The worst-case scenario is the one that occurred. Disregard what anybody has said that may suggest otherwise. Farhan Zaidi. John Middleton. Manny Machado himself.
The Phillies' blueprint must be grounded in reality, and the reality is this: An organization like the Dodgers does not acquire a once-in-a-generation player at the age of 26 with the thought of letting him leave. Machado's contract might say that he is only their property for the next three months, but it's Don Henley's words that are closer to the truth. Sure, he can check out any time that he wants. But can he really leave?
Or, rather, why would he? The rhetorical nature of that question is something the Phillies will have to accept before they can get back to the business of making this roster the best possible version of itself. Sure, if you squint hard enough, you can find some hope that their pursuit of Machado has yet to conclude. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and Phillies ownership has made it clear that there is a five-alarm blaze burning in their primary checking account. But the free-agent market is not a grocery store. It doesn't matter how much somebody is willing to pay for a filet if somebody else is willing to pay just as much. Because there is only one filet. And, in this instance, possession is pretty darned close to the law.
That's not to say that there isn't a scenario in which Machado ends up back east. Perhaps he prefers Ben Simmons to LeBron, or Meek Mill to Kendrick Lamar, or overcast to sun. But none of those hypotheticals are a sturdy enough foundation for the Phillies to build their plans upon.
There is a myth floating around that the Phillies will enjoy a significant bargaining advantage because of their payroll situation, but the Dodgers currently have money guaranteed to just seven players for 2019, with a total of $130.8 million on the books. That's significantly more than the $70 million that the Phillies have, but significantly less than the $206 million luxury tax threshold. While it is true that Clayton Kershaw can opt out of his contract after this season, the cost of any new deal will likely come in the form of years. Kershaw already counts for $34.6 million next year and $35.6 million in 2020. Otherwise, the Dodgers chief housekeeping expenses will come in the form of arbitration raises for Joc Pederson, Alex Wood, and Corey Seager, the total of which should not exceed $30 million, and a contract for free-agent-to-be catcher Yasmani Grandal or his replacement.
The reality is that the Dodgers, along with every other smart organization in the majors, have been preparing for this offseason for years. The acquisition of Machado and the roughly $6.3 million remaining on his contract complicates their efforts to get under the luxury tax threshold, but assuming they remain just below it, their tax rate for next season will reset from 50 percent to 20 percent. The money on their books then drops under $90 million in 2020 and under $40 million in 2021. In other words, this is not a team that should find even a 10-year, $400 million contract to be cost prohibitive.
None of this means the Phillies should remain on the sidelines for the the looming bidding war. As I've written before, Machado's value on the open market is impossible to predict, given the lack of precedent for a 25-year-old offensive superstar at a premium position reaching free agency in the modern big-league economy. The most rational assumption is that his price point will sit at whatever percentage of a payroll is the maximum a big market team can afford to invest in a single player and still field a championship-caliber lineup and rotation around him. Another rational assumption is that the calculations of this percentage by the Dodgers, Phillies, Yankees, Cubs, etc. will be in the same ballpark, given the similar economics by which all must abide in order to fill out the rest of their rosters. This leads to a rational assumption that none of the last, best offers from the big-market bidders for Machado will differ materially from the others.
All of this leads to the assumption that Machado will end up basing his decision on something other than money (because multiple teams will be offering him the maximum amount a team can rationally spend). And this is why it is hard to imagine Machado walking through that Phillies clubhouse door. Unless Seager refuses to consent to a position change that would enable Machado to play shortstop, is it really reasonable to think that, over these next three months, he will end up falling more in love with a team and city that he doesn't know than the one that he is now a member of?