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  • Manny Machado is one of the game's elite talents who received a contract offer less desirable than the one offered to Chris Davis in 2015.
By Jon Tayler
January 16, 2019

The market for Manny Machado—All-Star shortstop and hitter par excellence—is distressingly and oddly quiet. Despite being just 26 years old, an elite player at two premium defensive positions, and available for just money, few teams have emerged as serious suitors this winter. (The same is true of Machado’s offseason superstar twin, Bryce Harper.) No one, it seems, wants to spend on one of baseball’s best. And on Wednesday afternoon, we got a sign of just how little interest the league has in paying Machado a fair salary. Via ESPN’s Buster Olney:

Late Wednesday, Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, issued an explosive denial of Olney and USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale's reports.

 

Let’s be blunt: There’s no way to describe a seven-year, $175 million offer to Machado—if that’s what the White Sox have on the table—as anything other than laughable. It’s an insultingly lowball figure that is miles away from the dollars we figured he and Harper would get before the offseason started. Instead, here’s Machado’s market so far: Less than $200 million total from a 100-loss team as 29 other franchises sit on their hands.

It’s a number that gets even more ridiculous against the context of MLB’s other mega-deals. It’s just under half the league’s largest ever contract—Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million extension with the Marlins, signed in 2015—and would tie for 18th-biggest all-time, alongside extensions of the same length and value signed by Felix Hernandez (with Seattle in 2013) and Stephen Strasburg (with the Nationals in ’16). It’s less overall money than, among others, Jason Heyward ($184 million), Prince Fielder ($214 million) and David Price ($217 million), and the same average annual value at $25 million a year as Ryan Howard and Josh Hamilton. Overall, it’s basically equal to, in length and money, the deal Chris Davis got from the Orioles in 2016.

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Keep in mind that Machado is better—far better, in some cases—than all of those players, and younger than all the major free agents, aside from Heyward, who was 26. (Stanton was 25 when he signed his extension; Hernandez was 26; Strasburg, who would’ve hit free agency after the 2016 season, was 27.) Yet the best that he can do is less money than Fielder or the same years as Davis, a one-dimensional slugger who turned 30 the season after signing his contract (and has predictably been a disaster since). In what universe does that make any sense?

For that matter, what possible rationale is there for the rest of baseball somehow not topping that White Sox offer? Teams like the Dodgers and Cubs and Yankees that have been conspicuously out or quiet on Machado could at least semi-plausibly point to the idea that signing him was going to take $300 million or more. But at less than $200 million, it’s unfathomable that one of those super-rich squads couldn’t or wouldn’t jump into the bidding.

But you don’t have to be part of the ultra-wealthy for Machado to make sense at this price point. If this is the range for him, then teams like the Mets, Brewers or Indians should be racing to the phones to make a similar or stronger offer. They’re nowhere near the luxury tax threshold—the all-too-common excuse that teams hide behind to defend not spending—and all are in the tier of contenders that would be the most improved by adding a player of Machado’s caliber. Given what he provides, he’s an absolute bargain at anything south of $300 million.

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I (and many others) have carped repeatedly this winter about how broken MLB’s financial system is, where teams refuse to spend money on players who can help and are more fixated on their bottom lines than win totals. But what more proof do you need that the system is in desperate need of change than if Machado can’t crack $200 million? It’s been almost 20 years, and Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract with the Rangers still stands as free agency’s high-water mark. Many have approached it, and while none have topped it, the expectation was that one of Machado or Harper—arguably the best players to reach free agency since A-Rod in 2001—would shatter that mark easily.

Well, here we are, facing the possibility that neither will come anywhere close to Rodriguez’s deal, or even lesser ones like Albert Pujols’ $240 million pact or Max Scherzer’s $210 million contract. Here it is, stark and plain as day: Teams don’t want to pay for superstars or mid-tier veterans or young players or anyone else, and they’ll simply wait the players out, as Olney notes in his tweet. Free agency is broken, and with it, baseball’s entire economic structure comes crashing down.

Plenty of people, I’m sure, will read this and laugh at the idea that Machado making “only” $175 million is unfair. What sympathy are we supposed to have for multi-millionaires playing sports? But results like this—of players not getting what they believe to be their fair share, of owners getting greedy and refusing to hold up their end of the economic bargain—lead us inexorably down the road to a strike. And given how badly the players have fared the last two winters, who can blame them for going there?

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