For the better part of the last five years, the baseball world eyed the 2018-19 offseason, when Manny Machado, at the ripe young age of 26, would reach free-agency. But Machado has been a free-agent now for going on a month, and the interest from potential suitors doesn’t appear to have matched the internet’s expectations.
Some of that just comes down to how the baseball offseason works. Thanksgiving week is traditionally a more quiet week. Last week’s MLB general manager’s meetings will usually feature some buzz, but the “hot stove” really begins to churn at the MLB Winter Meetings, which will begin in Las Vegas on Dec. 9.
Machado also may have turned off some teams that were expected to be interested in him during a tumultuous postseason run with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, Machado helped the Dodgers to win the National League pennant for the second consecutive season. But his 2018 postseason will be looked back upon with a negative connotation.
After jogging to first base on a groundball during Game 2 of the NLCS, Machado told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that while he didn’t have a good answer for not sprinting to first base, he would never be a “Johnny Hustle,” because that wasn’t “his cup of tea.” The baseball world perhaps oversimplified Machado’s full quote, but at this point that’s a moot point. If you ask the average baseball fan about Machado, they probably wouldn’t cite his four All-Star Game appearances, but rather how his postseason run rubbed them the wrong way.
On the cusp of a long-anticipated payday, Machado wants to change that perception.
“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 told MLB.com‘s Mark Feinsand. “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.
“But I know how I said it and how that came across, and it’s something I take responsibility for. I look forward to talking with each GM and owner that we meet with about that, or any other questions they have.”
Machado taking responsibility for the quote is one thing – there was an initial layer of outrage about his lack of hustle, but his quote is what generated national headlines. But there does still seem to be a disconnect on Machado’s end. He’s right in saying there’s a difference between sprinting when sprinting is required and sprinting to first base after a walk to help develop a reputation as a gamer. But the quote never happens if Machado runs hard to first base on a groundball to the left side of the infield in Game 2 of the NLCS with his team already down a game in the series. This wasn’t the bottom of the seventh of a hot August day with his team down by 10 runs and just playing a game out. It was Game 2 of the NLCS – a trip to the World Series was on the line.
It also wasn’t the only controversial moment involving Machado in the postseason. In Game 4 of the NLCS, he kicked Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he was running out a groundball. That led to the benches clearing and eventual National League MVP Christian Yelich calling Machado “a dirty player.” In Game 3 of the World Series, Machado admired what turned out to be a long single, thinking it would be a home run. He also stepped on the heel of first baseman Steve Pearce, who would go on to win World Series MVP, when running out a ball in that same game. In the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series, he made headlines for blowing a bubble with his gum while running to first base on a groundball down the third base line.
For any interested teams, Machado will have to explain his “Johnny Hustle” comment. But that will be just the start of a slew of questions he’ll have to answer to any front-office (and ultimately, ownership group) flirting with the idea of giving him $300 million. In a few months, he went from potentially having teams roll the red carpet out for him this offseason to having to re-convince teams he’s worth a historic investment.
Perhaps most alarming was the response around the league to Machado’s public relations struggles in the postseason. Buck Showalter – who managed Machado for his entire career until the Baltimore Orioles traded him in July – told Joel Sherman of The New York Post that Machado is worth any maintenance that comes with unlocking his Hall of Fame talent. He did also admit that he wasn’t sure how Machado would respond to decade-long contract. An unnamed executive told Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports that Machado was “A-Rod without the steroids.” Hall of Fame NFL writer Ray Didinger said in an appearance on SportsRadio 94 WIP that when he asked an MLB scout about Machado, the scout responded by saying he “could almost guarantee” that Machado’s approach would decline after he signed a record contract.
Wherever Machado ultimately signs his next contract, he’s not going to struggle financially. But while things are fluid during the MLB offseason, it now seems like a very real possibility that his actions in the postseason may have cost him significant money. And there’s probably not an apology or explanation from Machado that can put his postseason out of the minds of the baseball world.
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