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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Aaron Nola not in Phillies camp; will Zack Wheeler start opener?

Aaron Nola not in Phillies camp; will Zack Wheeler start opener?

It has been widely assumed that Aaron Nola will make his third straight opening day start when the Phillies begin their shortened 2020 season later this month.

But now you have to wonder if things might be shaping up for Zack Wheeler to make that start.

Nola has not participated in either of the Phillies' first two workouts since training camp opened — re-opened might be a better way to put it — on Friday.

"He is not here yet," manager Joe Girardi said Saturday. "We're trying to work our way through that."

Nola is said to be working out, throwing, locally. It's unclear why he has not worked out with the club, though many things are unclear in the age of COVID-19. Girardi is prohibited from discussing anything related specifically to COVID-19.

Center fielder Adam Haseley has also missed the first two workouts. He is also said to be working out locally, away from the team.

Girardi did say Haseley's absence was "due to a medical condition. We're trying to work through it and get him here."

Ditto for non-roster catcher Christian Bethancourt, who, despite being absent from the 60-man player pool, is still part of the organization, according to Girardi.

Already, the Phillies are without pitchers Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris and second baseman Scott Kingery. All are on a special COVID-19 injured list.

If you're keeping score at home, the Phillies have yet to see their potential opening day starting pitcher, their second baseman and their center fielder. That's not exactly good for the strength-up-the-middle philosophy. At least shortstop Didi Gregorius worked out for the first time Saturday. Catcher J.T. Realmuto is in camp and working out, as well.

Given that Nola has been throwing, it's still possible he could make the opening day start in three weeks. But if he's delayed much longer getting into camp, Wheeler could jump in. The right-hander threw to hitters on Saturday and his next outing could come in an intrasquad game, according to Girardi. That could put him considerably ahead of Nola.

"I thought he looked pretty good," Girardi said of Wheeler's work on Saturday. "I think in a lot of ways, pitchers might be ahead of where they would be in a normal spring training when it comes to the volume, but what they're missing is having a hitter in there and competing. 

"That's what our concern is about, being sharp and being able to get out of jams and those sorts of things. But I thought he looked pretty good today. His next outing, I'm not sure what it'll be, if it'll be another bullpen, a simulated game, or even an intrasquad but he should be able to go further as long as he wakes up and feels good."

It's not a given that Wheeler would be the opening day starter if Nola doesn't get enough time to prepare with the team. Wheeler's wife is due to give birth around the time of the July 23 or 24 opener. He will leave the team for a few days to be with his wife. But if the birth doesn't happen until a day or two after opening day, Wheeler could make that start then slip away to be with his family and possibly not even miss a start.

More will be known in the coming days. But Nola's status is certainly something to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, another player, former American League Cy Young winner David Price of the Dodgers, opted out of his season on Saturday because of concerns about COVID-19.

Girardi is still confident the season will get off the ground.

Time will tell.

"I think there's a lot of concern and I think that's why we continue to educate as much as we can," he said. "We continue to test every other day, there's temperature checks a number of times during the day. 

"It's players being socially responsible to themselves, to the people around them, and to their teammates. If you have a symptom, don't just assume 'Ah, I have a headache today. It's normal,' or 'I'm sneezing more than normal today. It's my allergies.' You have to be completely honest in all of these questionnaires that we fill out or you jeopardize everyone in the room. It is a concern, yes."

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MLB rule changes: 6 ideas to boost MLB's entertainment value

MLB rule changes: 6 ideas to boost MLB's entertainment value

Before Commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60-game season last week, many a pundit discussed the inability of the owners and players to come to an agreement and its negative impact on the sport. Another topic of conversation that emerged was the dissatisfaction of many with the state of the game itself.

Baseball has always been my favorite sport and it remains so. But even I have to acknowledge that cracks have emerged in the facade of the grand old game. Much of the blame can be directed to the influx of analytics which has stripped the game of activity and transformed contests into 3-plus hour science experiments. 

So what can the sport's leadership do to increase the entertainment value for fans not interested in watching how algorithms play out in real-time? Here are some ideas:

Expand the strike zone

There was a time when it was exciting to see if a top hitter could connect off a top pitcher. Now it's a struggle to work the count and deliver "good takes." If MLB returns to calling the high strike, it will theoretically cut down on walks and force hitters to swing the bat, thus creating more balls in play and more action. It should also cut down on the length of games.

Eliminate video review

In theory, video review is great. Umpires are human and no one wants honest mistakes to alter the outcome of a game. But in practice, video review has been a tedious endeavor with little satisfaction concerning inconsequential plays. How many times have you watched a replay and still not been able to tell if the tag beat the runner? That doesn't even factor in the time wasted waiting to see if a team wants to review a play in the first place.

Video review has also dramatically reduced the opportunity to see one of the game's great moments, the on-field manager/umpire argument. Give me more Billy Martin and Larry Bowa losing it and less Joe West in a headset.

Eliminate interleague play

Setting aside the unique circumstances of this upcoming season and the need to reduce travel as much as possible, it's time for interleague play to leave the game. There was a time when this concept made sense. The chance to see Ken Griffey Jr. or the Yankees play in an NL park was exciting because you didn't really see them otherwise. 

Technology and social media have now made it so that any fan can see every Mike Trout highlight moments after they occur. And for every series where you might get to see Trout or the Yankees or Red Sox, there's three more against the likes of the Tigers, White Sox and Rangers. Those are season stoppers. What's more interesting to Phillies fans: a 3-game series against the Mariners or another crack at the Mets? 

This plan would require realignment. No big deal. Send the Astros back to the NL.

Reduce distance between bases to 88 feet

As we mentioned above, baseball games currently lack action. Middle infielders swing for the fences and very few players attempt to steal bases on a consistent basis. Reducing the length between the bases from 90 feet to 88 feet would hopefully incentivize putting the ball in play and encourage more stolen base attempts without fundamentally changing the nature of the game.

Big milestone bonus

One of the things that baseball has lost for most of this century is the pursuit of significant single-season milestones. When was the last time a player chased one of baseball's hallowed records in a season? In the 1990s, Tony Gwynn took a run at .400 before the strike ended his quest. Roger Maris' home run record of 61 was in play until Mark McGwire set the new standard in 1998. The specialized nature of the game and the increase in the Three True Outcomes (walk, strikeout, home run) have all but squashed the chase for single-season milestones.

Baseball's regular season needs storylines like that to captivate fans on a national level. So let's incentivize it. Each team contributes $1 million a season for a pool of $30 million total. If a player reaches a significant milestone or record, they receive that money as a milestone.

If I were choosing, I'd establish the following as the marks:

• HR record
• RBI record
• .400 BA
• 57-game hit streak
• 30 wins
• Sub-1.50 ERA (with minimum 175 innings)
• 350 strikeouts
• 70 saves

If a season passes without one of these milestones being hit, the pool rolls over. Imagine the interest if in 2022 a player was within striking distance of one of these marks and $30 million was on the line.

Reset the home run records

This idea is the companion of the previous suggestion. Thanks to performance-enhancing drugs, baseball's single-season home run record has become untouchable. Lost with it is a significant piece of the game's charm, the legitimate pursuit of immortality. We all know that the top-six home run seasons of all-time (belonging to Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) are inauthentic displays of science run amok. The commissioner should deem them as such and reestablish the sport's home run record as Maris' 61 total from 1961. 

It's not like track and field allows world record times to stand if runners test positive for steroids. Why should baseball? It's not just the right thing to do, it will also bring the sport's most important record back into play. While he's at it, Manfred can also reset the all-time HR record to Hank Aaron's total of 755.

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