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Teams aren’t really losing interest in Manny Machado

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This morning, SNY’s Andy Martino reported that the Yankees’ baseball operations and scouting departments are “lukewarm” on the pursuit of free agent SS/3B Manny Machado due to the trouble he got into during the postseason. On two occasions, Machado did not run hard after putting a ball in play. After the first incident, he justified the lack of effort, saying that running hard wasn’t his “cup of tea.” He also illegally slid into Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia twice, and intentionally slammed his leg into Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar’s leg as he ran through the first base bag. Machado was not much of a factor in the postseason, hitting .227/.278/.394 in 72 trips to the plate.

Earlier this month, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia said there were whispers that some in the Phillies organization preferred to “steer clear” of Machado. Part of it has to do with Phillies fans, generally speaking, greatly preferring gritty, hard-nosed players (like Chase Utley). They have not been shy about shunning players who don’t always put in 100 percent (e.g. Jimmy Rollins, Odúbel Herrera).

With the offseason now under way, we will probably get a few more reports of teams’ front offices having lesser interest in Machado given everything involved in his postseason. Very little of it will be true. Rather, it’s just a ploy by front offices to reduce Machado’s leverage so he won’t cost so much in free agency.

Machado is a 26-year-old four-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is coming off of the best offensive season of his career, hitting .297/.367/.438 with 37 home runs, 107 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 709 plate appearances. He played in all 162 games. According to FanGraphs, Machado was one of nine players to put up 6.0 WAR or better. The Indians’ Francisco Lindor (7.6) was the only shortstop with a better season. (Machado’s preference is to play shortstop.) Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper are the cream of the free agent crop and any team that doesn’t seriously entertain the idea of signing Machado is one that isn’t truly committed to putting together a winning ball club.

We have seen countless times in the past that teams have absolutely no issue employing problematic players. The Mets hung onto José Reyes, an alleged domestic abuser, long after he ceased being productive. The Yankees traded for alleged domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman in December 2015 and signed him to a five-year, $86 million deal one year later, a record contract for a reliever. The Astros used alleged domestic abuser Roberto Osuna‘s problems as an incentive to pick him up on the cheap in a trade with the Blue Jays near the end of July. The Pirates brought out the welcome mat for Jung-ho Kang this summer. Kang was arrested for his third DUI in South Korea two years ago after fleeing the scene of his single-car accident. Kang had also been investigated by Chicago police for an alleged sexual assault incident. If Reyes, Chapman, Osuna, Kang, et. al. can draw legitimate interest from major league teams, then so too will Machado, whose offenses are much less serious.

Machado will be courted by just about every team in the league. The less-serious, smaller-market teams will be winnowed out as the offseason progresses as they normally do. Machado will eventually land a lucrative free agent contract. Whether that contract is for $300 million, or $250 million, or $200 million depends on how successfully front offices are able to use his spotty postseason performance against him.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.