If I were Brian Cashman, here’s how Wednesday’s meeting with Manny Machado would go down:
BC: Have a seat, Manny. Would you like some tap water?
MM: Actually, do you have any sparkling water? Or Diet Coke?
BC: Nope. Tap water. Or nothing. How about nothing?
MM: (Awkward silence)
BC: We have one last rice cake that has been lying around our kitchen, from a bag with a “November 2016” expiration date on it. Going once, going twice …
Perhaps this would be a mite harsh. Yet this meet and greet with the stud free agent carries a vibe unlike anything we’ve seen on this scale in the history of these offseason courting sessions.
This time, the player must sell himself to the team.
I included “on this scale” because as recently as last week’s winter meetings, a player sold himself to a team. And on Sunday, Wilson Ramos and the Mets agreed on a two-year, $19 million contract.
Machado represents an entirely different landscape. For the dollars he wants and, based on his talent, age and production, deserves — let’s call it Ramos’ package times 20 — his get-together should serve as the cherry on the sundae. Ideally, the teams pursuing him already would feel great about the possibility of such a relationship.
The Rangers pitched Alex Rodriguez 18 years ago on their franchise’s young talent before committing $252 million to him. The Angels sold Albert Pujols on their franchise’s location and growth potential seven years ago before the three-time National League Most Valuable Player departed St. Louis for $240 million. Robinson Cano accepted the same $240 million from the Mariners five years ago, leaving the Yankees, after he and his agent, Jay-Z, listened to the Mariners’ pitch about Seattle’s underrated endorsement opportunities.
(A-Rod had to do some mea culpa-ing to the Yankees 11 years ago, after clumsily opting out of his first mega-deal, in return for a $275 million package, still the free-agent record. Yet the Yankees already had experienced firsthand the electricity and work ethic that A-Rod brought to the party.)
Forget for a moment that none of the four aforementioned contracts have ended well with the teams that granted them and focus on Machado’s primary problem: He conducts this tour — the White Sox on Monday, the Yankees on Wednesday and the Phillies on Thursday — playing defense, thanks to his self-sabotaging October in which he seemingly couldn’t do or say anything right while with the Dodgers.In addition to questionable decisions on the field that questioned both his ethics and his effort, Machado conducted a memorable interview with Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and The Athletic in which he doubled down on not hustling, and that prompted Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to speak up at last month’s Major League Baseball owners’ meetings, saying, “That ain’t gonna sell where we play baseball.”
Steinbrenner’s attendance at Wednesday’s summit is in question because his mother, Joan Steinbrenner, died Friday. If Hal can’t make it, though, Cashman will act as his surrogate, listening to Machado’s sales pitch and — you would think — challenging him if necessary.
Machado clearly is struggling with this cleanup effort. He gave a lame interview to MLB.com last month in which he explained his October words but not his actions, perhaps because the latter couldn’t be explained away. What can he say to assuage the concerns of the Yankees and other suitors that he won’t revert to being that guy in the next high-pressure moment?
The Yankees sold themselves to Machado probably right around February 16, 2004, when they acquired A-Rod, Manny’s fellow South Floridian and idol, in a trade from the Rangers. As the Yankees’ American League East rival in Baltimore for parts of seven seasons, Machado marketed himself plenty as a very special player.