It seems that St. Louis Cardinals fans and the area media have decided that the only choice for the team when it comes to the top free agents on the market this winter is former Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.
But what happens if Harper is wooed elsewhere by an offer the Redbirds can’t match and the other top free agent, Manny Machado, failed to find a team that would offer him a mega contract? How far would Machado have to fall before St. Louis would bite?
A year ago, Redbirds fans were foaming at the mouth over the idea that the Cardinals should trade for Machado. He seemed like a perfect fit, an excellent defender at third base, the Birds’ most obvious defensive position of need. In his mid twenties, Machado could be the face of the franchise for years to come. But Machado damaged his marketability dramatically in October after a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. First, he repeatedly seemed to take cheap shots at opposing players, attempting to spike them as he ran the bases. Second, he was caught on camera several times loafing after hitting ground balls. Instead of learning from his mistake, Machado doubled down and said that hustling isn’t his “cup of tea.”
The ownership of the New York Yankees, the team Machado is thought to most want to play for, is on the record repeatedly saying that they don’t have any room for a player who doesn’t give maximum effort of their roster. The Philadelphia Phillies are said to be ready for a free agent spending spree. What if they beat the Cardinals out for Harper and suddenly Machado has no takers? Talk may be cheap. But when it comes to having to make a 10-year, $350-million commitment to a guy, Machado’s words hang in the air. If he says he doesn’t care to hustle when he’s in his contract walk year, what’s Machado going to do when he’s got the security of a guaranteed contract? The Dodgers don’t seem interested in bringing Machado back. The Boston Red Sox don’t need him. The San Francisco Giants seem more interested in Harper than Machado. Who else is there that has a need that also has the financial flexibility to give a giant contract to someone who has made himself into a risky investment?
If given the choice between trading three or four top prospects for Arizona first baseman Paul Goldshmidt or handing Machado a one-year contract for $30 million dollars, what would you do?
In my book, that’s the one way Machado could end up in St. Louis, where his former general manager opined on ESPN earlier this week he thought the mercurial infielder might find a perfect fit for his skills and personality. If Machado talked his way out of a decade-long deal, offer him a make-good contract for one year at $30 million — and if he proves to be a model citizen, offer him an extension. If he doesn’t, move on.
While Machado would certainly be a controversial choice, doing nothing to improve a team that has been without a face of the franchise type player and on the outside looking in at the playoffs for years, isn’t an option. If that’s the best option available, the Birds can’t be afraid to take it.
St. Louis has a history of rehabbing talented players with soiled reputations. Working in place where the fans give you enthusiastic support and the media is tame by East Coast standards is a lot easier than toiling in the spotlight of New York or LA.
The Cardinals and their fans shouldn’t give up on the possibility of Machado wearing the Birds on the Bat just yet.