There have been rumblings all offseason that the Philadelphia Phillies were prepared to spend big in free agency and land at least one superstar, if not two.
"We're going into this expecting to spend money," owner John Middleton told reporters at the owners meetings in November. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."
With Bryce Harper and Manny Machado both on the market, it wasn't hard to connect the dots.
But what if the Phillies pivoted in a different direction and saved their money for a different glitzy pairing: Machado and a fellow by the name of Mike Trout.
Trout, of course, is under contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Unless the Halos lock him up long term, however, he'll be a free agent after the 2020 season. Making this a reality would require patience for Philadelphia, but it does make a lot of sense.
It would also make for one of the most talented twosomes in MLB history.
First, the Phillies would need to sign Machado. On Wednesday, Hector Gomez of Deportivo Z 101 reported the field has narrowed to two suitors, with one of them being Philadelphia:
It's possible other clubs, including the New York Yankees, could swoop in. But for now the Phils have a reasonable crack at inking Machado.
That'd be step one. Step two would be waiting for Trout to become possibly the most coveted free agent of all time.
Assuming he reaches free agency two winters from now, Trout would be entering his age-29 season and in his prime. Considering his durability (he's played fewer than 139 games just once since his Rookie of the Year season in 2012) and perennial high-level performance, there's no reason to believe he won't still be the best player on the planet.
So why would he choose the Phillies over, say, the Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers or another major-market destination?
For one, he grew up in Millville, New Jersey, less than 50 miles outside Philadelphia. He's a Philadelphia Eagles season ticket holder and a legitimate fan.
Plus, Trout is a low-key guy. Unlike Harper, who's a natural fit for the bright lights and glam of L.A. or New York, Trout strikes an unassuming posture. Heck, Commissioner Rob Manfred once unfairly criticized him for not selling himself enough.
Philadelphia isn't a backwater town by any stretch, but it's a more working-class city that would appear to suit Trout's personality.
So let's say it happens. Let's say Machado chooses the Phillies and Trout eventually joins him. How scary would they be together?
There are a lot of ways to illustrate it, but WAR is a good enough shorthand. Since 2012, when both players exceeded their rookie limits, Trout and Machado have combined for 94.2 WAR by FanGraphs' calculation (64.0 for Trout, 30.2 for Machado). That's an average annual WAR of 13.5.
In 1927, Babe Ruth posted 13.0 WAR. So basically, Machado and Trout would be the equivalent of getting the Great Bambino at the height of his powers.
OK, we're kidding. That's not how WAR works. (But we're only sort of kidding.) The bottom line: The Phillies would have one of the best all-around infielders and the best all-around center fielder combining forces on the right side of 30.
So what about Harper? If the Phils could sign him and Machado now, isn't two birds in the hand better than—to mangle the metaphor—a Trout in the bush?
For one, Harper doesn't particularly like Philadelphia, according to Fancred's Jon Heyman. For two, as skilled as he is, he's no Trout.
We discussed the difference in their personality, but there's disparity on the stat sheet, too. Harper's career has been a series of peaks and valleys marred by injury and occasional underperformance. Trout has been a model of almost cyborg-like consistency.
They're both generational talents, but there isn't an organization in the game that wouldn't take Trout first without blinking.
This all exists in theory for now. A lot can and will happen between now and the day Trout swims into the free-agent waters.
The Phillies can start laying the groundwork this winter, however. It'll probably end up costing them a combined $700 million or more. Trout alone might cost $500 million.
But if they can pull it off, it'll be stupid money well spent.