Philadelphia Phillies: Settling for second best, Bryce Harper

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Manny Machado was the best free agent player available this offseason, and the Philadelphia Phillies missed out. Now they’ll hope to settle for Bryce Harper.

As the 2019 baseball season inches closer, the world of Major League Baseball remains captivated by the reality TV program that has become Bryce Harper‘s decision. When is he going to sign and where? The Philadelphia Phillies are in on the superstar, as are a handful of other teams. But while the majority of attention is given to his pending move, the best free agent player – and one more equipped to help the Phillies contend on the field – inked a 10-year, $300 million deal yesterday with the San Diego Padres.

His name is Manny Machado.

While it’s true Harper has the bigger name and carries more marketability; Manny Machado is quite simply the better player.

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The addition of either player would have significantly bolstered the Phillies and their offensive lineup, but where Harper is a defensive liability, Manny Machado is a tremendous upgrade. With a dWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement) of 11.3, good for 14th best in all of baseball, Machado’s addition would’ve helped to solidify the left side of the infield. For comparison’s sake, Harper boasts an unflattering -3.0 dWAR through his seven seasons roaming the outfield.

The Phillies, who finished last season with the second-worst fielding percentage in all of baseball, need to shore up their defense in order to compete all the way through the 2019 season. The addition of Jean Segura helps, along with moving Rhys Hoskins back to his natural position at first base.

Offensively, the 26-year-old players are comparable. In fact, their numbers are almost identical. Which slash line would you prefer for a 162-game average?

.279/.388/.512 (Harper)
.282/.335/.487 (Machado)

Harper has a slight advantage, but throughout his seven years, his supporting cast has also largely been better than that of Machado’s which needs to be considered. Harper averages 32 HRs a season compared to Machado’s 31. Harper averages 91 RBI versus Machado’s 90. That’s pretty darn close. The only “significant” difference is in runs scored, where Harper averages 107 runs per season versus Machado’s 91. Again, more talent around Harper the past seven years.

When evaluating a player, all things have to be considered. One caveat to Harper’s game is that he bats from the left side, which would be a welcomed addition to help balance the Phillies lineup.

Then there’s also the notorious comments made by Machado during the 2018 playoffs. Speaking with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Machado claimed:

"“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”"

That attitude doesn’t play well in Philadelphia, for sure. Yet, despite incorporating this attitude throughout his seven years of MLB service, Machado remains the more effective player overall. The totality of stats don’t lie.

But here we are and Harper – the second best free agent player – remains a possibility for the Phillies.

When evaluating a player, all things must be taken into consideration, and this includes what a player brings off the field. Professional baseball is a business, after all.

The reason you’ve been frantically checking social media reports for updates on Harper’s decision; the reason you’ve been tracking private jet flight patterns from Las Vegas to Clearwater; the reason you’re reading this article right now … is because of the X factor that Harper provides: excitement.

And that is why the second best on-the-field player in free agency will likely garner more money than Machado’s mega-deal.

Once coined “Baseball’s Chosen One” while still in high school 10 years ago by Sports Illustrated, in addition to putting butts in the seats, Harper sells jerseys, elevates a team’s presence through his social media followers, and boosts a team’s television ratings. Better ratings equal more sponsorship dollars.

He’ll make more money because he’ll bring in more money. Perhaps the kind of “stupid” money Phillies owner John Middleton was referencing.

“If you’re trying to find the young free agent who’s good at everything and a prince in the clubhouse, you’re going to be looking for a long time,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said at the GM Meetings this past winter. “You’re not always going to find somebody who checks off every box.”

Both Harper and Machado check off significant boxes. While Machado is the better pure baseball player, Harper is a transcendent figure who evokes emotion; an emotion that will trigger Phillies fans to the box office in great numbers.

The Phillies couldn’t have gone wrong with either.

And while Manny Machado may have contributed to a few more wins on the season, what would it have mattered if no one was there to see?

Next. Phillies missing out on Manny Machado means all the focus now on Bryce Harper. dark

Or at least not as many as if Bryce Harper were in town. The countdown continues.