ATLANTA — Hal Steinbrenner isn’t giving $300 million to Manny Machado without a good explanation.
Machado may be the most coveted free agent this offseason, sharing that title with Bryce Harper, and also fits perfectly in the Bronx as the slugging replacement for the rehabbing Didi Gregorius. But Steinbrenner, even if it’s through his lieutenants, has to hear Machado first clear up statements he made to The Athletic last month about his lack of hustle, and apparent unwillingness to change that behavior, before considering him for pinstripes.
“If it’s a $300-million guy, or a $10-million guy, clearly those comments are troubling,” Steinbrenner said Wednesday at the owners meetings. “But that’s really [Brian Cashman’s] job — if we’re interested in any player — to sit down with them face to face, and the agent, and ask them, ‘Where did this come from? What was the context around the entire interview? Was there a point you were trying to make? How do you justify it?’
“Because that ain’t going to sell where we play baseball. And that conversation will happen no matter who it is.”
When Steinbrenner was asked if that discussion was important to the Yankees, he didn’t blink. “It’s essential — it’s not important. It’s going to happen,” he added.
Machado, 26, didn’t do himself any favors in free agency with his October performance, which included not running hard out of the batter’s box on more than one occasion — then doubling down by offering no apologies for it. The four-time All-Star told The Athletic that “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle’ and run down the line and slide to first base.” He also added, “That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”
What the Yankees can’t ignore is that Machado is an incredibly talented player, with elite bat and glove skills, at a time they really need to strengthen the left side of their infield. Steinbrenner surely understands this, and yet he had no trouble taking a hard stance against Machado’s infamous media display during the playoffs.
Any Yankees’ recruitment of Machado will include an extensive background check, combed from what the team can gather in the scouting circles — as well as some more personal intel, with some help from Alex Rodriguez. Steinbrenner said he recently texted with A-Rod, who remains employed as a Yankees adviser, and Rodriguez has known Machado since he was a teenager growing up in Miami. Rodriguez also is doing a Boys & Girls Club event on Steinbrenner’s request.
“We’re going to be talking a lot in a few weeks,” Steinbrenner said.
Steinbrenner stressed the importance of clubhouse chemistry with the current Yankees and repeatedly mentioned the solid culture that now exists — bolstered by the return of Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia, who signed one-year deals this month. Properly vetting any potential acquisitions is a high priority for Steinbrenner, who is concerned about how they will mesh with the already established core of young players.
“We have a great clubhouse,” Steinbrenner said. “Always have, but particularly now, and they just don’t put up with a lot of nonsense from players, whether it’s rookies coming up or new players, even if they’re veterans. So that’s a problem I’m less worried about. But makeup is a big part of what we look at. It’s not just analytics. That’s why the pro scouts are such a big part of all this decision-making process.
“I want to know about the makeup of the player. What have you heard? Is it credible what you’ve heard? New York is a tough place to play — with the media, and the fans are very demanding. The makeup has to be there, but that’s a concern for any free agent. I don’t care if it’s a $10-million deal or $300-million deal. Because eventually it’s going to be Cash and I’s headache.”