Parallel universe: What if Harper and Machado just never sign?
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With only five weeks left until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, neither Bryce Harper or Manny Machado has a job.

The apparent lack of interest in these two generational talents epitomizes the galling state of baseball in 2019. With little financial incentive to contend due to new revenue streams that have de-prioritized ticket sales, and armed with a justification not to spend thanks to the luxury tax, teams have grown increasingly disinclined to sign free agents to lucrative, long-term deals.

Eventually, one figures, Harper and Machado will get paid. At some point, the New York Yankees or Philadelphia Phillies or Los Angeles Dodgers will bite the proverbial bullet and sign the cheque. But what if they just ... don't?

What if spring training comes and goes and no team offers either player a contract at fair market value? And what if the freeze persists past Opening Day? Or to the All-Star break? Or the World Series?

And what if this perpetual penny-pinching disillusions Harper and Machado (and their equally beleaguered free-agent compadres) so much that they just decide to pack it in, call it a career, and devote themselves to something other than baseball? What might their lives look like?

Well, let's take a guess.

Bryce Harper (career earnings: $47.9 million)

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An exceptionally well-groomed man with an inimitable pompadour-beard combo, Harper tries to monetize his passion for looking good, opening a network of high-end barber shops wherein he also peddles his own line of branded grooming products, including "Bryce's Beard Balm" and "Collusion-Scented Construction Paste."

His New York joint becomes a hit among Yankees stars and visiting ballplayers alike, and Harper himself pops in frequently to commiserate with his former colleagues.

"Be careful," Harper warns Vladimir Guerrero Jr. during a 2021 visit from the reigning American League MVP. "The Blue Jays' pre-arbitration extension offer might be the most lucrative one you get."

Manny Machado (career earnings: $34 million)

Rob Leiter / Major League Baseball / Getty

Having cemented himself as an incorrigible heel during the 2018 postseason, Machado leans into his villainous reputation and joins World Wrestling Entertainment, where he immediately becomes the sport's most reviled antagonist.

One day, after vanquishing fan favorite John Cena in a particularly brutal match, a smug Machado picks up the microphone and bellows at the booing crowd: "$300 million would've been nice - and I earned it - but the look on all your faces right now is priceless!"

Dallas Keuchel (career earnings: $30.6 million)

Loren Elliott / Major League Baseball / Getty

An apparel studies major during his three years at the University of Arkansas, Keuchel puts his education to good use, launching fair-trade sportswear and footwear lines that captivate markets all over the world. Eventually, though, even as his revenues increase steadily each year, Keuchel decides to cut costs, diminishing the quality of the product and alienating the employees who survive the inevitable layoffs.

"I don't understand," Keuchel says during an embarrassing press conference. "It worked for Major League Baseball!"

Craig Kimbrel (career earnings: $55.1 million)

Elsa / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Unable to re-create the adrenaline boost of pitching the ninth inning in any other line of work, Kimbrel descends into madness and, eventually, starts a cover band that plays only one song: "Closing Time" by Semisonic.

The band rehearses endlessly, with no goal in sight. After months pass, David Price and Mookie Betts show up at the studio and try to talk some sense into their former teammate. They are not warmly received.

"You don't have to go home," Kimbrel barks at them. "But you can't stay here."

Yasmani Grandal (career earnings: $20.7 million)

Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Once regarded as one of baseball's preeminent pitch-receivers, Grandal attempts to transfer his skills to another vocation, opening up a frame store in Redondo Beach (curiously, his store shuts down every October).

Years later, while working behind the counter one afternoon, Grandal recognizes a familiar face browsing around in the back of the store. It's Clayton Kershaw, and he can scarcely lift his left arm. His mane has thinned. His paunch has grown. Grandal notices a garish ring on his right hand.

"You finally won one, eh?" Grandal quips to his old friend. "No," Kershaw says with a heavy sigh. "I bought it off Ronald Acuna Jr.. He needed the money. Nobody would pay him. That's what happens when you hit free agency at 26."

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

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Parallel universe: What if Harper and Machado just never sign?
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