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Sports Authority

Kolakowski: Manny hustle is worth the hassle

| Friday, November 2, 2018

Most Major League Baseball teams want nothing to do with the type of player who jogs down the first base line on ground balls and cleats the heels of first basemen. Baseball teams, and more importantly, the fans who financially support those teams, like players who hustle down the line and compete.

Of course, that seemingly lazy player is a welcome asset when he slashes .297/.367/.538 and is worth 5.7 WAR. Manny Machado, an infielder who spent parts of seven seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, just wrapped up his age-25 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The star shortstop now enters free agency in a loaded class that features Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel.

A player of Machado’s caliber should garner plenty of interest on the open market, but Machado caught plenty of criticism this postseason for his lackadaisical play and unsportsmanlike actions.

“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,” Machado told The Athletic.

In game four of the National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the benches cleared after Machado stepped on Jesus Aguilar’s foot at first base. In game four of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Machado spiked the heel of first baseman Steve Pearce.

After Machado put his faults on display in the postseason, some teams could shy away from the superstar. Thursday night on WFAN sports radio in New York, Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports said that a big market team has “sworn off” signing Machado.

That’s foolish.

Machado is far from the perfect player, but his presence in the lineup has the potential to terrorize opposing pitchers.

Machado is a career .282/.335/.487 hitter, and he peaked this season with a .905 OPS after splitting the year between Baltimore and Los Angeles. Baltimore’s Camden Yards is known as a hitter-friendly park, as are other American League East parks such as Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. It is possible that Machado’s numbers will regress, but he is still likely to post an OPS greater than .800 for his new club.

The free agent is a dominant defender on the left side of the infield. He owns two Rawlings Gold Glove awards for his play at third base, and he has racked up 11.3 defensive WAR over his seven-year career, per Baseball Reference.

Machado might not be “Johnny Hustle,” but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Machado, for all his imperfections, is a rugged athlete who manages to stay on the field. His resilience and ability to avoid injury brings tremendous value. He has played all 162 games in a season twice in his career, and he has only played fewer than 156 games in a season once since becoming a full-time player in 2013. Machado may not hustle on every ground ball, but he knows himself and takes care of his body.

Finally, since Machado was traded mid-season, he can not be tagged with a qualifying offer by the Dodgers. This means that teams interested in signing him do not need to worry about surrendering draft pick compensation for inking the infielder to a long-term deal.

The bottom line is that Machado is a dominant player and a franchise cornerstone. It is uncommon for such an athlete to reach the open market at only 26 years old.

So, if I am running a Major League Baseball team, then I overlook Machado’s antics. Rather, I focus on his fiery personality. I disregard his lack of hustle. Rather, I look at his ability to stay on the field. I avoid his stubbornness, and instead I focus on his versatility.

Machado is a superstar, and he is going to get paid like one this winter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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