LAS VEGAS — Manny Machado isn’t going to be Johnny Hustle, he told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal during the postseason. But if he gets $300 million to play baseball on the South Side of Chicago, will he reevaluate that stance on busting it down the line?
Because if he doesn’t, his new manager might do it for him.
One of the mighty interesting side stories to the White Sox aggressiveness this winter and their reported interest in Machado and Bryce Harper, the two biggest names on the free-agent market, is how Machado and his comments about distaste for hustling would mesh with Rick Renteria’s “don’t quit” culture on the South Side.
It’s all speculative, of course, because Machado does not, as of this writing, play for the White Sox. But as they potentially rev up to hand out one of the biggest contracts in baseball history, it’s worth wondering what would happen if Machado does what he did during the NLCS, when he failed to run out a ground ball against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Renteria made a habit of benching anyone and everyone who committed that cardinal sin during the 2018 season, be they a young player still learning how to be a big leaguer like Tim Anderson or an established veteran like Welington Castillo, a free-agent import in his own right. Heck, Renteria even benched Avisail Garcia, the team’s lone All Star from the 2017 season, during a spring training game.
Well, refusing to beat around the bush during his Tuesday media session at the Winter Meetings, Renteria said he’s going to keep being him and that any player signing up with the White Sox rebuilding effort will know what to expect.
“We've been ingraining this now for two years. And we've taken some steps where we'll pull a guy,” Renteria said. “But it has nothing to do with trying to embarrass them. It has everything to do with trying to set a particular standard of play or effort level.
“And there are going to be situations in which I might have to have conversations with guys that are coming from the outside. But I will venture to say this, I've said it enough publicly, they know how we want to play the game here. I think anybody who is thinking or contemplating becoming a White Sox, that we go about it a certain way.”
As much attention as Machado’s comments about hustling not being his “cup of tea” have received, they weren’t expected to impact his free agency in some super dramatic way. Meaning, he’s such a good baseball player, that the excerpt from a public-relations professional’s nightmare probably was going to pale in comparison to the numbers he just posted during a career year: a .297/.367/.538 slash line with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. He’s a four-time All Star and a two-time Gold Glover, and he’s finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting three times.
Machado has an incredible track record of production. But he also has a track record of not looking like the model baseball player. In addition to these comments about effort, he got called dirty by the Brewers for dragging his foot across the leg of first baseman Jesus Aguilar during the NLCS, he's thrown a bat and a helmet on the field in separate incidents of anger, and he injured Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-up slide.
And so Renteria admitted he would have a managing job ahead of him. Machado isn't a wide-eyed youngster who came up through the White Sox farm system. He's a major league veteran with an entire different background in the game.
"I think that it's a learned attitude, so to speak," he said. "When players get to the big leagues, in my humble opinion and in my experience, you take care of all of those issues in the minor leagues, period. It's a philosophy that you have as an organization. Every organization is different. So when they get to us, what they do has already been taught. So I don't have to deal with any of that.
"It's a little more difficult at the major league level to change an attitude of an individual if they've been doing that their whole life, if they're not giving you the effort all the time, absolutely. But it requires conversation. That person is that person. My job is to get the most out of that individual to the best of my ability.
"Will I be able to do that 100 percent? Probably not. But I'm going to give it a shot. But I've got to be creative and find ways to communicate with the players."
Machado's comments might have created a postseason and offseason firestorm — there are a lot of Twitter-using White Sox fans who went from all aboard the Machado train to wanting no part of him — but it's also not difficult to see him putting this behind him with excellent play no matter where he ends up. Adam Jones, who played with Machado in Baltimore, told our Chuck Garfien on Tuesday that Machado "plays the game hard and the right way." Machado attempted his own mea culpa earlier this winter, but those comments from a former teammate mean a little bit more.
It's very possible that if the White Sox are the ones to give Machado his big contract that he runs every batted ball out for the next decade.
But in the hypothetical situation that he doesn't, Renteria doesn't plan to shy away from doing what he does because Machado is a $300 million man. As long as he has the backing of his bosses — and he believes he will — he's going to keep sitting guys if they don't play the way he believes the White Sox should play.
"Everybody has to be comfortable with me making and taking an action like that," he said. "And when I do, I think we'll be backed."
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