CARLSBAD, Calif. — Gary Kendall was there, in Aberdeen, Md., when Manny Machado played the third game of his pro career on Aug. 30, 2010. Two years later, Kendall managed Machado as a 19-year-old in double-A. Few people in baseball know Machado longer than the Baltimore Orioles minor-league manager.
Kendall always regarded Machado as “an intense player” who wants to win at all costs. He believes that helps to explain Machado’s controversial takeout slide into Boston’s Dustin Pedroia in 2016 and even the two instances in the postseason last month when he was accused of spiking a first baseman.
So, Kendall was as confused as anyone when, after not running out a ground ball in a scoreless playoff game, Machado described himself to Fox Sports 1 as “not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle’ and run down the line and slide into first base.”
“For me, Manny plays to win and plays to stay in innings,” Kendall said by phone. “Manny plays the game the right way, and he plays it with intensity. He’s not a dirty player. He’s got a good head on his shoulder. I’m not saying he’s misunderstood, but I would say he’s a competitor. He’s a player you want on your ballclub.”
At what cost, though? Machado hit the free-agent market last weekend with all the force of any of his 175 career home runs. At age 26 and with his .822 career OPS, two Gold Gloves and 30.2 fWAR, it isn’t outrageous to think he will receive contract offers in excess of $300 million. The Phillies made the second-best offer to acquire Machado from the Orioles in July, and they are believed to be among his most interested suitors now.
But as Matt Klentak and his counterparts gathered Tuesday for the annual general managers’ meetings at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, Machado’s postseason antics — and whether or not they will disqualify the star shortstop as an offseason target for some teams — was a chief topic of conversation.
“I think it’s something where we have to factor in everything,” said Klentak, who declined to discuss Machado — or any other free agent — directly. “It’s something that we incorporate into our decision-making process. We really go through a thorough assessment of the individual. We do our best to evaluate the total player, everything that player brings to the table — offense, defense, baserunning, their makeup, their work ethic, their age, their health histories. We factor in all of those characteristics and make roster decisions and contract decisions accordingly.
“It’s unlikely that you’re going to find the player that is elite in every single one of those areas. If you do, he’s probably not going to be a free agent. Sometimes you have to pick and choose what you’re willing to bet on.”
But concessions can be made for a star hitter with defensive weaknesses or for a Gold Glover with a popgun bat. It’s far trickier to compensate for a player with questionable character.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler recently said he regards chemistry as a “huge” factor in building a team. Klentak concurred and said the Phillies make a habit of digging into the character of prospective players and staff members.
“We are as thorough as possible in talking with people who have been around players,” Klentak said. “And not just teammates. It’s coaches, clubbies, anybody that can really let you know what that player is all about. With just about any recruiting or hiring that we do, sometimes the vetting process is as important as the interview or the negotiation itself.”
In Machado’s case, the Phillies have some firsthand knowledge. When the Orioles drafted Machado in 2010, Klentak was their director of baseball operations and team president Andy MacPhail was their general manager.
It’s unclear whether they share Kendall’s opinion of Machado as a “team-oriented guy.” Kendall pointed out that Machado bunted for a hit in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, a play that preceded Cody Bellinger’s go-ahead two-run homer in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ eventual 5-1 victory. And while Machado has drawn criticism for his “Johnny Hustle” comment, he admitted in the same interview that he had “no excuse” for not running hard.
The Phillies have as much money to spend as any team this winter. They are flush with cash from their local television contract, and owner John Middleton is believed to be willing to spend big to accelerate the team’s rebuilding process. And Klentak said he believes free agents are once again beginning to view Philadelphia as an attractive destination.
“I am not worried at all about players’ desire or willingness to come to Philadelphia,” he said. “The agents, the players, the fans, everybody knows what our city is like in good times. If the conditions are right, the terms are right, the dollars are right, I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to attract free agents.”
In that case, the Phillies might have their choice between Machado and fellow marquee free agent Bryce Harper. And if they determine Machado’s talents make him a better fit, it seems doubtful they will be scared off by his ugly postseason.
“If you’re trying to find the young free agent who’s good at everything and a prince in the clubhouse, you’re going to be looking for a long time,” Klentak said. “You’re not always going to find somebody who checks off every box.”
Odds are, Machado checks enough of them to keep the Phillies’ highly interested.