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."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.
LAS VEGAS — The words coming from White Sox brass at these Winter Meetings show an aggressiveness in pursuing the biggest names in the game and a confidence that the rebuilding process is moving toward an incredibly bright future.
But reports from some of the national writers who break all kinds of news during this kind of event show something different.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal wrote about the White Sox on Tuesday, reporting that team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has given his front office the green light to pursue Harper and Machado, who are expected to receive a couple of the biggest contracts in baseball history, even though he has doubts about winning a bidding war. Then came a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale on Wednesday, indicating that the South Siders are set to meet with the two big-name free agents, even though they don't see themselves as the favorites.
The Chicago #WhiteSox have meetings with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado but don’t view themselves as the favorites— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 12, 2018
Humility is always good, but it's a stark contrast between those couple bits of reporting and the description of the White Sox and their aggressive winter to this point.
That being said, both pieces of information include the fact that the White Sox are still going to make their pitch to these guys and try to get them to play 81 (and eventually more) home games a year on the South Side.
It's already been reported that Hall of Famer Jim Thome came on board to help the White Sox pitch Harper, and the White Sox were reported to have a meeting with Machado soon, though whether that's here in Vegas or back in Chicago remains unclear, as Machado was reportedly going to take his free-agent tour to teams in their home cities.
Yanks, White Sox and Phillies are 3 teams that will meet with Manny Machado. The 3 alleged mystery teams remain so.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 11, 2018
Club exec says he’s heard Manny Machado will make four in-person visits with teams in the days ahead.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 11, 2018
The White Sox will be in the room with these guys, pitching them on why an impact talent like themselves should sign up with a team that lost 100 games last season. Certainly the metaphorical dump truck full of money will have an awful lot to do with it, and the team's virtual lack of any long-term financial commitments has made them seem such a realistic option to so many in the know. The White Sox sure seem willing to offer that kind of monstrous contract. They'd have to be, otherwise there'd be little point in an aggressive pursuit.
But their pitch will likely be focused on something else.
"It's the future. The talent we have," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday when asked what the White Sox biggest selling point to free agents is. "We've got some really good-looking young players that are not far from being here and impacting us and helping us hopefully do what we're searching to do, which is win ballgames."
Hahn thinks that's a winning pitch, too. The chance to do something special from the ground up, to join a rebuilding team, buy into the future, watch the minor league talent ascend around you and then win a bunch of championships. That's what the White Sox will say to Harper and Machado.
Will it work?
The Philadelphia Phillies have vowed to "spend stupid," perhaps the reason they're the favorites to land Harper and one of the favorites to sign Machado. The New York Yankees can sell Machado (they took themselves out of the Harper running, it seems) on joining a 100-win team and being a part of the next Bronx dynasty. The Los Angeles Dodgers always seem willing to spend a huge chunk of change and are reportedly trying to make some moves that would clear room in their crowded outfield, perhaps for Harper.
That's tough competition. The Dodgers have been to back-to-back World Series, the Yankees had the third best record in baseball last season, and the Phillies made big strides in their rebuilding effort. It's hard play at that table with mere plans for the future.
But, as mentioned, the White Sox seem confident in their pitch, and they'll get to make it. The good news is their future does not dim at all if they don't hit on Harper or Machado. But getting one of those guys would certainly make it neon bright.