The Hot Stove season, circa 2018-19, isn't all about Bryce Harper's and Manny Machado's free agency. But let's face it: Most of it is. Those are the names that are going to keep baseball-starved eyes glued to Twitter feeds over the next few weeks.
You can argue that the dual free agency of Harper and Machado is one of the best one-two punches we've had in any market since free agency got rolling in the mid-1970s. Part of it is due to their accomplishments and part of it is due to their age, which I write as singular because they were both born in 1992, about 3 1/2 months apart. Their baseball age in 2018 was 25, which means they hit the open market with plenty of prime seasons ahead of them.
There have been only a handful of instances where stars of this level have hit free agency at the same time. Well, that is if you cheat a little on Harper, whose three-year WAR at baseball-reference.com is a modest 7.5. Personally, I think he's better than that, rating somewhere between his epic 10-WAR season of 2015 and 4.7-WAR campaign of 2017. His four-year average, even given his down years of 2016 and 2018, is 4.4, so using that as the basis for this comparison raises his three-year value to 13.1.
Simple, 10-year WAR projections -- with Harper at that level -- yield this list of the top five one-two free-agent punches over the years:
1. 2000, 107.8 (Alex Rodriguez, Mike Hampton)
2. 1992, 104.7 (Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux)
3. 2004, 79.9 (Adrian Beltre, Carlos Beltran)
4. 2018, 79.4 (Manny Machado, Bryce Harper)
5. 1986, 79.2 (Tim Raines, Rich Gedman)
Remember, to get on this list, you need to be both good and young, which is why I'm using 10-year projections. Whatever you might think of Machado and Harper, they certainly fit those qualifications.
Where will they end up? Who knows? Rather than making that prediction, I'm going to look at where they best fit. That question is about much more than talent. It's about payroll commitments and ceilings, assessments of where teams are in the contention cycle, which prospects teams have in the pipeline at which positions, and which stars are already on the roster. Clearly, in a vacuum, Machado and Harper make almost any team better. But that doesn't mean they make sense for every team.
To assess the fits, I looked at the payroll outlook for each club using Cot's Contracts, prospect lists, my own rating of a team's contention status and luxury-tax considerations. For each team, I considered whether it would be better to sign Machado, Harper, both or neither.