By Sam Bush

For a team that petered out to an 80-82 record after blazing to 63-48 on August 5, the Phillies are sure getting a lot of respect this offseason.

They are considered to be the franchise that is the leader in the clubhouse in the free agent and trade markets.

“I don’t really look at it as pressure,” Phillies GM Matt Klentak said at the general managers meetings in Carlsbad, Calif., last week. “It’s an opportunity to be able to pursue any player. When we were going through the first few years of the rebuild, there were a lot of things we were never in the position to consider because it didn’t make any sense. Even if a player wanted to come to us, it may not have made sense for where we were. In some ways, that simplified the offseason. It didn’t make it more fun, but it simplified it. Now we get to explore a lot more.”

So the Phillies won’t put everything on hold if the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado bidding drags out. First on the to-do list: Trading slugger Carlos Santana so Rhys Hoskins can move back to the safety of first base.

“We’re not going to forgo opportunities early in the offseason because we’re waiting on something else,” Klentak said. “If there are good opportunities for us to improve our club now or in the coming weeks or months that make sense for us, we will do it.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that these things develop for their own reasons, and it’s different every single year. The more we try to project what’s going to happen, the more frustrated we get because we’re always wrong. I think we just need to be open-minded to every opportunity, whether it’s a major move or a minor move, and if it makes sense, we’re going to do it. We’re not going to wait around.”

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale predicts Harper’s signing in Philly. He wrote:

The free agent outfielder, touted to be more popular than the Liberty Bell, looks to be headed to Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love. It appeared all along that Harper would remain in Washington, where he has spent his entire career.

But that was before word leaked Tuesday that he flatly rejected a 10-year, $300 million contract in September. You can eliminate the rest of the suitors, too. The Chicago Cubs don’t want to spend the money unless someone takes Jason Heyward or Yu Darvish off their hands. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have interest. The St. Louis Cardinals don’t have bright lights. The San Francisco Giants are changing course.

It leaves one team for Harper, which won’t mind giving him at least $400 million.

The Phillies are the most desperate team to land a star, and with Machado wanting to go to the New York Yankees, and the Yankees having the greatest need for him,

Philadelphia is the logical destination for Harper. He will be standing in right field with the Phillies on March 28 at Citizens Bank Park when they open the season against the defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves. Bank on it.”

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