The Philadelphia Phillies appear likely to sign one of either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper this offseason, as the market has been surprisingly cool for the pair of superstars. But the ultimate hope in Philadelphia, that the team will somehow sign both, remains a pipe dream.
According to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, "League sources insisted the Phillies have made this much clear during negotiations: They will not sign both players."
There are obviously no guarantees that Philadelphia will land either player, though as Gelb reported, "multiple league sources indicated the Phillies' risk of losing out on both stars is mitigated by the apparent lack of interested teams throughout Major League Baseball and the club's financial wherewithal."
In other words, owner John Middleton's comments in November have given the Phillies leverage.
"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it."
That means both Machado and Harper are likely to check in on Philadelphia even if they get an offer elsewhere, to see if the Phillies will give them even more money. That keeps Philadelphia in the running for both players, and the Phillies to this point can essentially leverage Machado and Harper against one another.
Why offer an obscene amount of money for one player while still in negotiations with the other? Why set the market high for either player when they could respond to the market as it develops?
Of course, the team's leverage would diminish if one of the players signed with another team. Then, the Phillies would likely find themselves in a bidding war for the other player. And there's a risk in turning off either player by waiting rather than aggressively pursuing them with a big offer.
The question remains which player would the Phillies pick between the two. According to Gelb, "The Phillies are believed to prefer Machado over Harper because he is an elite hitter and defender, but conflicting information has spread from team to team and agent to agent."
Conflicting information is the name of the game this time of year.
But at this point, the team could desperately use either player. The Phillies lack star power, for one, and while they have a solid team in place, they don't yet have a position player to truly build around. Either Machado or Harper would fill that role and then some, invigorating the fanbase in the process.
The Phillies have largely been an afterthought since the heady days of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay. This winter, they're once again at the center of the baseball world.
But for now, it's a waiting game. And as Gelb noted, it might remain that way well into February, to the chagrin of both the fans and players.