BALTIMORE — Manny Machado knew what was up.
“Have a minute, Manny?” a Philly reporter asked.
“To talk about what? I’m not talking about no trades, free agency, none of that,” he replied.
Machado wasn’t being argumentative or difficult, he’s just tired of answering the same questions any time a visiting team with money to spend this winter comes to Baltimore.
He acknowledged that he’s been asked about it plenty. The situation with the Phillies, though, is different. The connection has been there for years as Phillies fans have counted down the days until the 2018 season ends and Machado and Bryce Harper become free agents.
Right now, the only player the city of Philadelphia wants more than Machado might be LeBron James.
“They’re a good team over there,” Machado said of the Phillies. “I know that they’re playing great baseball and we have to play better than them this week.”
Machado is playing great baseball himself. He’s off to the best start of his career, hitting .350 with a 1.100 OPS, leads the majors with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs and leads the AL with 55 hits.
He’s familiar with a few Phillies. He played with Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta, and he knows Carlos Santana from their days playing for contending American League teams.
Contending isn’t in the cards for Machado with the 2018 Orioles, who entered Tuesday’s game with the third-worst record in the majors at 13-28.
He’s seen both sides during his tenure with the O’s. Machado has been a part of teams that made the playoffs three times from 2012-16 but has also experienced the frustration of the last two seasons.
The Orioles are not a team that traditionally spends much money. And the few times they have spent money in recent offseasons, it’s gone horribly wrong. They paid $50 million for the worst years of Ubaldo Jimenez’s career. They re-upped the rapidly declining Chris Davis for $161 million through 2022. They even handed Alex Cobb a $57 million deal this past offseason. When a team that rarely spends whiffs when it does, that’s how massive setbacks occur.
The Phillies, obviously, are not in that position. They have just $69 million committed to the 2019 payroll, and even after accounting for arbitration raises, they will be able to comfortably fit a huge salary or two onto this team.
Gabe Kapler has heard the city’s cries for Machado. It would be hard not to.
“I think that’s natural. I don’t blame [fans] for thinking ahead and wondering what he’d look like in a Phillies uniform,” Kapler admitted. “He’s an animal. He hits just about everything in the strike zone. When he’s going well, he hits out of the strike zone as well. He drives the ball to all parts of the ballpark and right now, he’s among the league’s top five or 10 players. He stands out in the lineup as the guy you think about most.
“But I’m focused on our players and focused on our roster construction. I respect Manny Machado but right now he’s an Oriole.”
There are multiple Machado connections in the Phillies’ front office, from previous Baltimore executives Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak and Ned Rice to scouting director Joe Jordan.
After heading up seven drafts in a row for the Orioles, Jordan left Baltimore in 2011 to become the Phillies’ director of player development. He was responsible for drafting Machado, and the two still communicate.
“I spoke to Joe Jordan a lot when I got drafted,” Machado said. “He was the guy that was on me for a while. It’s just a relationship we have because he’s the guy that drafted me when he was here. We still talk every time we see each other. He says, ‘Hello,’ or goes out of his way to talk and we say, ‘What’s up?’ and we communicate a bit.
“It’s pretty awesome because that’s the guy who drafted me out of high school and those are things that you never forget.”
Phillies GM Matt Klentak wouldn’t directly acknowledge Machado but did talk Tuesday about how familiarity with Jake Arrieta helped the Phillies land him this past offseason.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think Jake would tell you that,” Klentak said. “I think I would tell you that. Whether you’re signing players or hiring a scout or hiring an employee in any profession, you’re always going to do so with more confidence when you’ve previously worked with that person and you know that person. In Jake’s case, the fact that we had known him as a young minor-leaguer, we had known him as a big-leaguer, we knew his work ethic, we know what kind of presence he brought to the field every day, those are the types of things that give us confidence to make a move like that.
“And I would suspect in Jake’s case, he’s signing to join an organization he knows a lot of the leadership. That sort of strips away some question marks for him as well, so I think that has a lot to do with it.”
The question on everyone’s mind at this point is how realistic it is that Machado signs here. Just keep in mind that the teams other than the Phillies with the most money — Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees — are pretty much set at shortstop and third base. That’s not to say they won’t be involved in a bidding war with the Phils, but Machado isn’t a glaring need for any of those deep-pocketed clubs.