Just before the offseason began – and some hard financial considerations sunk in – the excitement surrounding the Cubs was surprisingly high, considering the end of the season. I can’t deny being apart of that.
We thought, for sure, the Cubs would be all over Bryce Harper and possibly even some of the top relief arms, and even if they weren’t, they could always “fall back” on Manny Machado, and make some trades to augment the roster in other ways. But that doesn’t really seem to be the case anymore, at least not with the big dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Cubs will hang around the periphery of Harper and/or Machado to see what’s going on, and they’re certainly not going to do nothing this year, but to say we’re riding as high as we were before the winter starter would simply be wrong.
And, outside of a single report connecting the Cubs to Harper, things have been very quiet on the big-ticket front for the Cubs, including Machado – a guy to whom they had otherwise been connected to for nearly a year.
Although it seemed like any Machado rumors stopped around the same time the Cubs’ aren’t spending rumors began, there’s not necessarily any causation there. Instead, it seems like Machado’s camp has gone M.I.A. on purpose – at least, in comparison to Harper’s, which is still producing fresh rumors almost every other day.
One simple/obvious explanation is that Machado and his team expect the shortstop to earn less than Bryce Harper in free agency this winter – a wise guess, I’d wager – so they’re letting Harper do his tour, set the high water mark, and raise all (salary) tides, so to speak. It’s a strategy as old as free agency, and would explain some of the silence. Of course, Harper’s camp could just as easily want Machado’s to set a bar that they can later beat, so quiet from Machado might not mean a lot on that side of things.
So, then, there is probably at least one other significant reason for a lot of quiet on the Machado front, I’m thinking it probably has to do with his postseason. Specifically, the incidents at first base, and the “Johnny Hustle” comments, which rubbed some very specific folks the wrong way. Take some time, get some distance, and then speak when you’re ready.
“When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive, and I was wrong to answer it the way that I did, because looking back, it doesn’t come across how I meant it,” Machado said. “For me, I was trying to talk about how I’m not the guy who is eye wash. There’s a difference between fake hustle for show and being someone who tries hard to win. I’ve always been the guy who does whatever he can to win for his team.”
[Brett: For what it’s worth, although this is clearly designed to try to do some damage control, I can also see it being true. To me, the “Johnny Hustle” reference did sound like he was talking about fake, putting-on-a-show hustle. Think about it in the other direction: would a guy who sees himself as a big-time hustler out there call himself “Johnny Hustle”? No way. It just sounds kinda sarcastic.]
Machado added that he knows how it come across and wants to take responsibility for that, before saying: “I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have.”
In general, this is pretty clearly a general attempt to wash some red out of his ledger, but I will say that last comment about meeting with GMs/owners stands out to me. If you think back to the start of the offseason, the one team most associated with Machado was the New York Yankees. They have the need, the money, and a habit of paying a lot of star players a lot of money.
But that heat has cooled in recent weeks, particularly after owner Hal Steinbrenner took public issue with Machado’s hustling comments from October. I’ll refresh your memory:
“If it’s a $300 million guy or a $10 million guy, clearly those comments are troubling.” The Yankees’ owner went on to say that it’s really GM Brian Cashman’s job (to deliberate?), but really stuck with his original point: “Because that ain’t going to sell where we play baseball …. That conversation will happen.”
That “conversation” was a reference to his earlier comments that he’d like to sit down with Machado to discuss their concerns over his hustle comments and general attitude. Steinbrenner walked it back a little, suggesting that GM Brian Cashman would have those talks, not him, but that’s besides the point. Machado’s comments about talking to whatever owner or GM apply so very directly.
So is that what’s going on here? Did Machado’s camp receive the Yankees’ message loud and clear and are now signaling back to those powers, because they know the Yankees might be their best shot at a $300M deal? Certainly possible. With the Phillies still seemingly prioritizing Harper (or spreading the same amount of money over many roster spots), and the Cubs/Dodgers/Rangers/Giants/Nationals/Braves/Mariners/Red Sox/Indians/Tigers all either not spending, not spending on a bat, or seemingly uninterested in Machado, he might have to be realistic about who his best option is and what they want.
There are other realistic teams out there, mind you – the White Sox, Cardinals, Brewers, Padres (in a crazy world) – but does anybody think they’ll outbid the Yankees for Machado if those two sides really want to make a deal work? I don’t. And then there’s this: “My home is in Miami, so it was different having my family and friends three hours later [in Los Angeles with the Dodgers] when I’d talk to them after games.” Think Machado wants to head back to the East Coast? I do.
So the takeaway today is this: Machado came out to apologize and take responsibility for his comments and then suggested he’d do the very thing – meet with an owner/GM – his most likely landing spot for logistic reasons, the Yankees, publicly requested. He also made note that he doesn’t like playing on the West Coast, as much, because of the distance from his home/family on the East coast.
So whether the Yankees were just playing for leverage or were actually drifting away from Machado, one thing seems relatively clear: there’s still interest there from Machado.