren't many logical competitors for Machado's services at this point after the Phillies, White Sox and possibly the Yankees.

So many teams just aren't trying to win in 2019 or don't have the money: Orioles, Indians, Tigers, Royals, Twins, Mariners, Rays, Rangers, Blue Jays, D-backs, Reds, Marlins, Pirates. That's nearly half the league.

A dark, dark horse for Machado would be the Padres, who are committed to improving and currently have no starting third baseman. 

Just keep these possibilities in the back of your mind because the "mystery team" thing happens with surprising regularity.

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Phillies reach deal with free-agent starter Drew Smyly, who could help ... a little bit

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Phillies reach deal with free-agent starter Drew Smyly, who could help ... a little bit

The Phillies have reached a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Drew Smyly, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury has confirmed. 

Smyly, 30, became a free agent Thursday when he opted out of his minor-league contract with the Brewers. 

While Smyly should help, he likely won’t be a savior. After not pitching in the majors in 2017 or 2018 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, the lefty struggled with Texas earlier this season before he was released in June. In 51 1/3 innings this season, Smyly had an 8.42 ERA, 1.909 WHIP and a 50.6 hard-contact rate. 

There was a time when Smyly would have been a much bigger get. From 2012 to 2016, with the Tigers and Rays, he went 31-27 with a 3.74 ERA in 156 games (85 starts). 

Here’s what Salisbury said yesterday about the Phillies’ desperation for starting pitching: 

It is well known that the Phillies are in the market for starting pitching. They have spoken to the Texas Rangers about Mike Minor, the Detroit Tigers about Matthew Boyd and the San Francisco Giants about Madison Bumgarner. They have also investigated the possibility of trading for Zack Greinke, Arizona’s high-priced right-hander.

In addition to inquiring about and gauging what it would take to get a top starter — the price is high and the Phils don't want to give up the multiples of top prospects that other clubs are asking for — the Phils have also considered marginal upgrades like Andrew Cashner, who was traded from Baltimore to Boston, and Homer Bailey, who went from Kansas City to Oakland.

Smyly appears to be one of those marginal upgrades. But it won't hurt to have him. 

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Hector Neris answers Dodgers' bombs with an F-bomb

Hector Neris answers Dodgers' bombs with an F-bomb

Phillies closer Hector Neris has been beaten up badly by the Los Angeles Dodgers in his career.

Neris has allowed eight home runs to the Dodgers in his career in just 12 2/3 innings. Most of the home runs have been spectacular shots that have cost the Phillies games, including two of them this season.

Two years ago, Neris gave up three homers in the ninth inning as the Dodgers rallied for a surreal win in Dodger Stadium.

Neris gave up another home run to the Dodgers on Thursday, but he managed to survive it and nail down the save in the Phillies’ 7-6 win.

It was an emotional victory for the Phillies — Gabe Kapler said as much afterward — and Neris’ emotions definitely got the best of him.

As Justin Turner’s game-ending fly ball nestled into right-fielder Bryce Harper’s glove, Neris turned to the Dodgers’ dugout and shouted, “F--- you!”

The Dodgers did not like it. From the dugout, several players stared down Neris. He stared back. Dodgers catcher Russell Martin could be seen inviting Neris to rendezvous in the tunnel for further discussion.

That was the extent of the drama on the field, but Dodgers slugger Max Muncy managed to get in a pretty good verbal lick on Neris during postgame clubhouse interviews.

“He looked right into our dugout, screamed at us, and yelled, ‘F--- you!’ " Muncy told reporters. "He’s blown about eight saves against us over the last two years. I guess he was just excited. He wants to act that way, good for him.”

Neris downplayed the verbal confrontation.

“It was nothing,” he said. “It's the emotion of the series, you know? It's a great win for my team. I just let my emotions get out. I'll just try to be focused on the next series. That's the only thing I have to say about that.

“Just the emotions. Just the game. I'm so happy, I'm so excited for my team to win that game. That's a good team. My team needed that win.”

Neris has given up homers in four of his last five appearances. He blew a save when he gave up a three-run homer in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Dodgers. (The Phils came back to win in the bottom of the ninth.) After the home run, Neris plunked David Freese and was ejected. Neris received a three-game suspension from MLB. He is appealing it.

The season series between the two teams is complete. The Dodgers took five of seven games from the Phillies and out-homered the Phils, 23-7.

That's a lot of bombs.

And one F-bomb.

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