This has been the off-season that never ends.

Even though Phillies pitchers and catchers officially report tomorrow (though many have been around already), the biggest free agents on the market, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have yet to sign.  But according to a report, this situation could be resolved by Valentine's Day, Thursday.

There are a couple things to read into this should it be true.

Should the Nationals have the opportunity to "match" they likely are not serious contenders.  It sounds like the Nationals will be offered the courtesy of an opportunity to match, but they must be well-behind now if it is framed this way.  Another team is in the driver seat.

Other teams interested in Harper include the San Diego Padres, the San Francisco Giants, and the Chicago White Sox.  Those teams are not as ready to win as the Phillies are.  That means if the contract includes an opt-out clause - something common in a Scott Boras contract - it makes nearly no sense for those teams to sign Harper.

The rebuilding teams would want to sign a Harper or Machado to help build a winner.  However, if Harper can opt out in three years at age 29, they will not necessarily be winners yet.   The Phillies can afford to offer an opt-out clause because they hope to win this year and next.  If that were not the case, they would not have traded real assets for catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Despite the "stupid" money comment from Phillies owner John Middleton, the Phillies have been playing it rather smart, refusing to be duped into paying more than necessary.  In the end, will that strategy work?  We could know soon.

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