Phillies

Source: Phillies plan to meet with Bryce Harper even as they await Manny Machado's decision

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Source: Phillies plan to meet with Bryce Harper even as they await Manny Machado's decision

The New Year has arrived and the Phillies remain one of at least three teams serious about signing free-agent infielder Manny Machado.

Machado visited with the White Sox, Yankees and Phillies before Christmas. Those clubs — and any mystery teams — were told to submit offers before the New Year. Given the way the negotiating game goes, those were probably preliminary offers with the bidding now ramping up as Machado focuses on a decision that is expected to come in the next week or two.

Even while they negotiate with Machado, the Phillies remain interested in outfielder Bryce Harper, the other megastar on this winter’s free-agent market. In fact, a person close to the player tells NBC Sports Philadelphia that a face-to-face meeting between Harper and Phillies officials is being planned for “the next week or so,” in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas. Phillies officials met with Harper’s representative, Scott Boras, at the winter meetings in Las Vegas last month. The player was not in attendance at that meeting.

Machado remains the Phillies’ primary focus, but competition for him is stern. The Yankees are high on Machado and he is high on playing for them — he has been for a long time. The Yanks could even offer Machado a chance to play shortstop, his favorite position, for a good chunk of the coming season as Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery. The Yanks have signed veteran infielder Troy Tulowitzki. The signing is seen as inexpensive insurance should the team fail to sign Machado. It also could be a negotiating signal to Machado that the Yankees won’t wait forever.

The Phillies like the idea of using Machado at third base and would probably have to significantly outbid the Yankees to land him. The Phillies have been gearing for this offseason for years and have the resources to do just that — if Machado would say yes to their offer.

The Phillies remain interested in adding a top reliever to the back end of their bullpen — they have interest in Zach Britton, another Boras client — and a left-handed starting pitcher. But at the moment, their focus is Machado — with Harper, as evidenced by the planned face-to-face meeting, beginning to enter the picture.

Stay tuned. The New Year has dawned and this thing is heating up.

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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

Earlier in the week, we looked at three Phillies pitchers entering make-or-break seasons, players who will need to push their careers forward in 2019 to maintain the role they want and/or currently have.

On to a couple hitters:

Roman Quinn

Quinn came up at the end of July and had a nice six-week run with the Phillies, hitting .345/.375/.560 with six doubles, three triples, two homers and seven steals. He also added a new dynamic in center field, with better speed, instincts, range and a stronger throwing arm than Odubel Herrera.

He went ice cold to end the season, going 5 for 47 with 21 strikeouts in his final 16 games, but the real make-or-break aspect of Quinn's upcoming season won't be the avoidance of a slump but the avoidance of a long-term injury.

Quinn will be 26 on May 14. The most plate appearances he has had in any season is 382 in 2014. In three of the four seasons since, he hasn't reached 300.

Quinn has dealt with so many injuries throughout his career. He's been through a torn Achilles, a torn left quad, a concussion, a strained ligament in his elbow and torn ligament in his right middle finger. 

It's not as though Quinn would face being released if he can't stay healthy this season. Even at 26, he's still inexpensive and cost-controlled for at least another five seasons. But this is the first real opportunity he's had to start on opening day. The Phillies are relying on him, maybe not to play every day but to play a lot in an outfield that also includes Andrew McCutchen, Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. (If the Phils sign Bryce Harper, a trade of an outfielder would be the next logical move.)

If Quinn can play 120-plus games this season, reach 350-400 plate appearances and exhibit his trademark speed and defense with pop sprinkled in like it was last August, he can change the course of his career and what the Phils can realistically expect from him. He can turn himself into an everyday player for the Phils and a top-of-the-order table-setter.

Odubel Herrera

Herrera is already down in Clearwater working out. Smart move. He understands how important Year 5 is for him. 

Herrera is coming off by far his worst season as a major-leaguer. After hitting .288/.344/.430 from 2015-17, he hit .255/.310/.420 in 2018. He did set a career-high with 22 homers, but nearly every other offensive number plummeted. Herrera hit only 19 doubles after hitting 42 the prior year, and he stole only five bases, two years after swiping 25.

Aside from that, Herrera had a series of gaffes on the basepaths and in the field, the kind that can swing games and frustrate teammates. His level of concentration needs to improve, and already being in Clearwater in mid-January as opposed to living it up somewhere else is a good sign. It shows he's focused more on the 2019 season than soaking up every last bit of his offseason.

Herrera's value is lower than it has been the previous three years, but all it would take to reset that conversation for a while is a strong first half. In 2016, he had an excellent first half that led to an All-Star appearance. In 2015 and 2017, he had strong second halves, hitting .329 and .323. When he's going well, Herrera is able to take pitches but also be a bad-ball hitter who uses all fields. When he's not going well, Herrera gives many at-bats away and can be as easy to retire as Ryan Howard used to be during a cold spell.

"Consistency" is an oft-used word in sports that applies to very few athletes. Rare is the player who goes through an entire season without straying too far one way or the other from his baseline. Almost everyone is inconsistent, to a degree. Herrera's inconsistency is more dramatic, and if it remains that way this season in a healthy Phillies outfield, he could very easily lose out on playing time to Quinn, McCutchen and Williams. It's just a different situation in the Phils' outfield than it was the last four seasons with more ready-to-go talent.

We've seen enough of the good Herrera to believe he has the offensive skill set to hit .300 with 30 doubles and 20 homers in a season. For the Phillies to truly contend in a tough NL East, they will need a season like that, regardless of whether they land one of the free-agent superstars.

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At The Yard Podcast: Latest on Harper, Machado and one eye on Mike Trout

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At The Yard Podcast: Latest on Harper, Machado and one eye on Mike Trout

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss the latest with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado's free agency. Which rumors are true? Which rumors are just noise?

What is the potential of the starting rotation? What could the outfield look like with or without Harper?

Also, we're keeping one eye on Mike Trout. When should the Phillies begin their pursuit of the best player in baseball?

1:00 - The latest on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
4:00 - Jim thinks the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees and Cardinals are in on Harper and/or Machado.
10:00 - Are the White Sox serious contenders for Machado?
15:00 - The guys answer questions from the audience.
19:00 - Difference Machado would make defensively.
25:30 - Opening day outfield without Harper.
31:30 - Is baseball's offseason too slow?
35:00 - Keeping an eye on Mike Trout.

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