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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Manny Machado’s heart is at shortstop, maybe not in Bronx

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado fields a ground ball

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado fields a ground ball during a baseball game in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sept. 30, 2017. Credit: AP / Chris O’Meara

Remember how the Yankees were going to sign Bryce Harper and Manny Machado as part of the monster free-agent class after this season?

Well, the ascension of Aaron Judge and trade for Giancarlo Stanton probably closes the door on Harper. Even the Yankees can’t use three rightfielders.

On Thursday night, before his first appearance of the season at chilly Yankee Stadium, Machado threw cold water on the idea of his ending up in the Bronx. The Orioles shortstop said he doesn’t want to move back to third for whatever team signs him to a massive deal before next season.

The Yankees, you may have heard, have the popular and talented Didi Gregorius at shortstop. When Machado was a third baseman, it seemed as if the path to his future Yankeedom was obvious. Now, not so much.

“I moved over there for a reason,” said Machado, who played shortstop in the minors before moving to third in 2012 because the Orioles had J.J. Hardy at short. “I made a commitment to it and I’m going to stick to it.”

OK, but wouldn’t he’d be willing to move back to third for the right $ituation? Like, say, following in his Miami mentor Alex Rodriguez’s footsteps as the Yankees’ third baseman?

“I made the commitment to go to short,” Machado said. “Going forward, I would like to stay there. This is not just a move of — like you guys like to say — for money purposes. I’m going to get mine. Everybody’s going to get theirs. So it wasn’t for that. It was where my heart is. It’s where my heart has always been. So that’s where I want to be.”

Machado knows that playing shortstop — along with being where his heart is — increases his free-agent value, especially because he’s really good at it.

But so is Gregorius, who had two home runs and eight RBIs in the Yankees’ home opener on Tuesday. Gregorius was on base four times on Thursday with a double, two walks and a hit by pitch in the Yankees’ 5-2 loss to the Orioles. Machado went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Let’s do the math: Gregorius is 28, will make $8.25 million this year and will be a free agent after the 2019 season. In 2017, Gregorius hit .287 with 25 homers and 87 RBIs, with all three being full-season career highs.

Machado is 25 and will make $16 million this season. In 2017, he hit .259 with 33 homers and 95 RBIs. In the last three seasons, Machado has averaged 34 homers and 92 RBIs.

Machado has a tattoo on his back that reads: “Skys The Limit.” That could be a comment on his next contract.

It’s the youth of Machado and Harper (also 25) that has fan bases and front offices all over baseball in full drool mode. Rarely does a player of that age and ability hit the free-agent market. The last one was A-Rod, who signed a then-record 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season.

A-Rod was 25 and a shortstop. He moved to third base to accommodate a trade to the Derek Jeter-led Yankees in 2004.

Machado sounds as if he will make no such accommodation.

“It’s been awesome,” he said of returning to short. “I’ve been enjoying it and just got to keep working and keep getting better every day.”

Machado is a cool customer and should do well in whatever city he eventually calls home. When he was approached by a group of reporters on Thursday, he knew what the topic was going to be.

“I can give you some quotes,” he said. And then he did.

When asked about his “uncertain” future, Machado said: “My future is looking pretty good.”

It just might not be a future in pinstripes.

New York Sports