It seems the consensus, should the St. Louis Cardinals bid for one of the top free agents available on the market this winter, is that Washington Nationals slugging outfielder Bryce Harper is the best fit.
But, if the Redbirds swing and miss when it comes to Harper, is former Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Manny Machado an acceptable fallback?
Both players come with a bit of baggage in the maturity department. Harper is known as something of a hot dog, although his dedication and desire to win isn’t often questioned. Machado, on the other hand, has a long history of being at the center of negativity. If that’s not enough, he was exposed in the National League Championship Series jogging out a ground ball that was a closer play than he thought it was going to be, and when asked about it he told a television interviewer that he’s not a hustling kind of guy. Swell.
I wonder how that sentiment will fly in New York, where the Yankees were the leading contender to sign Machado when he hits the market. Fans in the Big Apple can be a bit intense. But they’re nothing compared to the demanding crowds in Philadelphia, another contender for Machado’s services. Would the folks famous for booing Santa Claus have the patience to hold their tongues when a guy making a third of a billion dollars can’t be bothered to run 90 feet as hard as he can?
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I know what you’re thinking. Fans in St. Louis aren’t going to put up with that sort of bull, either. But what if Machado soured his market so much that he suddenly becomes a relative bargain? If he could be had for five years at $150 million instead of 10 years for $300 million plus, would the Birds be smart to take a chance on him?
While Machado is a jerk, he’s undeniably talented. Besides Harper, there isn’t anyone else who will be a free agent who can hold a candle to his ability with the bat. At least not at his young age. So, if Harper slips through John Mozeliak’s fingers, he could have a tough decision on his hands.
Beside the laziness he’s shown on the bases, Machado once started a bench clearing brawl against the Oakland Athletics when third baseman Josh Donaldson had the audacity to try to tag Machado out on a ground ball to third . Outrageous! I happened to be in attendance that day in Baltimore and couldn’t believe Machado found something to take exception with during that innocent play. Later, an Oakland hurler through an inside pitch and on his next swing, Machado let go of the bat on his swing and nearly hit the pitcher.
The funny thing about professional athletes who are jerks is that they’re so much less offensive when they’re wearing the uniform of the team for which you’re rooting. Harper isn’t necessarily an angel. He’s scrapped with the press and runs his mouth sometimes. But Machado takes it over the edge sometimes.
While his attitude is questionable, Machado’s talent is not. He’s a third baseman and shortstop, by trade. It just so happens that the Redbirds need a starting third baseman, so he’s a fit whether he plays the hot corner or if he insists on playing shortstop and Paul DeJong slides over to third. While Harper is an unquestionable talent, St. Louis has lots of outfielders in its system. There is also the inconvenient presence of Dexter Fowler to contend with. If the Birds signed Harper, it looks like Fowler with be a $15 million a year bench warmer.
Besides needing a middle of the order bat to bolster the offense, St. Louis needs to improve it’s defense and Machado will help to scratch that itch, especially if he is willing to play third base. Matt Carpenter’s throwing troubles have made playing there an unacceptable option.
The St. Louis front office is always looking for bargains and it’s more reluctant to make a long term commitment than a 50-year-old bachelor. But I wonder if Machado’s market doesn’t develop and he could be had for five years and $150 million while Harper is going to take twice that or more to ink if Mozeliak would be willing to take on the longer deal.
As I have said, I just don’t see anyone besides Harper or Machado being an acceptable option for the Cardinals. Donaldson is 33 and has become an injury concern as he ages. Trade options Paul Goldschmidt and Nolen Arenado don’t offer enough control to justify trading three or four top prospects for them.