Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will play in different cities over the next 20 months, for different teams, manning different positions in different leagues. But all the while, they will be competing against each other directly, just as if they were faced off in a one-on-one pickup game for positioning in the free-agent market of 2018.

Whether they are cognizant of the clash or not, they will be vying for the attention of baseball evaluators who have to formulate contract offers and the billionaires who employ those baseball executives. A Machado web gem has the potential to carve out emotional space in the imagination of potential suitors, and a Harper home run could become embedded in the mind of an executive dreaming of a franchise star.

Both Baltimore Orioles third baseman Machado and Washington Nationals right fielder Harper will be 26 years old when they hit the free-agent market, with their best years theoretically ahead of them. And it seems possible that the bidding for each will approach or exceed $400 million, even in an era of increased fiscal discipline. Because not only will the two superstars represent significant lineup and defensive upgrades for their respective employers in 2019, but both will be cast as headliner talents who can rebrand a franchise.

For example: The New York Yankees will have carved out payroll flexibility by the time the Harper/Machado sweepstakes begin. Almost a century after their acquisition of Babe Ruth, Harper would be a slugger whose swing and personality seems perfectly suited to their ballpark and market. The Philadelphia Phillies have more payroll flexibility than any MLB team now, and the signing of Machado would signal the start of a new era.

But it seems unlikely that any team would be willing to absorb the enormous cost of both, so for big-spending teams like the Yankees, Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants and perhaps others, evaluators will address this question over the 2017 and 2018 seasons: Would you rather target Harper or Machado?