Let’s be clear about this: Manny Machado is going to become an extremely rich individual this offseason. But his free agency will challenge the norms for what is accepted as a franchise player in Major League Baseball.
From tee-ball to the big leagues, one of the most commonly used phrases is the word “hustle.” Whether it be running out groundballs, running the bases, or not giving up on a flyball, the logic applies to a number of different elements in the sport. But it rubs Machado the wrong way. In fact, he’s made it clear that hustling down the first base line and, in general, is not a priority of his.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Machado described his stance on the matter: “Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”
To be fair, Machado made it clear that he knows he should hustle more. “Should I have run on that pitch? Yeah … but I didn’t and I gotta pay the consequences for it. It does look bad. It looks terrible. I look back at the video and I’m like, ‘Woah, what was I doing?’” Later, he said, “I’ve tried changing it for eight years and I still can’t figure it out but, one of these days I will.”
One of the biggest storylines of the postseason was Machado’s lack of hustle. He didn’t run out many groundballs, assumed a fly ball he hit was a home run — and was on first base because of it — and had a bizarre encounter with Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar in the National League Championship Series where he dragged his foot across the calf of Aguilar.
There are players who have made a career based on hustling. Beating out groundballs, getting behind fly balls, and wreaking havoc on the basepaths is a vital part of the sport that can be undermined at times. When you’re on the big stage, it’s not possible for it to go unnoticed for a player of Machado’s stature. And now there’s doubt as to whether teams should want Machado to be the face of their franchise.
What if a minor leaguer had said hustling wasn’t his “cup of tea”? How about a college player? A high school player would surely be benched by his manager if he muttered those words, or was caught saying such a phrase.
Machado is one of the best players in MLB, and there’s no denying his accolades. He’s an electric hitter, an elite fielder — whether it be at shortstop or third base — and one of the faces of the sport. He has totaled 33-plus home runs in each of the last four years, is a career .282 hitter, has appeared in four MLB All-Star Games, and is a two-time Gold Glove recipient. But contending teams have to ask themselves whether signing Machado is worth the potential backlash that could come with doing so.
Whichever team ends up signing Machado will be taking a leap of faith in their fanbase accepting his stubborn ways on the basepaths and falling in love with his skill set. But if fans don’t accept it, or simply don’t want him being the face of their favorite team, they have every right to feel that way. Hey, they’re the consumer of the game. Their thoughts matter whether they’re seen on television or not. But there are going to be teams who will pursue Machado because of the bottom line: he’s an elite player who they’ll make money on.
If a contender adds Machado, he could be the piece that makes them a force to be reckoned with and/or a World Series threat. Now, how much money he receives will be the telling point as to how much hustling is a factor in today’s game. For the last three years, Machado and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper have been the center of discussion surrounding exceeding Giancarlo Stanton‘s MLB-record $325 million contract. Despite the notion surrounding his game, Machado could likely get a contract of that magnitude from someone. But, is it more likely to come from a contending or rebuilding franchise?
If you’re in MLB’s basement and in desperate need of a facelift, then showing Machado the coin could pay dividends. The Seattle Mariners did this when they agreed to a 10-year, $240 million deal with All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano before the 2014 season. While there was criticism surrounding his lack of hustle, Cano was arguably the best second baseman and one of the best hitters in the sport. Making such a signing gets the attention of the league and impending free agents. On the other hand, if you’re already a potent team, or one on the rise, is bringing in Machado worth it?
Thirty years ago and maybe even earlier this century, a player could legitimately lose a lot of money in free agency if he were categorized as lazy. Machado will challenge whether that mentality still exists.
According to SNY’s Andy Martino, the New York Yankees, who have been long linked to the star infielder, are reportedly “lukewarm” on signing Machado because of his postseason antics. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t appear keen on re-signing Machado after trading for him in July. Will the Chicago Cubs be willing to move payroll to pave the way for a pursuit of the 26-year-old? Do the Atlanta Braves empty their pockets? The answer to those two questions is unclear.
Many teams can back up the truck because they can, but, in all likelihood, it would be safe to expect Machado to sign with a playoff caliber ballclub. With that said, if those teams are all concerned about how their fanbase will react, or whether they, themselves, can fathom the nauseating weakness in his game, Machado could be in a once unimaginable predicament — having to sign with a team on the outside looking in at the playoffs, perhaps at a lower figure, or even on a shorter deal. Heck, maybe those teams aren’t even interested in making Machado the face of their franchise.
Machado is not the only player and/or star in the sport who doesn’t hustle — which is important to remember. At times, people’s opinions on the matter are subjective, and, in general, it’s a subjective issue. There’s the unwritten rule that catchers and pitchers get a pass due to crouching behind the plate for half the game and the fear of pitchers getting hurt running — which, while laughable, is a legitimate fear of some. There’s also the idea that if you’re a great player, you can get away with not hustling because of your production and meaning to your team. At the same time, in the postseason, and in a big city — where eyeballs are glued to your every move — not hustling can be a horrific look.
So, what is an example of an ideal franchise player? Well, players such as Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, and Aaron Judge are examples of elite players who always bust their rear on the basepaths and in the field. In fact, outside of perhaps slumping at the plate from time to time, how often are those three players’ drive and hustle brought into question? Not everyone can be a duplicate of Trout, Altuve, or Judge. But by simply hustling, or selling the effort well, the negative perception of Machado’s game can disintegrate. And if it did, the criticism surrounding whether he’s worth a $300-plus million contract would be gone.
Machado is one of the best baseball players in the world, but him cashing in on a record-setting contract is not a given. And his free agency will be the ultimate indicator for how much hustling means in regards to being paid like a franchise player.
Buckle up: this is going to be enthralling.