The Philadelphia Phillies will sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The other will end up on the New York Yankees. That’s at least the opinion of one prominent MLB executive.
prevalent baseball exec opinion: Harper & Machado wind up with NY & Philly, 1 to each. but which one goes to which team? philly seems most aggressive, yanks have admitted interest in machado but downplayed interest in harper (they have had internal and external BH talks however)
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 21, 2018
Philadelphia, quite frankly, has room for either Harper or Machado. If the Phillies were to sign one (or even both) of them, it would send other interested suitors back to the drawing board. But beyond that, there’s not a whole lot of fallout that would come from it.
If either Harper or Machado ends up in New York, however, it’s a different ballgame.
The most natural option would be put Harper in the outfield with Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Offensively, that’s a dream outfield. Defensively, it’s a different story. Stanton would play in left field, Judge would handle right field, while Harper would play between them in center.
Harper has some experience in center. He even played 63 games there in 2018. But he’s unquestionably a more natural corner outfielder. So, in this situation, Aaron Boone and the Yankees would love the offensive production and hope for the best on defense.
It would also likely lead to Aaron Hicks getting moved. He could potentially bring back a decent trade haul. But if New York is thinking of trading someone to make room for Harper, there are more intriguing options.
One would be to sign Harper and move one of the outfielders (likely Stanton) in to play first base. That would bring some absolute finality to the seemingly endless Greg Bird experiment. At this point, we’re not sure that Bird would attract much on the trade market. The more interesting trade chip would be Luke Voit, who hit .322/.398/.671 and 15 home runs in only 143 at-bats in 2018. He could certainly bring a quality mid-rotation starter (or better) back.
Another possible option would be to move Stanton to DH. That would open up a spot for Harper in the outfield and would allow the Yankees to hold on to Voit. This feels unlikely. Stanton is owed a lot of money — probably too much to be the primary DH. But, if New York is willing to look beyond that, then it would potentially bring Gary Sanchez to the trade market. Sanchez has a powerful bat, but struggles behind the plate. Putting Stanton at DH would greatly limit how often the Yankees could use Sanchez there. This is a possible play, but it’s messy.
Harper signing with the Yankees would have some decent fallout. That said, we’d be much more interested in the fallout if New York were to land Machado.
Machado has made his desire to play shortstop pretty well known.
If the Yankees were to honor that, Didi Gregorius could well end up on that block. Over the last three seasons, Gregorius has hit .277/.319/.472 and averaged 24 home runs a year. He’s not Machado, but that’s darn good for a shortstop. Unfortunately, Gregorius’ trade value is diminished by the fact that he’s recently undergone Tommy John Surgery and will likely be out until at least mid-July.
Gregorius is also a pending free agent. So, if he’s the primary part of a trade package, the other team would not only need to be one with issues at shortstop, but one who could also still contend for more than half of the season with Gregorius out. Those teams do exist. Additionally, we can’t discount the possibility of Gregorius signing a long-term deal somewhere, which would open up the list of potential suitors. But his injury and contract situation can’t be ignored.
With that in mind, the next question becomes, what happens if New York signs Machado but can’t get an adequate return for Gregorius? Holding on to Gregorius as an insurance policy is an option. Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres could have a sophomore slump. Luke Voit could struggle. If any of that happens, having Gregorius around as a potential late-season replacement seems wise.
But while it’s wise, it’s also not that fun to think about. More importantly, a decision like that might deprive the Yankees of a chance to make the rest of the team better.
Trading someone like Sanchez, Voit, Hicks, or Gregorius would net a decent return. But what happens if New York signs Machado and decides to put either Andujar or Torres on the block? Yes, the Yankees could play with all three. But the most sensible decision might be to put Machado at short and Gregorius at second, hoping to hold serve at the keystone until he returns. Then, either Andujar or Torres would play third, while the other would get moved.
A trade package centered on Andujar or especially Torres could land the Yankees a massive haul. We could see someone like Corey Kluber, Madison Bumgarner, or even Jacob deGrom winding up in the Bronx.
Imagine a rotation with one of those guys along with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, the newly acquired James Paxton, and CC Sabathia. That’s a formidable rotation and it could absolutely hang with a team like the Boston Red Sox or Houston Astros in the playoffs.
In a vacuum, the Yankees signing either Harper or Machado would be huge. But the potential domino effect of either signing is awfully fun to think about, too.