Machado Theory: Hustling isn’t the problem that ownership has with Manny
The hot stove is starting to crank up ever so slightly. The Braves made a couple of moves earlier in the week, a flurry of very minor moves around the league have started to happen due to the 40-man draft deadline, and Patrick Corbin is taking his meeting with the Yankees as I am writing this. We’re about to get to the really fun part of the offseason, as I would guess that the marquee free agents will begin to sign as soon as 2-3 weeks from now.
The Yankees have talked for a while about the plan to get under the luxury tax and spend big in this offseason with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado on the market as 26-year-old free agents. They got under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 and it’s time to start spending again. Media pundits are declaring it unlikely that the Yankees make a play for Harper (though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out) and they also seem to be claiming that the Yanks are closer to lukewarm on Manny Machado than hot. The Harper discussion is one for another time, but let me talk about a small theory I’ve conjured up about the Machado discussion.
I’ve written before about how Machado would be a clear upgrade for the Yankees, despite being a jerk.
Machado is an elite hitter (wRC+ over 130 in three of the last four years), a capable defensive shortstop (an elite defender at third base), and he doesn’t cost his teams any runs on the bases.
Despite him being a top 5ish player in all of baseball (can we say that anyone besides Mike Trout is definitively better than him?), Yankee fans- it seems to be about a 50/50 split on this- are sour on the idea of Machado in pinstripes, citing the hustling issue as the primary reason to not want him here.
Nobody within baseball circles really cares about the hustling thing, especially when we’re talking about players as good as Machado. We know that the Yankees, specifically, don’t care about it. They didn’t care when it was Robinson Cano and I promise you that they don’t care about it with Machado. The only thing that would inhibit the Yankees from signing Machado is the contract. Whether it’s the years or the dollar figure, the contract is the only thing that would actually stop Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office from pursuing Machado. It’s not the hustling thing.
That’s why it has been so peculiar that the front office is leaning into the hustle thing. Hal Steinbrenner had his interview with Meredith Marakovits on YES last week and said that Machado’s Johnny Hustle comments were “troubling” and that that attitude “wouldn’t play [in New York].” Steinbrenner said that he would have to sit down with Machado and discuss those comments and figure out what he fully meant by that. Machado has begun the public relations tour of backing away from those initial comments that he made to Ken Rosenthal. It makes sense.
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe Steinbrenner when he says he is concerned about the hustling. I think he’s much more concerned with the dirty plays in Machado’s history, such as kicking Jesus Aguilar this postseason and throwing his bat at the A's.
The Yankees should be more concerned with those things because those are the things Machado has done that are actually offensive. It makes sense. As much as I’m in favor of a Machado signing, I hate those things. They make me feel icky.
So I think the Yankees also have this aversion. A much larger one than any time he jogs to first on a routine ground ball to the second baseman. I believe the Yankees are more concerned with the decidedly dirty plays than the hustling. They’re using the hustling as a cover.
For whatever reason, everyone on Twitter and talk radio is talking about the hustling thing and not the fact that Machado has been a legitimately dirty player in the past.
The Yankees, I think, are leaning into that and also claiming outrage at the hustling because if they do decide to sign him, it’s much easier to justify that than if the story were about Machado’s history of trying to injure other players.
The front office claims that they are going to be talking to Machado about his “troubling” hustle history, but I think it is clear that the truth is they want to talk about his “troubling” history of dirty play. They need to make sure that doesn’t carry over if he comes to The Bronx because that is what won’t play here.