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Will the Bryce Harper–Manny Machado Sweepstakes Ever End?

Two superstar free agents entering the prime of their career remain unsigned, and we’re running out of ways to explain why Major League Baseball’s hot stove is so lukewarm

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

We stumble through the offseason desert in search of news. We scour the sacred texts: the Books of Passan, Rosenthal, Heyman, Olney, Nightengale. Will a superstar addition revolutionize my team of choice? What about a hated divisional rival’s? Why is the MLB At Bat app alerting me about “Rumors SZN”? Are the people running [beloved franchise] brilliant dealmakers, or are they the dumb lugs I’ve always known them to be? Something must be done.

So I’m begging you, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, please put us out of our misery and sign somewhere already.

It has been an unusual baseball offseason in a couple of ways. One: It’s not often that talents like Machado and Harper, both 26 and together possessing 10 All-Star berths and 61 career bWAR, are on the free agency market at the same time. Two: We are now one measly month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, and neither the erstwhile Orioles and Dodgers shortstop nor the sometime Nationals outfielder has a new team to call home. Yet. And so we, the collective baseball public, have been left to our own devices.

Perhaps you root for the Chicago White Sox. Over the last few years, your team has been hoarding prospects and keeping payrolls low. Lately, the Sox have been collecting members of Machado’s inner circle—Yonder Alonso, the shortstop’s brother-in-law, and Jon Jay, who trains with him in the offseason—and surely, surely, the man himself must be coming to the South Side. But has the team limited its offer to seven years, a line the White Sox reportedly drew in the sand for both players? Or … is it eight? Or is it—ugh—maybe none of the above?

Or maybe you root for the Phillies. Philadelphia brass met with Harper in his native Las Vegas last week, and the pitch reportedly went so well that the team has considered focusing just on him. “Optimism is high,” per reports! But also the Phillies went and hired a Manny mentor, and, well, inquiring minds want to know: Could you get both of them?

Is it Los Angeles you love? Your window is closing; you know that. These great teams, these last two years of almost—it’s reasonable to think that the Dodgers have been, or moreover that they are, just a superstar bat and a sprinkling of luck away from winning it all. Manny—he loved it there at the end of 2018, said so himself! Why not make it official, long term? Bryce makes even more sense—we all know he wants a ring, wants the glow of a big-market spotlight: Haven’t they, ahem, finagled the books so they can accommodate a massive salary?

But then again—does Harper want a big-market spotlight? What about the warmth of the medium market, plus the unwavering devotion of the franchise he’s been with since he was 17—yes, 17—years old? Sticking around in D.C. was an impossibility until suddenly it wasn’t: There they were, meeting once again in late December.

The Yankees definitely weren’t interested, never even made an offer to Machado, unless they were playing the long game; the Cubs are definitely out on Harper, unless they aren’t; Harper appears even to be flirting, on Twitter at least, with St. Louis ribs.

And please, do not get me started on the Machado “mystery team.”

Yes, OK, this is not entirely our intrepid free agents’ fault. They entered the offseason as the sorts of players who might change a franchise’s fortunes with a single signature, and they seem to expect, reasonably, to be compensated accordingly. But something decidedly owner-favoring is happening in this time of record MLB profits. Experts predicted at the start of the 2018 season that both players would land potentially record-breaking contracts; that these have not yet materialized—and indeed, that Harper and Machado have reportedly had meetings with only a handful of teams—suggests that something deep within MLB free agency is broken. Elsewhere, Yasmani Grandal commanded just a one-year deal, something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.

Would it be absurd for either star to wait for the other to set the market? Well, no. But surely someone, somewhere, will make a decision soon, and we can all go back to cursing the relevant team leadership and booing the relevant decisions.

Unless, of course, this goes on forever.