Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in MLB. Wednesday is dedicated to Manny Machado.
OK, so things did not go well for Manny Machado in October. He made some terribly timed comments about not being “Johnny Hustle” and that has cast a cloud over his arrival on the free-agent market.
But if you can manage to put aside your outrage over the comments and peer through the cloud, here’s what you see:
Manny Machado is one hell of a player, a “generational” talent, if we might employ the term that has become de rigueur.
Like Bryce Harper, he would look really good in a Phillies uniform.
Like Harper, he is a great fit in terms of age — 26 with a bunch of prime years left — and production. He would provide the team with a huge right-handed bat in the top half of the batting order. Lost in the fallout of Machado’s comments in October is that he had a tremendous season in 2018. He hit a combined .297 with a .905 OPS with the Orioles and Dodgers. He clubbed 37 homers and drove in 107 runs. He has smacked at least 33 homers in each of the last four seasons and reached 95 RBIs in each of the last three, and most of that production has come in the rugged American League East.
There is another factor that makes Machado a good fit for the Phillies:
He plays shortstop and third base, two positions where the Phillies have needs — immediate needs. And he has the type of long body that could move to first base later in his career after he has exhausted his time on the left side of the infield.
Those who dig into such matters aren’t overly fond of Machado’s defense at shortstop. His work at the position is perceived as well below average. He was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved at the position last season, according to Fangraphs data. The main issue was his range, though he improved after the midseason trade to the Dodgers, and his shortstop defense hadn't previously graded out so poorly.
The bet here is that, over a long contract, Machado would spend the bulk of his time as a Phillie at his best position, third base, and, given the defense the Phillies played last season, he would be an overall boon to the team’s work in the field while providing a huge offensive upgrade.
Character, or makeup as they call it in baseball, remains the overriding concern with Machado. His comments about hustle not being “his cup of tea” were/are a concern to Phillies officials. They will have to write a gargantuan check for a player like Machado or Harper and they aren’t just getting a player for their money — they are getting a face of the franchise. That face had better be one that fans — the people who pay the bills — can embrace. Machado’s comments earned him some doubts and some detractors in Philadelphia, but club officials remain open-minded to pursuing him. After all, with the exception of his slip-up in October, which was magnified because it came on a big stage, he is the same guy he was in Baltimore and the Phillies tried to get him in July.
As for the fans, some will never embrace Machado if he becomes a Phillie and others will come around to him the minute he starts driving balls into the gaps at Citizens Bank Park and leading the team to wins. Machado’s talent outweighs his warts and there’s always the chance that his makeup improves as he matures and gets around players like Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins.
“If you’re trying to find the young free agent who’s good at everything and a prince in the clubhouse, you’re going to be looking for a long time,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said last week. “You’re not always going to find somebody who checks off every box.
“We do our best to evaluate the total player, everything that that player brings to the table — offense, defense, baserunning, their makeup, their work ethic, their age, their health histories. It's unlikely that you're going to find the player that is elite in every single one of those areas. If you do, he's probably not going to be a free agent. Sometimes you have to pick and choose what you're willing to bet on.”
For a team that needs to add great young players, Manny Machado’s talent is still worth betting on.
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