The White Sox, like several other teams, are set to meet with Manny Machado this week, as they continue their courtship of the top two free agents on the market. Machado, together with Bryce Harper, represent such a rarity in free agency: superstars reaching the market at just 26 years old. Even if you didn’t believe they were among the very best players in baseball, as Jason Heyward’s deal with the Cubs proved, very good free agents at that tender age are going to get PAID.
In fact, each of Machado and Harper are serious threats to break contract records, either Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million free agent contract record, or Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million total contract record.
But reportedly, if that’s coming, it won’t be the White Sox doing the record-breaking.
Per Buster Olney: “[A] well-placed source says the franchise’s interest does not go so far that the team would sign either player to a record-setting contract, which is probably what will be required to land them. The interest of the White Sox is more measured and modest than frenzied, and within more conventional financial bounds.”
Attempts to tamp down the price tag and/or the fan expectations? Maybe. Legitimate possibility? Absolutely. It’s been a decade-plus since the White Sox consistently competed at the top of the market in big-name free agency. It is of course conceivable that they want to make a very competitive offer for these guys, but they are not going to be the Texas Rangers with Alex Rodriguez – going so crazy far over the top of all other bidders to ensure a young superstar comes to be the face of your franchise on the upswing.
The relevance here, outside of just transaction curiosity, is the impact on the market for these players. The White Sox, like the Phillies, have been seen as a team with tons of money to spend, a young core, and having no financial hurdle to making a splash signing.
But with the Phillies making other moves, and with the White Sox apparently unwilling to set records … are these two players’ markets just going to shrink? Obviously they won’t go away entirely, because there’s a price at which literally every team in baseball would be happy to have these guys, but might there not be offers out there that top – for example – the Nationals’ 10-year, $300 million (about $284 million in value when accounting for deferrals, apparently) offer to Harper from September? Maybe even that contract is off the table after the Patrick Corbin signing?
I don’t think the price tags on these guys are going to shrink enough – by market forces – that the Cubs will be an aggressive bidder on Harper without having moved some other salary. But there’s definitely a substantial difference between a 12-year, $360 million contract and an 8-year, $200 million contract. Depending on how much play there winds up being in that huge gap, that’s when I think you could see other big-revenue teams that have been sitting on the outside – Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals, Braves – get back involved with the White Sox, Phillies, and Nationals. There’s a floor in there somewhere, no matter how constricted the market gets, nor how averse some bidders are to setting records.