I really don’t know exactly what to make of these comments from Manny Machado in relation to his effort level on the field, and in the context of him heading into free agency, where he will be a $250+ million target for several clubs, including potentially the Cubs.
If you’re into the idea of the Cubs going hard after Machado this offseason, I really think you’ll want to read this:
My latest for The Athletic: Machado still has work to do if he wants to keep the focus on his performance. Includes a lengthy explanation from Machado about why he did not run out a ball in Game 2. https://t.co/TpKB7ljbcb $
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 16, 2018
Here’s the play that generated the conversation, and it certainly was a “what are you doing, man” situation:
Machado was appropriately chastened by his lack of hustle on the play, conceding to Rosenthal that he didn’t even know what he was doing or how he could have reacted that way. He knows he needs to do better.
But at the same time, in a flash of extraordinary self awareness, Machado had this to say to Rosenthal about his experience in the big leagues: “Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 17, 2018
That’s a pretty stunning admission – you just don’t hear professional athletes speak that candidly about this topic – but I’m not actually sure it reflects *that* badly on Machado. If that’s just not who he is, then isn’t it better that he’s honest about it? And I’m not even sure it’s a good thing to be balls out on every groundball anyway.
Still, there’s something about it that raises some questions in your mind about what you want to see from a player. Even if you have all the talent in the world, some level of hustle/desire/passion is a good thing, right? A desirable thing? And that’s not to say that Machado doesn’t have it, but his comments suggest he approaches the game with a slightly different perspective.
This is not a new development for Machado, either, as suggested by Orioles analyst Jim Palmer:
— Jim Palmer (@Jim22Palmer) October 13, 2018
To reiterate, Machado was clear to Rosenthal that he believes he should have hustled on that play. But it was almost like he was admitting that sometimes this is just going to happen with him. (And it does with most players, frankly; they just don’t admit it in advance. Heck, even a guy like Javy Baez, who is the living embodiment of hustle/grinding/effort at every turn, has had moments where he did not hustle when he should have.)
You also have to think about the fact that Machado, though just 26, has already had surgery on both of his knees. He’s probably not a guy you want out there crashing around the place to get one extra base or one extra out if it’s going to risk him missing weeks of play. Maybe he just already has a sophisticated understanding of how to play the long game with his body. Contrast him with the other 26-year-old superstar on the free agent market, Bryce Harper, who has suffered through a number of injuries in his young career, some of which have come because of his balls-out style of play. (Then again, Harper’s also been criticized for selective hustle, so there’s obviously a lot of “narrative” here, regardless of the player.)
It’s hard for me to say there’s a right or wrong here, because there’s upside and downside in each way of thinking/being. At some level, I think you’ve just gotta be you.
In any case, I think these Machado comments are going to play wildly for different folks, probably reinforcing in one direction or the other the things you already thought about him. For me, for now, I’m just kind of taking a thinking-face-emoji approach. Hmm. Interesting comments.