(This is the fourth part of this series. I previously looked at Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper, and five free agent catchers.)
Overview: Manny Machado began the season in Baltimore, looking to both rebound from an off year in 2017 and re-establish his value as one of the top free agents of the 2018-19 cycle. He did both of those things, though his own take on “Manny Being Manny” might cost him in free agency
Machado hit just .259/.310/.471 in 2017 with a .328 wOBA. After back-to-back 6 fWAR seasons – which is elite status – Machado fell to 2.6 fWAR. It was his worst season since an injury-shortened 2014. Many onlookers expected him to revert back to his former self in 2018 because it appeared that the main culprit for his struggles was a .265 BABIP. Provided he sustained his usual rates in both power and hard contact, 2018 would likely be an improved season.
And so it was. He hit .297/.367/.538 over the season with a .377 wOBA, a personal high for the slugger. He also tied his career high with 37 homers, swiped 14 bases after just nine the previous two seasons combined, and set a new high in walk percentage with 9.9%.
Two things followed Machado during the season – his pending trade to a contender as the Orioles struggled to compete and his move to shortstop. The trade came before the deadline in a move to Los Angeles to replaced Corey Seager. His numbers in L.A. weren’t quite as dominant as his Oriole days. That probably is of little surprise considering it’s much more difficult to hit in L.A. compared to Camden Yards. Nevertheless, after a .399 wOBA over 96 games with the O’s, he posted a .346 wOBA in 66 games with the Dodgers. Certainly good. Not as impressive, but solid.
His move to shortstop, on the other hand, looked much better after the trade to the data-driven Dodgers. Before the move, the former standout at third base was one of the game’s worst shortstops. His -18 defensive runs saved, or DRS, was the second most DRS by an AL shortstop this year and he spent the final two-plus months in Los Angeles.
Machado turned 26 on July 6th and is due for a big pay day. What kind of pay day? Let’s take a look.
Predicting a Contract: I’ve already done much of the legwork here as Machado’s case is incredibly similar to Bryce Harper. In that case, I suggested a nine-year, $337.5 million contract. Such a deal shatters the current total value record of $325 million and the average annual value of a contract, currently at $34.42 million a year. For Machado, the deal is even bigger because it creates a clear line between the top contract ever given to a shortstop – Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million after 2000.
I’m not sure what impact, if any, his recent actions and quotes will have on his free agency haul, but I think a minimal contract like I suggested is still the safe play here when predicting what Machado can earn on the market.
As with Harper, two things will likely be part of this deal, though. One is an opt-out. It’s almost an universal practice at this point to include an opt-out after a select amount of years in the deal. This gives the player both the financial security of a long-term deal and puts at ease any concerns he will have about being passed by lesser players in earnings.
The other thing is some sort of no-trade clause. Players want as much control of their future as they can reasonably have. Now, this is a position where the player and team can compromise down to a limited no-trade clause – i.e. the player can submit a list of a group of teams he cannot be traded to without his permission. Of course, players can choose to allow a trade to still go through. The problem here, and reaffirmed by Alex Anthopoulos yesterday, is that the Braves have a policy of no-trade clauses. They will honor a no-trade clause if they acquire a player with such a clause in a trade, but they do not hand them out.
The Case For Signing Manny Machado: It’s simple – Machado, like Harper, is a excellent hitter. While his down year in 2017 has neutered his stats over the last four seasons, Machado still is one of 28 players since 2015 to have at least a .360 wOBA. In terms of fWAR, Machado ranks ninth among position players during that time frame – better than Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich, and Freddie Freeman.
But, you might argue, much of that fWAR total came from his excellent defensive metrics. To which, I would simply reply, “your point?” Manny Machado can be a plus for your team both in the field and in the batter’s box.
And then, there is the age thing. Machado has 175 homers before his 27th birthday. Baseball-Reference’s Play Index – a must-have for baseball nerds – classifies 2018 as Machado’s Age-25 season because that was his age on June 30th. The number of players with at least 175 homers through their Age-25 season is not long. Seventeen players in history accomplished the feat and it’s still impressive despite the fact that the number has been climbing (Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Andruw Jones, Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, and Miguel Cabrera have all joined the list since 2000). Not counting active players, only two of the players with at least 175 homers before their Age-26 season failed to reach 400 homers – Orlando Cepeda and Johnny Bench.
You might argue that the Braves already have Johan Camargo and don’t need Machado. However, as we learned when the Braves faced Machado’s Dodgers, depth is a good thing. Camargo is a solid player, no doubt, and he slashed .272/.349/.457 during 2018 with a .346 wOBA. He’s not, however, Machado’s equal. Further, having Camargo in a backup role could help the Braves infield stay fresher for a full season.
But what about Austin Riley? I like Riley a lot. We’ll be releasing our Top 50 prospects starting after the new year and Riley will surely be in the Top 10. But he’s also not Machado. In some ways, you can argue that’s a good thing. I’ll get to them shortly.
The Case Against: Before I touch on the bigger issues, there is legit criticism about the defense. He looked horrendous at shortstop before the trade. A better group around him and better defensive positioning helped when he was with the Dodgers, but he’s still a below-average defender because his range is so limited. Machado has been a bit uneven on his openness to playing third base for a team he signs with. Before the trade, he simply said, “I’m playing short,” but softened his position later – probably at the urge of his agent. According to Jon Heyman a bit more than a month ago, Machado would be willing to play third base for the right team.
Whether the Braves are the right team or not is a mystery. What isn’t a mystery is, like his teammate Yasmani Grandal, Machado is doing himself few favors heading into free agency. First there was the admission that hustling was just “not my cup of tea.” Now, I am split on this. On one hand, I’m okay with my superstars that I’m paying millions of dollars not busting their butt every play. I know we’re told in little league that even if we hit it on the ground, put our heads down, hustle, and run through the first base bag. But this is the MLB. Errors happen, but not nearly at the frequency that Bobby from down the street bobbles a simple grounder. I’d prefer to see the guy I’m paying $35 or so million not blow up his hamstring running his tail off on a play he’s thrown out easily.
That said, you just don’t say it. Simple as that. You don’t say “Me hustle? Never!” I suppose Manny’s mom never told him, “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” Machado’s admission is best explained by this GIF.
But it’s not really a joke. Machado is telling perspective teams that he’s just not going to try. He’s after his and his alone. And while that might win you a lot of games, it also could be detrimental to your team. To be fair, I have not seen any teammates with a bad word to say about Machado.
Like I said, I don’t mind Machado not hustling so much as I do the fact he said it. What I do mind is his hot-headed temper and inexplicable actions. On June 6, 2014, Machado took offense to being tagged out by Josh Donaldson. Two days later, Machado seemed to intentionally throw his bat at an Athletics pitcher or toward third base after an inside fastball. The ball was already by him before he threw the bat. These are just a few select events I could have pulled from.
But last night was another thing altogether. Machado seemed to intentionally kick the leg of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he ran to first on a ground out. To be fair, Aguilar’s footwork was shoddy at first base. But Machado could have easily avoided Aguilar since he was looking down as he dragged his foot and struck Aguilar. It’s just the latest in Manny Machado resurrecting the old “Manny Being Manny” idea. However, the original Manny – Manny Ramirez – earned that description for quirky and odd moments. For Machado, it’s a series of classless plays.
My Two Cents: I’m not against replacing Camargo at third base, but I’d pass on Machado. While Bryce Harper has been handed a “clubhouse cancer” reputation that it doesn’t appear he’s earned, Machado’s actions show that he’s probably not the best person to put around a group of young and impressionable Braves. Too much of a price tag and too much of a headache.
Do you disagree? Let me know below.