When a star player gets traded to a big city, it’s supposed to enhance their brand. But, in the case of former Baltimore Orioles infielder Manny Machado, getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers was the worst thing that happened to his image.
One year ago, Machado was one of the biggest talking points in Major League Baseball. Would the Orioles trade him and get back a haul before he hit free agency? Would owner Peter Angelos sign off on a trade within the division with the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox? Could the Orioles convince Machado to sign a contract extension? Would the Orioles wait until the MLB trade deadline to take action?
The Orioles ultimately held onto Machado through mid-July, and then opted to pull the trigger on a trade with the Dodgers, putting Machado in the thick of the National League playoff race. While he didn’t knock the cover off the ball, Machado was productive in the final two and a half months of the regular season with the Dodgers. Hitting .273 while totaling 13 home runs and 42 RBIs, he was a productive bat in manager Dave Roberts’ lineup. In the field, he was his stellar self. He played third base and shortstop and performed at the level the Dodgers and the MLB world are accustomed to, executing long throws and utilizing his cannon for an arm. All in all, based on his production and reliability, there was little reason to believe he couldn’t cash in on the near-$300 million contract that had been speculated/reported on over the last several seasons.
With that said, there’s a nagging issue in Machado’s game: his hustle, or lack thereof. Once he entered the LA spotlight, Machado’s knack for jogging, more specifically down the first base line, was discussed at length. And when the postseason commenced, that aspect of his game was electrified.There's a case to be made that the @Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Machado was the worst thing that could have happened to the star infielder. In the midst of Machado's bizarre offseason, @RPStratakos expands on that point.Click To Tweet
Machado dogged groundballs throughout the duration of the postseason, gave some puzzling comments on how he’ll never be “Johnny Hustle,” had a bizarre encounter with Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar where he drove his knee through the infielder’s calf — resulting in a confrontation — and was criticized for jogging down the first base line in Game 3 of the World Series when he assumed a long flyball he hit was a home run, when, in fact, it went off the wall.
It’s safe to say that Machado was the most discussed individual of the postseason. His antics and the headlines they triggered were a vital reason for that, but it was also how they would affect his free agency. Today, there are three teams said to be pursuing the star infielder: the Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Chicago White Sox. How is it possible for there to be that little interest in the 26-year-old?
Machado is one of the 10 best players in the sport, an elite all-around player, and, from a talent perspective, a franchise player. Outside of a gruesome injury he suffered in the final week of the 2013 season, Machado has been durable, playing at least 155 games in five of the last six seasons. He’s also coming off a season in which he, collectively, hit a career-best .297 while totaling 37 home runs (which ties his career-best) and 107 RBIs (another career-best). He’s even totaled 33-plus home runs a season since 2015.
Here’s another way of looking at the situation: what if Machado was never traded to the Dodgers, and the Orioles opted to hold onto him through the regular season, or deal him to a team that wasn’t in playoff contention? When the Orioles traded Machado, they owned the worst record and were viewed as the worst team in MLB; they finished the season 47-115. In the 96 games he played for the Orioles in 2018, Machado hit .315 while totaling 24 home runs and 65 RBIs. He was the best player on a team that was in MLB’s cellar. No one felt he was going to re-sign with the Orioles, and it made sense for them to get what they could for the homegrown product in a trade. For Machado’s sake, him wanting to play elsewhere and the Orioles trading him panned out to be horrible for his career.
Once Machado was traded to the Dodgers, he joined a team looking for a boost, but also a ballclub coming off a World Series appearance. The consensus was they’d go on a run, play with more consistency, and make the playoffs — which they did. At the same time, it was a spotlight that Machado wasn’t accustomed to. He played in October in years past, but the Orioles weren’t a postseason fixture. Machado’s lack of hustle had been noted before, but it was never viewed as such a detriment to the point where he wouldn’t have several suitors once he hit free agency.
In the postseason, Machado’s flaws were noted by 29 teams on a daily basis, and his 2018 legacy will forever be his lack of hustle and the incident with Aguilar at first base. Ultimately, no one cares, or talks about his production in the postseason — which featured an underwhelming .227 batting average. Had Machado raked, hit a walk-off, or simply hit like the individual MLB has grown accustomed to, he could’ve made up, or come close to offsetting the negative notions that now permanently surround him.
If Machado never appeared in the playoffs, he wouldn’t have had eyeballs watching the weaknesses and repulsive aspects of his game. He could’ve had his offensive output from the regular season to show, instead of also owning a .227 postseason batting average. Machado could instead be pitching that on a winning team, he would be a different player. But he was given the chance to play for the defending NL Pennant champions, and all that’s remembered is the negative from his Dodgers tenure. Whether it be right or wrong, star players on losing teams, at times, are looked upon as having a free pass with the little things. The idea that they’re the best thing a franchise has going for itself is instilled in people’s heads, and Machado lost that sympathy when he was traded to a winning team.
Is only a select few teams showing continued interest in Machado a sign that the hustling questions and the 2018 postseason have severely impacted his free agency? Is it simply that only three teams are willing to give him a record-setting contract? Is it merely a coincidence?
After three and a half months with the Dodgers, Machado has been categorized, by some, as lazy, overrated, and a player who you shouldn’t build around. One year ago, the story with Machado was how he was a great player on a rebuilding team who could go elsewhere and help a team win the World Series. No one talks about, or views Machado the same way they did in 2017.
The spotlight can be a blessing, or a misfortune. For Machado, it was a misfortune and a period of time that will never be forgotten. The Dodgers were the worst thing to happen to his image and maybe even, furthermore, his free agency.