Manny Machado has been too busy playing a villain to make friends this postseason. In doing so, the headlines he's generated have sometimes overshadowed the games that he and the Los Angeles Dodgers have won en route to the World Series.
But like it or not, that doesn't mean Machado's wallet deserves to take a hit.
The four-time All-Star will become a free agent for the first time shortly after the Fall Classic concludes. It's long been expected that he'll be worth $300 million on the open market, if not more.
However, there's now a question in the air: Should a team really break the bank for this freakin' guy?
Such is the effect of Machado's October dingbattery, particularly during Los Angeles' victory over the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series. To quickly recap the 26-year-old's list of antics:
- He took his sweet time getting to first base on a ground ball in Game 2
- He committed a clearly illegal and arguably dirty takeout slide at second base in Game 3
- He seemed to intentionally clip Jesus Aguilar's leg running through first base in Game 4
- He made an obscene gesture at Brewers fans in Game 7
None of that went over well.
Machado's lack of hustle in Game 2 drew criticism from all over, and his transgressions in Game 3 and Game 4 drew less-than-rave reviews from the Brewers.
"It's a dirty play by a dirty player," NL MVP favorite Christian Yelich said of Machado's run-in with Aguilar.
That was on the record, anyway. Off the record, Mike Puma of the New York Post heard Yelich say what he really thought of Machado:
Machado's response to all the criticism? In short: Deal with it.
On his hustle issues, he told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic: "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 and ... you know, whatever can happen. That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."
And on the Aguilar incident, he told reporters: "If that's dirty, that's dirty. I don't know, call it what you want. I play baseball. I try to go out there and win for my team. If that's their comments, that's their comments. I can't do nothing about that."
Those are not the words of a guy who's about to apologize for, well, anything.
For this, there's a sense that punishment may await Machado on the open market. For example, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia wondered aloud if the slugger's act could hurt his value for two deep-pocketed suitors: the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees.
However, both Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports and Jon Morosi of MLB.com have heard that Machado's antics aren't likely to have an effect on his free-agent earning power. If there's any effect at all, one executive told Morosi that it will be "marginal."
It's not as if anybody should be surprised by how Machado has carried himself this October, after all. He had plenty of brushes with controversy in six-plus years with the Baltimore Orioles. There was that time he not-so-inadvertently chucked his bat at Alberto Callaspo in 2014. And the time he charged Yordano Ventura in 2016. And the time he wounded Dustin Pedroia with a spikes-up slide in 2017.
All the while, you could never mistake Machado as the next coming of Pete Rose. By his own admission, going all-out, all the time isn't his style.
But Machado's hustle issues should be forgivable. In many cases, hustling is strictly a performative act. Players shouldn't refrain from it as a general rule, but it should be understandable if a modestly fast power hitter who's had surgeries on both knees prefers not to partake.
Machado's malicious moments are harder to forgive. They're more feature than bug, and they're a bad look on a guy who ought to be one of Major League Baseball's brightest superstars.
However, the reality is that talent matters above all on the free-agent market. Machado is a supreme talent, and he isn't one to let his baser instincts interfere with it.
According to Baseball Reference, Machado is one of only 32 hitters to accumulate as many as 30 wins above replacement through his age-25 season. He's also one of only 17 hitters to launch as many as 175 home runs over that same span.
Meanwhile, Machado's misdeeds haven't kept him from being one of the Dodgers' best players in October. He's put up a solid .813 OPS with three homers through 11 games. And despite all the hand-wringing over his lack of hustle in Game 2, he did show off his wheels on Cody Bellinger's game-winning hit in Game 4 and on a rally-starting bunt hit in Game 7.
The biggest concern regarding Machado's long-term value has to do with his defense. His Gold Glove shine at third base had been fading before he moved back to his natural shortstop for 2018. According to his metrics, he was even worse there.
Still, Machado's waning defensive skills won't be a fatal flaw so long as his bat keeps humming. To this end, it's a good sign that he finished 2018 with a career-high .905 OPS and a career-high-tying 37 homers. If he can do that in his mid-20s, better things may be in store for his late-20s and/or early-30s.
Between his youth and his talent, Machado can hope to beat Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million contract on the open market. In an offseason in which the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies and San Francisco Giants won't have luxury-tax penalties to worry about, that's a real possibility despite his baggage.
Would teams prefer it if Machado didn't come with any baggage? Absolutely. But the ones that can afford him and need him are going to be enamored with his ability above all else. They can also convince themselves that he might mature into a responsible leader as he grows older.
If not, whichever team ends up with Machado can always reason that he may be a villain, but at least he's our villain.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.