While Bryce Harper met with teams in his hometown of Las Vegas during last week's Winter Meetings, fellow mega free agent Manny Machado is just embarking on his free-agent tour.
According to Fancred's Jon Heyman, the former Baltimore Oriole and Los Angeles Dodger will meet with both the White Sox and New York Yankees early next week.
Other reports have listed a total of six teams in on Machado: the White Sox, Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and a trio of "mystery teams."
Heyman brings up an interesting point. Who has the advantage between the White Sox and Yankees in the race for Machado?
Machado has long been linked to the Yankees, especially since their starting shortstop, Didi Gregorius, had Tommy John surgery earlier this offseason. He's expected to miss multiple months of the 2019 campaign while in recovery mode. That opens up a hole on the Yankee infield, and at the position Machado most wants to play. After winning a pair of Gold Gloves as a third baseman with the Orioles, he slid over to shortstop in 2018 and has stated his preference to play there.
The White Sox already have a shortstop in Tim Anderson, one of the few players on the current major league roster who figures to be a long-term piece for the rebuilding South Siders. Anderson's improvement, particularly on defense, was one of the team's biggest positive takeaways from the 2018 season.
Does Anderson's occupancy of the shortstop position prevent the White Sox from signing Machado? Of course not. Machado is a great player, and he's the kind of guy you make room for. But it's a discussion surrounding the White Sox that doesn't necessarily surround other teams, including the Yankees.
The White Sox have greater financial flexibility than the Yankees, greater financial flexibility than pretty much every team out there with almost no long-term financial commitments to speak of. That allows them to offer the kind of gargantuan contract expected to be necessary to land Machado (and Harper, for that matter), though a recent report from ESPN's Buster Olney indicated the White Sox might not be willing to offer a record-breaking type deal. Certainly, though, the aggressive nature of their pursuits of Harper and Machado this winter makes the White Sox look willing to spend and spend big.
When it comes to Machado's now-infamous "Johnny Hustle" comments, in which the superstar professed his distaste for hustling in an interview with The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner told reporters last month at the GM Meetings "that ain't going to sell where we play baseball."
It's been an interesting hypothetical to guess how Machado's comments would play with White Sox manager Rick Renteria, who made a habit of benching players for not hustling throughout the 2018 season. Last week during the Winter Meetings, Renteria answered questions about the topic — without reporters bringing up Machado's name, of course — and said he won't be changing his ways just because a big-money player might play differently than he'd like to see.
"There are going to be situations in which I might have to have conversations with guys that are coming from the outside," Renteria said. "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.
"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."
The biggest difference between the two teams is their current major league fortunes. The Yankees won 100 games last season, and the White Sox lost 100 games last season. The Yankees have a star-studded roster featuring young players like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, and they can pitch Machado on joining that group and starting a new Bronx dynasty beginning in 2019.
The White Sox have their own batch of young talent to pitch, and they think the lure of playing alongside Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and others is as attractive as anything any other team can offer. But Machado (or Harper) perhaps wouldn't be joining a team on a playoff quest in 2019, likely signing up because of planned future success instead.
But one of Rick Hahn's biggest points made during his multiple Winter Meetings media sessions was that he's receiving plenty of positive feedback when making that future-focused pitch, that it's one players are listening to and finding value in.
"There’s very bright days ahead," Hahn said. "Now again, it might be a year premature in terms of selling this club as a postseason contender, but we’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years to put us in a position where we very reasonably, or objectively we have a bright future ahead of us. And we’ve heard from a number of different players about their interest in being part of it, which I don’t think should be surprising.
"There’s been a lot of positive feedback in terms of the long term. It’s funny because when you are talking about a shorter-term deal, like a one- or two-year deal, you are getting a response from a lot of the players like, ‘Hey, we want to be part of the fun times, too. I’ll just do something a little bit longer.’ It can cut both ways.
"Definitely, the general consensus is one of optimism."
And here's one more pot-sweetener: The White Sox just made a trade for Machado's brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, who's under team control for two more seasons. Hahn said that Alonso's relationship to other players didn't factor in the acquisition. But hey, only one team can offer Machado the opportunity to play alongside his brother-in-law for the next two seasons.
We likely won't get a Machado decision for a while, but we can guess what the teams' pitches will be. The question: Which one will Machado like most?
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