Manny Machado may be the first big-time free agent to have a huge postseason and cost himself money.
Machado and Bryce Harper are both aiming to sign the biggest contract in baseball history, and Machado has done nothing on the field to hurt himself. In fact, he’s played brilliantly at times. But teams surely have noticed a few side occurrences — from the failure to hustle in Game 2 to the kick of first baseman Jesus Aguilar in Game 4. And perhaps that will impact his free agency, as well.
Machado has shown his amazing talent throughout the postseason, from the laser home run in Milwaukee to a clinching three-run homer in Atlanta to improved play at shortstop. The talent is all working for him.
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But perhaps the bigger headlines have come from the side issues that have put the spotlight on the way he plays the game. This is something that went mostly unnoticed when he was in Baltimore but may be nothing new. Peter Schmuck wrote in the Baltimore Sun that this was just Manny being Manny.
Now others are wondering about him. A trio of longtime baseball people hit on the same theme in interviews this week:
“He’s A-Rod II,” one baseball executive said.
“He’s A-Rod without the steroids,” another exec said.
“He’s basically following A-Rod’s lead,” another longtime baseball person said.
That person mentioned A-Rod’s slap of the glove and the yell of, “I got it,’’ to grab an advantage when none is needed. (To be fair, A-Rod was never accused of purposely hitting an opposing player in a way that could cause injury.)
It may be no coincidence that Alex Rodriguez, as supremely talented as they come, is Machado’s mentor. An Orioles person says Machado was a great kid but lost some “focus” in recent years, to the point where he takes some plays, or even games, off. But A-Rod, who signed two record deals, one for $252 million and the other for $275 million, never did that, or anything to cost himself big bucks. It remains to be seen whether Machado will be able to say the same.
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Another rival exec opined that he doesn’t believe Machado will be adversely affected in the pocketbook one iota. And the guess here is that he still gets the monster deal in the $300-million range because talent talks — though one rival exec says his guess is that maybe “no one but Philly” may be willing to go there now.
“I have never seen a major free agent make any more dumb statements/decisions in a 24-hour window while still playing the game than Machado,” the second exec said.
It certainly has created a great deal of controversy, mostly unwanted. The kick of Aguilar caused Brewers players to retaliate. “A dirty play by a dirty player,” Brewers superstar Christian Yelich called it. It’s almost forgotten, too, that a day earlier he twice stuck out his arm in an attempt to break up double plays. (Ironically, the second time he did it, it actually caused a double play, as umpires correctly ruled interference on him.)
Machado’s stroll to first certainly has not gone without mention. That jaunt to first base on a hard grounder deep in the shortstop hole where he clearly loafed to first base didn’t look good. And later he told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that hustling just isn’t “my cup of tea,” explaining that his style and resistance to admitting injury cause him to loaf. To his credit, in that article he also admitted, “It does look bad. It looks terrible.”
By all indications, Machado wasn’t going to come back to the Dodgers after the season anyway. Word is the Miamian much prefers to go back to play on the East Coast if he can, with the Yankees thought to be his first choice, as was written here.
Plus, the signs around the Dodgers suggest they wouldn’t try to keep him anyway, even beyond the obvious issue that their own star shortstop Corey Seager will be back next year, there’s a hint or two that not everything about Machado is the Dodgers’ cup of tea. They aren’t saying anything aloud, but Dodgers announcer Orel Hershiser did criticize Machado for the kick play on Aguilar, which caused an argument on the field (though Aguilar appeared to forgive him later in the game when he gave a little hug at first before Machado scored the winning run).
Team announcers don’t often offer such criticism, so give Hershiser credit. But don’t assume he is alone in wondering about Machado.
Jon Heyman is Fancred's baseball insider. He publishes his weekly Inside Baseball column each Thursday on the App and FancredSports.com. You can download the App here and interact with Jon by following him right here.