“I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle’...that’s not who I am.” With that one remark (paywall), Manny Machado instantly changed the landscape for what should have been an easy payday. He’ll still get paid, but now he has to work a little extra for it.
Generally when a player this good comes along, a fan base will unite in their desire to see their favorite team sign said player. Machado, though, comes with divisive opinions. Still, Machado has been linked to New York for years now. And even if fans are divided on him, the Yankees are seemingly interested in his services. As they should be.
“Hustle” is a bit of a touchy subject in Yankeeland (I refuse to say Yankees Universe). “Lack of hustle” has plagued players in the Bronx for years now. Robinson Cano was famously chided for his supposed lack of hustle when he was a Yankee, and currently Gary Sanchez is everyone’s favorite target.
He wasn’t exactly saying he’s not going to hustle. He went on to explain that he should’ve run out on that play, and that while watching a replay he even questioned himself. On the surface, Machado’s comments were off-putting. Looked at closely, they’re just kind of dumb. Unfortunately, the damage was already done.
His reputation took a hit. The comments were so bad, both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman had to weigh in on them at separate times. While they didn’t completely downplay the comments, neither of them ruled out pursuing him for it either.
In an interview with MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, he did try clarifying those comments:
“When I was asked that question, I was definitely on the defensive, and I was wrong to answer it the way that I did, because looking back, it doesn’t come across how I meant it,” Machado said. “For me, I was trying to talk about how I’m not the guy who is eye wash. There’s a difference between fake hustle for show and being someone who tries hard to win. I’ve always been the guy who does whatever he can to win for his team.
Obviously he was just saying he is who he is, but admits he should’ve tried harder on that play. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to give effort out there.
Even if the hustle issue wasn’t there, some don’t want Machado because “there’s no need for him.” The argument is that the Yankees’ focus should be on pitching as the offense was already historic without him. Plus the team currently employs Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar.
Firstly, the Yankees can afford to pursue both hitting and pitching. Also, for a player as good and talented as Machado is, teams make room for him. He’s that good. As for Andujar? He was a breath of fresh air at times for the Yankees at the plate, but he’s not exactly irreplaceable.
Andujar was one of the worst defensive players in baseball last year. Machado is a Platinum Glove winner at third. There’s also the question of whether or not Andujar’s “swing at every single pitch no matter where it is” strategy is sustainable. Machado’s just finished his seventh season in the majors where he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball.
The other concerns with Machado are the cost and the terms. With the cost, who cares? It’s the Steinbrenners’ money and they can certainly afford to not shell out for the third helicopter landing pad on their seventh yacht. The terms won’t really be an issue because Machado’s only 26. The team that gets him will be getting the best of him.
The Yankees could always pass on Machado, give Andujar another chance. If they still feel like they need an upgrade, they could pursue Nolan Arenado next year. Unfortunately, a lot can happen between now and then.
Signing Machado gives the team a lot of flexibility now. They could then turn and use Andujar as a trade chip, or there’s a world where they can keep both Andujar and Machado. With Didi Gregorius being out, Machado could play shortstop with Andujar at third. Once Didi returns, they could look at letting Stanton play the outfield more and Andujar getting more time at DH. I won’t pretend to have the perfect solution; I just know that it can work.
As Brian Cashman said, Machado’s comments about his hustle “should not be what defines him.” Machado is an exceptionally talented baseball player, and he is a free agent. He’ll cost the team nothing but money. Cashman should be pulling out all the stops. Signing Manny Machado would make a great team that’s trying to win now, even better.