It came in the form of a tweet, the primary news-breaking medium these days. It came from Hector Gomez, a radio talk-show host from the Dominican Republic.
"SOURCE: The race to sign Manny Machado is down to two teams - the #Phillies and the #WhiteSox."
If true, you have to think the Phillies are the favorites to sign the 26-year-old superstar infielder, unless Machado really has a burning desire to play with his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, and his close friend, Jon Jay, both of whom have joined the Chicago White Sox this offseason.
Know this: If Machado really wants to play for the Phillies, who have wanted him since the middle of last season, then he better make his mind up very, very soon. If he does not, he is going to allow agent Scott Boras to make his pitch as to why Bryce Harper is the better fit and better player for the Philadelphia Phillies. The meeting between the sides is scheduled for Saturday in Harper's hometown, Las Vegas.
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That is a dangerous game for Machado and his agent, Dan Lozano, to play, because Boras is going to attack the Phillies' contingent of decision makers with fastballs that will make a solid case for his client. This time, for the first time, he will have John Middleton in the audience. Ultimately, it is Middleton who must decide, at least on the Phillies' end, between Machado and Harper.
It is possible that the Phillies could still end up with neither player, but it sure seems as if Middleton is willing to pay the price he will come away with one or the other. It can only help Harper if Boras gets to make his presentation Saturday. You have to think that meeting would be canceled if Machado signs with the Phillies.
Boras, given the chance, will make these two major points: Harper is the better and more-marketable player, who plays the game in a manner that will make Phillies fans fall in love with him. The first part can at least be argued. Harper has been a slightly better hitter than Machado through their All-Star careers, but infielders are more valued than outfielders.
The second part cannot be argued. Harper is clearly the more-recognizable face and the player more likely to get the phones ringing in the ticket office. According to sportspromedia.com, Harper was the 13th-most marketable athlete in the world last year. He was 22nd on that list in 2017. Machado did not make the list either year. Boras also will argue that Harper will not only improve ticket sales but will drive up television ratings. He is not wrong.
As for the baseball skills, Harper might have won a second MVP award in 2017 if he had not slipped on a wet base running out a hard-hit grounder in mid-August of that season. He suffered a serious knee injury on the play and missed more than six weeks. At the time of the injury, he was hitting .326 with a .419 on-base percentage, 29 home runs, and 87 RBIs. It was going to be his best season. He probably returned too soon, and he struggled through the final five games of the regular season and the Washington Nationals' five-game division-series loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Boras might argue that Harper's slow start to last season had something to do with that knee injury. If he does, he can point out that his client batted .303 with a .437 on-base percentage and .975 OPS over the final 56 games of the season. And let's remember that in his so-called down year, Harper still had 34 home runs, 100 RBIs, a .393 on-base percentage, and led the National League with 130 walks.
Boras is also likely to point out that Harper is a superb fastball hitter with terrific plate discipline, a valuable commodity in a division that features such flamethrowers as Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.
The meeting should start with Harper putting to rest the idea that he is not all that keen about playing in Philadelphia. A source close to the player said Harper would have no problem playing in Citizens Bank Park, where he has had great success.
From the Phillies' end, Middleton should make it clear that Harper's arrival would be the start of a plan to make the team the best in the National League for years to come. The owner has long wanted the Phils to be the New York Yankees of the National League, and this is his first chance to get the ball rolling.
Finally, the Harper landscape has drastically changed. The Nationals are back in the conversation for the player they drafted first overall in 2010. Should they get him, they will be the National League favorite to reach the World Series, even if the Phillies sign Machado. If the Phillies get Harper, they keep him from the Nats. They also make their own lineup more balanced, with Harper serving as the left-handed slugger who complements the right-handed-hitting Rhys Hoskins and Andrew McCutchen.
Rest assured that Scott Boras has a thick binder filled with reasons that Bryce Harper is a better choice than Manny Machado for the Phillies. All he has to do is sell John Middleton on his client.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Bob Brookover is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.