NLCS 2022: Revisiting Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Philadelphia Phillies’ game-changing decisions during 2018-2019 free agency

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Bryce Harper and the Phillies. Manny Machado and the Padres.

Here’s how the national media will summarize the upcoming NLCS matchup between the two wildcard teams.

All Star vs All Star.

After signing a 13-year contract with the Phillies, Harper has earned his place in the Phillies fandom. There’s no question that wearing the now-famous Phanatic headband, he belongs in Citizens Bank Park.

But let’s take our DeLorean back to the winter of 2018-2019, just before Harper signed that $330 million deal. His future in Philly was not certain.

In fact, the Phillies were chasing another star. His name: Manny Machado.

And that was also the time of “dumb money”.

Phillies owner John Middleton told USA Today in November 2018, “We go with the expectation of spending money… and maybe even a little stupid.”

As everyone jammed to Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” Machado and Harper weighed their options as free agents in hopes of landing a World Series ring.

When moviegoers flocked to see “Glass,” the latest film from Philly’s own M. Night Shyamalan, the Phillies wanted to make Machado or Harper one of their own.

You get it – we’re in the past.

Machado, who made it to the 2018 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers and came away empty-handed, traveled across the country to South Philly in December 2018 to meet with the team’s front office.

“Just glad to be here. I’m enjoying it,” Machado told our 6abc cameras.

He was greeted by then-Phillies General Manager Matt Klentak.

The Phillies welcomed Machado with open arms – even showing what the Major League would look like in Phillies pinstripes with a mock-up image on Phanavision.

It wasn’t long after that meeting that the Phillies owner and GM hooked up with the other coveted free agent. Middletown and Klentak spoke with Harper in his hometown of Las Vegas in January 2019.

Action News caught up with the two executives as they returned home to snowy Philadelphia.

“I think it was really positive,” Middleton said. “We really saw the man. We’ve watched the player for years, but we understood the man as he would be in the dugout, in the clubhouse, in the community.”

The fate of Phillies’ baseball was at stake, and everyone wanted a say in the matter, including the Philadelphia Police Department.

The department tweeted a photo of Officer Harper – a photoshopped image of the Star Slugger in a police uniform.

The message read: “The rumors are true*: Bryce Harper* is coming to Philadelphia [police]*. It is a multi-year contract valued at $51,245 per year initially, with city option to increase annually. Please direct any questions regarding Manny Machado to @PhillyFireDept . (*not really true.)”

Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins and pitcher Aaron Nola were confident that at least one of the free agents would become a teammate.

“I have a gut feeling we’re going to get one of them. I don’t know where that comes from. Maybe some of the comments that were made during the offseason,” Hoskins said. “But I’m looking forward to the off-season being over so we’ll know. And of course that means baseball has started.”

“I think we’ll land one of them. But it’s not in my hands, I don’t make that decision. If we get either one, it’ll be good,” Nola said.

Even Angels outfielder Mike Trout of Millville, New Jersey was asked about the Harper Machado drama.

As the saga dragged on, ESPN wondered if the well-known batters would make a decision around Super Bowl Sunday. That didn’t happen.

The conversation continued.

But the Phillies didn’t wait any longer to make a big move. They acquired all-star catcher JT Realmuto from the Miami Marlins.

ESPN speculated that this might have been a way to make the team look more attractive to the free-agent outfielders…or it was just the Phillies getting impatient.

Whatever the real reason for signing Realmuto at the time, Phillies leadership didn’t fuel speculation when it came to Harper and Machado.

“There was no lack of intelligence focused on evaluating players that are available to us and what they bring,” said Phillies President Andy MacPhail. “We’re uniquely positioned at the moment because they have some great talent out there. You could go to any club and make a significant difference.”

Then Machado struck first. He signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres on Feb. 21, meaning our only chance to see Machado in a Phillies jersey is to revisit this Phanavision pic .

Two weeks later, Harper signed the 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

A few days later, it was Harper wearing the Phillies pinstripes at a press conference in Clearwater, Florida. For real.

The first meeting between the two stars, which kept Phillies fans in suspense for months, took place in San Diego in June 2019. Machado hit a grand slam in the Padres’ 8-2 win.

After the game, Machado spoke about the journey he and Harper took to get to their respective teams.

“It’s always good to find a new home. He found one and I found one myself. That’s the greatest excitement we can get knowing we’re going to be here for a long time,” Machado said.

After the signings, USA Today asked Middleton about his choice of Harper over Machado.

Middleton said Harper’s popularity with Phillies fans steered him in that direction — as did Machado’s comments during the 2018 NLCS.

Machado said he’s “not the type of player who’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle’ and run down the line and slide to first base.” This response came after he was criticized for not throwing a groundball on the series.

“In Philadelphia, they want their athletes to play hard,” Middleton said, “and Bryce plays hard. Honestly, I think Manny hurt himself in Philadelphia with some of his postseason comments. When he said, ‘I’ll never do that be Johnny Hustle,’ doesn’t sit well in Philadelphia.

“It’s not that they don’t realize he’s a great player, they do. But for the same reason, they say, ‘If you’re trying to choose between great players, let’s pick the guy who runs into the wall, the guy who jogs to first base and says I’m not ‘Johnny Hustle.’

Machado addressed the controversial comments during the free agency period in an interview on

“When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive and it was wrong to answer it the way I did because it doesn’t come across the way I meant it in hindsight,” Machado told MLB .com “For me, I was trying to talk about not being the eye-washing guy. There’s a difference between faking a show and someone trying hard to win. I’ve always been the guy who does whatever he does can win for his team.

“But I know how I said it and how that came across, and I take responsibility for that. I look forward to speaking to any GM and owner we meet with about this or have any other questions.”

And now the DeLorean takes us back to the future in 2022, where Harper and the Phillies go head-to-head with Machado and the Padres in the National League Championship Series.

What if, what could have been and if only are no longer relevant. It’s about the now. It’s about two All-Stars taking their teams into the NLCS to get closer to their World Series ring.

It’s about two men who found their new home and embraced the towns that signed them.

It’s also about a goose and a Calum Scott cover song…but that’s another story.

It could have ended differently. But you can’t change the past.

Harper vs. Machado.

Phillies vs Padres.

All roads have led to this moment.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what the future holds as the postseason rages on.

Copyright © 2022 WPVI-TV. All rights reserved. NLCS 2022: Revisiting Manny Machado, Bryce Harper and Philadelphia Phillies’ game-changing decisions during 2018-2019 free agency

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