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Forgive me for being foolish or overly optimistic, but I, along with many Sox fans, have to believe that the White Sox's chances of signing Manny Machado are increasing by the hour.
With reports over the weekend that the Sox are offering $230 million over eight years, this is getting serious.
Of course, I have no pipeline into Manny's gray matter, nor am I privy to the inner workings of the Hahn-Williams-Reinsdorf strategy. However, there appear to be some simple facts - aside from the millions of dollars - that point to Machado coming to the South Side. Stated another way, if the Sox don't land Machado, they just don't have the glamour and pizzazz to attract a player of his caliber.
The Yankees, who inked second baseman DJ LeMathieu to a two-year, $24 million deal last week, have added a skilled player to an infield group that includes Rookie-of-the-Year runner-up Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, the healing Didi Gregorius, and newly-acquired Troy Tulowitzki. With the third highest projected payroll for 2019, it appears the Yanks have removed themselves from the Manny Mania.
Which leaves the Sox and Phillies, according to just about every website, hot stove commentator, and the scribe who covers the ballclubs unless an outlier like the Giants or Cardinals sneak in to nab Manny.
The signing of Machado's wife's brother Yonder Alonso - aside from now having a Yonder and a Yolmer (as in Sanchez) on the same ballclub - was a cuddly move by GM Rick Hahn, who then landed outfielder Jon Jay, one of Manny's closest buddies in Miami.
If Manny had a teenage son, the Sox probably would let him be a fixture in the clubhouse. Wait a minute. I think they already tried that without success.
Assuming that Alonso and Jay are putting, at the minimum, gentle pressure on Machado to join them on the South Side, there are additional sensible reasons why Manny is leaning toward Chicago.
Machado's robust ego makes him desirous of a contract similar or greater than baseball's highest paid player, Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees with his 10-year deal averaging $28.5 million annually. The Sox offer equates to $28.75 million per season, so there! Take that, Giancarlo. And no offer is final. The Sox could go longer and higher as you are about to see.
Both the Sox and Phillies are in the midst of a rebuilding process although the Phils, having finished 80-82 last season, are further along. However, they haven't had a winning record since 2011. As recently as 2017, the Phillies lost 96 games. So their process isn't so much ahead of the White Sox.
Both clubs have highly-rated farm systems with the Sox ranked third and the Phillies sixth. The strategy of tempting Machado as the veteran mentor to the likes of Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and other sizzling prospects surely has been on Hahn's playlist.
The Phillies are doing their own nurturing by hiring Bobby Dickerson last week to be their third base coach. Dickerson, an infield specialist, was an influence for the young Machado in the Oriole organization both in the Dominican Republic and with the big club. And Phillies president Andy MacPhail led the front office in Baltimore when Machado debuted in 2012.
But family and friends should be a bigger draw than what the Phillies have to offer.
Machado is very familiar with the Sox ballpark, having played 17 games there with a slash line of .286/.333/.848. He's slammed five homers at The Grate (nee The Cell) and has driven in 14 runs. By comparison, in seven games in Philadelphia, his numbers are .179/.281/.674 with a homer accounting for his only RBI.
That sample size obviously is small, but both ballparks are quite similar in terms of venues advantageous for hitters. The foul poles at The Grate are 330 (left field) and 335, while they're 329 and 330 at Citizens Bank Field in Philly. The alleys are within three feet of one another at both parks while center field is 400 in Chicago and 401 in Philadelphia. Last season there were 193 home runs hit at Citizens Bank and 186 at The Grate. So that one's pretty much a toss-up.
Whether Machado plays third base or shortstop could be an issue since he came up as a shortstop before the Orioles put him at third base when J.J. Hardy was a fixture at short. The Phillies might have an advantage here if Machado is dead set on being a shortstop. However, most scouts rate Manny's defensive skills at third base superior to his play at shortstop.
Tim Anderson has made improvement at shortstop and has a decent upside going forward while last year's third baseman Yolmer Sanchez would move into a utility role, one which easily suits his ability.
The Phillies have one of their building blocks at third base in Maikel Franco, but rookie Scott Kingery was their everyday shortstop last season with a .226 batting average along with eight homers. Machado figures to play his original position if he joins the Phillies.
If it were the Cubs vs. the Phillies vying for Machado's services, the allure of Chicago over Philadelphia easily could figure into the mix. The fickle Philly fans surely would be compared to the adoring North Side denizens who would fawn over a player with Machado's credentials.
While the White Sox normally play in a half-empty stadium, they still play in Chicago, and we all know that our home is preferable to Philadelphia. That, of course, is blatant bias, but it's not a stretch to think that Manny would more likely be booed after striking out with the bases loaded in Philadelphia than on the South Side where fans are accustomed to that kind of performance.
Mentioning "half-empty," the Sox have plenty of potential to bring in much greater revenue if they sign Machado while prospects like Jimenez, who will be here by mid-April, and others join the fray. The team drew an average of 20,110 fans last season (the Phillies averaged 27,318). The average ticket cost $26.05.
An increase of 5,000 per game would account for approximately $10.5 million in additional revenue to help pay the fare for Machado. If you want to get really crazy, go back to 2006 when almost three million fans came to see the defending World Series champions. If you believe that the team could regain that kind of success, the surge in attendance would more than pay for Machado.
Of course, Manny wouldn't be the only player reaping the financial jewels of a winning ballclub. The entire payroll would blast off. But ticket sales account for only about 30 percent of a team's revenue, enabling the Sox's finances to reap rewards from all sources. According to Statista, Sox revenue in 2017 was approximately $266 million compared to the MLB average of $315 million. The potential for millions more dollars is apparent. The Sox's $71 million payroll last season was the second to lowest in MLB so they're well-positioned to give Machado what he's seeking. Jerry Reinsdorf and his investors bought the team 38 years ago for $20 million. Today it's valued at $1.5 billion. We should all be as fortunate.
The other Reinsdorf contingency in town, the Bulls, are paying Jabari Parker $20 million this season to sit on the bench. Don't tell that to Machado's agent.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are in hot pursuit of the other marquee free agent Bryce Harper. They emerged from a meeting with him in Las Vegas last Saturday feeling "optimistic" about signing him. Does that mean that they're making Machado their second choice?
Sox manager Ricky Renteria was among the Sox personnel who have met with Machado, the same Manny Machado who didn't run hard on a ground ball in last fall's NLCS. When questioned later, Machado said, "Obviously I'm not going to change. I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base. That's just not my personality. That's not my cup of tea; that's not who I am."
Oh, gee. And he's going to play for a manager noted for creating a culture where everyone runs hard, hustles all the time, and exhibits maximum effort? Would Renteria bench Machado the first time he jogs to first base? This could be a problem.
Back in 1972 Sox manager Chuck Tanner had two sets of rules: one for superstar Dick Allen and one for the other 24 players. It worked splendidly that season as the team finished 20 games over .500. Allen hit 37 homers, drove in 113 and batted .308 and was named MVP. He saved a drowning franchise.
But things went south the next season when Allen suffered a broken leg, and he unceremoniously left the team with two weeks remaining in the 1974 season. It would be interesting to know what Renteria said to Machado when they met.
For now all we can do is wait to see where Manny lands. If it turns out to be the South Side, those ticket sales, and the money they bring in, will immediately spike.
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