“He just made himself baseball’s first $400-million man,” an anonymous scout told John Perrotto in March of 2017 in regards to Manny Machado.
The quote in itself wasn’t a stretch – heck, there were some around the sport who speculated that Machado and Bryce Harper could push for $500 million in free-agency after the 2018 season. The scout’s reasoning for the quote – Machado’s hot start in the 2017 World Baseball Classic – was a bit sensational, but it still represented a very real viewpoint from at least some around baseball.
Fast forward to what’s about to be February of 2019, and Machado’s free-agent stint (along with Harper’s) is approaching 100 days. And there’s no indication that he’s going to sniff $300 million, let alone $400 or $500 million. Reports of him receiving a seven-year/$175 million offer from the Chicago White Sox were fiercely contested by his agent, Dan Lozano, a couple of weeks ago. That came a few days after the New York Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a two-year/$24 million deal, seeming to take Machado’s preferred destination largely off the board. And since then, all we’ve really heard in regards to Machado is that the San Diego Padres may have interest in the four-time All-Star. With all due respect to the beautiful city of San Diego, this offseason didn’t begin with Machado envisioning himself spending his peak hitting at Petco Park.
Jon Heyman of MLB Network says in a non-surprising, yet noteworthy nugget that “there are whispers of dissatisfaction with how this [his much-anticipated free-agent stint] has gone.” The offseason began with Machado hoping that he would sign a deal that topped Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year/$325 million deal with the team that currently employs Stanton, the Yankees. Heyman now calls both unlikely.
It’s simple enough for most fans to wonder why if Machado is upset with how the process has gone, he doesn’t just pick a team. According to Heyman, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres are the three most serious suitors for Machado. Although, we’re not sure that both the Phillies and Padres aren’t more serious on Harper, nor are we sure that the White Sox are prepared to make an offer that would satisfy even reduced expectations from Machado’s camp.
There’s also a responsibility for both Machado and Harper, who have 10 combined All-Star Game appearances before each of their age-26 seasons, to maximize what they get in free-agency. That sets the market for the rest of the league. If they take less this offseason, we could go through this same song and dance next offseason with Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon. It’s difficult to imagine teams not jumping at the chance to sign either Mike Trout or Mookie Betts if either become free-agents after the 2020 season, but if Harper and Machado give in now, it will certainly affect where the conversation starts on a new contract for perhaps the two best position players in the sport two years from now.
Certainly, there are things to pick apart about Machado. His postseason, despite helping the Los Angeles Dodgers reach the World Series, was a public relations disaster. It’s a bad look for him that even with Corey Seager set to return, the Dodgers seemingly never considered mounting an attempt to retain his services. In his return to his “natural” position of shortstop in 2018, Machado graded out as one of the poorer qualified fielders at his position. Even at third base, a position where he’s won two Gold Gloves, his defensive metrics had declined in recent years, even if they were still among the better ones in the league. Defense historically does not age well.
At the same time, Machado is a 26-year-old that’s on a Hall of Fame track. For any concerns about him in the field, he’s coming off of the best offensive season of his career, having slashed .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs, 107 RBIs and a 6.2 fWAR. In terms of fWAR, FanGraphs says that his production over the course of parts of seven seasons has been worth $235.9 million. And he should only be entering his peak. Yet, it feels unlikely he’ll top the 10-year/$275 million deal that his idol, Alex Rodriguez, signed with the Yankees in December of 2007. Sure, Rodriguez signed that deal before it became public that he had ever failed a PED test, and A-Rod statistically was having one of the greatest careers in baseball history. Machado isn’t quite there. But he’s on a Hall of Fame pace, is six years younger than Rodriguez was in 2007 and there’s been over a decade of inflation. Or at least there should have been, the league isn’t struggling financially.
This isn’t to say that the baseball world isn’t correct to want a resolution to Machado’s free-agency. The staff at Phillies Nation has memorized every available stock photo for Machado (and Harper, for that matter). But this offseason has become so much bigger than whether the Phillies land a superstar. It’s even become bigger than where Machado and Harper will spend what should be their prime years. It’s become a battle over labor practices in the sport, and makes you wonder what will happen when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in December of 2021. For Machado, who was expected to land a historic contract this offseason, it’s understandable to be frustrated that he’s become an unwitting participant in a battle over whether players will roll over to organizations that are becoming increasingly wealthy based off of their production.
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