January is over and there are still dozens of quality free agents on the market. While the endless waiting has certainly been tiresome, it may be benefiting the White Sox more than any other team in the sweepstakes for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
The Phillies’ front office, likely the biggest threat to the White Sox in landing a whale, has been overwhelmingly clear with the team’s fans concerning its plans to spend on free agents and compete in the short-term. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the NL East is shaping up to be arguably the toughest division in baseball, as the Braves, Nationals, and Mets all figure to be playoff contenders. Therefore, the Phillies cannot afford to wait around for weeks as Harper and Machado deliberate. At some point, they will need to move forward with ancillary acquisitions to ensure that they are not overmatched this coming season.
Meanwhile, the White Sox do not expect to compete in 2019. While the AL Central is far from intimidating, the team is coming off a 62 win season. Even with improvements from young cornerstones and marginal additions, it would be unrealistic to expect a serious playoff push. For the White Sox, signing Machado/Harper is significantly more about the coming seasons than the current one, which is why this supposed stalemate leaves the team at an advantage. If these star free agents remain on the market during Spring Training, the White Sox will be able to sit back and wait as well, given that they will not need to change course and dispense major resources with short-term success in mind. Of course, an earlier signing would be beneficial for the White Sox; for example, it could give them more time to work on other acquisitions, such as the rumored trade for Joc Pederson. Nevertheless, they have much less to lose by waiting than the Phillies do.
The Padres may be in a similar spot- not expected to contend, up-and-coming roster, relatively few long-term payroll obligations- however, I do not view them as a serious threat for Machado due to his well-documented desire to avoid playing for a west coast team. They may be a player for Harper, but teams generally do not decide on a whim in late January that they are able to spend $300 million or more on a free agent; in other words, the Padres were either (silently) in on Harper the whole time, or they are not legitimate suitors. My theory is that they identified a situation where these negotiations could bleed into Spring Training, leading teams with dreams of contending in the short-term (such as the Phillies) to pivot to lesser free agents, providing an opportunity for the Padres to join the White Sox as the only major threats to sign a whale soon before the start of the regular season.
Machado and Harper are running out of time. While I do not think that the Phillies would completely abandon their pursuit of the two players for Marwin Gonzalez or Craig Kimbrel types, I do think that they could make substantial signings in the interim that end up limiting their financial flexibility for the whales. I still believe that Machado ends up with the White Sox and Harper signs with the Phillies, so I suppose this should all be over by March. In any case, the longer this takes, the more leverage is gained by the White Sox relative to the Phillies.
Featured Photo: Sports Illustrated