We’ve been talking an awful lot this off-season about free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado receiving amounts of money we’ll never see, for contracts lasting a longer time than is easy to comprehend. But one team in the running for both superstars’ services, the White Sox, is pursuing Machado in a way that even we filthy peons can understand: by signing his best pals first.
If #WhiteSox complete deal for Jon Jay, it might be another step in their recruitment of Manny Machado. Jay, Machado and Machado’s brother-in-law Yonder Alonso train together in Miami in the off-season. Each wrote about it for The Players’ Tribune in 2017: https://t.co/MSyUwSm8dM— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 8, 2019
“Y... yeah?” you ask. “We doing this?”
“F*** yeah!” Ken Rosenthal replies.
Alonso under contract for 2019 with club option for ‘20. Jay likely would be one-year deal. Such short-term commitments obviously will not be deciding factor for Machado. But would #WhiteSox otherwise pursue Jay, even with need for OF help? Coming off .678 OPS at age 33. https://t.co/Jw7aM1agHj— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 8, 2019
In the empty barnyard of baseball news, Ken Rosenthal has found a chicken, and he is going to chase it around until somebody else shows up.
So this is it. This is the thing the Phillies must be missing, because they haven’t signed any of Machado’s friends, as far as we know.
They did sign the guy who did this to him:
So, let’s pretend we know for sure this is what the White Sox are up to. I don’t hate it. I don’t think it will work, but at least it’s something. Chicago has not been considered a financial titan like the Yankees or Phillies throughout these sweepstakes, so they’ve got to try some scrappy, Moneyball-ish, back door move, and signing Machado’s brother-in-law and his best gym bud to be waiting for him when he arrives on the south side is... a move. I would want those people to be waiting for me when I showed up at a new job, and my gym buddy is a cat on the other side of a window.
The Phillies have preferred a more heavy-handed approach to negotiations, not targeting Machado’s family and friends in a multi-tiered puppeteering operation, but instead choosing to meet with Machado in person, and offering him lots of money to play for their team.
But if the White Sox are playing this game, then the Phillies are already behind. What do they do? What can they do?! How did they not have a list of his best pals in their mountains of dossiers?!
Okay. We can fix this.
Let’s get started.
Currently: Signed with Twins
In April 2017, Baltimore Magazine profiled the beautiful friendship between two Orioles infielders:
“When Jonathan [Schoop] does something amazing, it gets Manny hyped,” says Machado’s wife, Yainee. “They both motivate each other constantly. They’re just best friends.”
Not only does Machado’s face light up when Jonathan Schoop walks into the room, Schoop actually makes Machado play better. “I can get in his head easily,” Schoop described it [Actually, he was talking about why he’s better than Machado at FIFA, but it still works here].
Why acquiring Schoop wasn’t a precursor to every team interested in Machado is lunacy. Perhaps it was the extremely poor slash line that Schoop, a 2017 all-star, started in Baltimore this past season and brought with him to Milwaukee after he was traded in the Orioles’ mid-season fire sale.
But we’re not talking about stats on the page. We’re talking about one player being used as a human battery to supercharge the other into an even more terrifying version of himself. Schoop doesn’t even need a position; just let him take Dan Baker’s job for Machado’s at-bats, yelling “Behold!” at the crowd and then playing a thirty second clip of aggressive, upsetting orchestra music while Machado calmly slips the doughnut off his bat.
Currently: Awaiting phone call
After going a combined 4-for-8 against the Yankees one night in 2013, Machado and Jones threw on some denim and took a few glamour shots—an intense act of camaraderie.
Jones is a free agent, having stated as recently as mid-December that no teams had gotten him on the phone yet, so the Phillies could sign him tomorrow. In fact, they already tried to trade for him earlier in the summer. He would have been a part of their second-half outfield, if he had only not used his contractual rights to not come to Philadelphia.
When asked why he would do that, he responded with a polite, “I earned this and it’s my decision. I don’t have to explain it to nobody.”
On the one hand, he’s absolutely right. On the other, [stomping feet] why does no one want to play here?!
Currently: Reabsorbed by Red Sox
Well, Pearce was a free agent, until something about him being the 2018 World Series MVP made the Red Sox re-sign him, and another opportunity to coax Machado to their corner slipped through the Phillies’ fingers.
Before the World Series, Pearce called Machado “the best person I know in this game.” But we can all remember when the two buds had a little moment during the series, when Machado clipped the back of Pearce’s foot during a play at first base.
Not only did Machado deny any malfeasance, but he went a step further, citing the deep relationship that exists between the two players:
[Machado] and Pearce played together in Baltimore, and Machado said they’re “kind of, almost best friends.”
“He was at my wedding; his daughter was my flower girl,” Machado said.
Though it was smart of Machado to catch himself before announcing Pearce as his “best friend” while a jealous Jonathan Schoop scowled in the shadows, and Pearce shrugged off the entire ordeal, it is already too late for the Phillies to capitalize on this relationship. By which I mean, harness one of the most productive bats in the game using the power of friendship.
Currently: Shaking his head, disgusted at these tactics
Look, we can all read headlines. Obviously, after seven years in the league, regardless of what you think of his demeanor, Machado has made a lot of friends. But who does he want to play with? Who does he want crushing him in a dog pile? Who does he want next to him while they spray uncomfortable reporters with champagne? Who does he want to lock eyes with on a parade float while basking in the love of an entire city, and non-verbally say, “Yeah, dude. We did it.”
For these questions, Machado has already provided an answer.
Manny Machado, wearing a sweet tiger sweater, says that he’s focused on baseball, not trade rumors, but winning a World Series with Albert Almora Jr. would be special. pic.twitter.com/K7b11YaXpE— Lauren Comitor (@laurencomitor) May 21, 2018
Machado and Almora call each other cousins, despite not being related by blood. Like Pearce, Almora was at Machado’s wedding. They’ve known each other since they were three and five years old, grew up in Miami together, and share the kind of bond that you realize, as you get older, is both truly special and utterly rare.
Unfortunately for any teams looking to use that bond as motivation for him to sign with them, Almora has refused to be a pawn in the recruitment process; not that the Cubs have been considered serious contenders anyway. So if the Phillies were to make this happen, they would somehow have to convince Almora that they were signing him to play in the outfield, a position for which they currently have five players and are flying out to Las Vegas to recruit a sixth. Dang.
Currently: Unpacking in Ohio
Before the 2018 All-Star Game, FOX Sports cameras caught Machado going in for a handshake with his bud, Matt Kemp, of the Dodgers, which Kemp didn’t hesitate to turn into a bonafide bro-grab. While Kemp was on base later in the game, the two also took a selfie together. At the time, where the Orioles were going to trade Machado was still a question, but it seemed like Kemp had emerged as an influential advocate for L.A.
“Me and Manny have been friends for a long time, we worked out in Miami together,” Kemp explained. If Rosenthal’s “friendship-powered free agency” theory is to be believed, then the “worked out in Miami together”-bond is extremely strong.
But Kemp recently left Los Angeles, along with Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood, in a trade to Cincinnati. Are the Reds currently in a better position to sign Manny Machado than the Phillies? Unarguably yes.