The New York Yankees are a "fully operational Death Star," according to general manager Brian Cashman. Setting aside what tends to happen to such things, there should be a tractor beam somewhere on board capable of pulling in Manny Machado.
Granted, winning the sweepstakes for the superstar infielder—who's expected to earn upward of $300 million—might not be the Yankees' preferred next move.
In comments to reporters (including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch) at last week's winter meetings in Las Vegas, Cashman and assistant GM Michael Fishman emphasized other needs, such as adding relief pitchers and trading Sonny Gray. Cashman also floated the possibility of signing a cheaper alternative (e.g., Freddy Galvis) to Machado.
Yet, the Yankees can't hide that they are indeed interested in Machado. According to George A. King III of the New York Post, a face-to-face meeting will happen Wednesday:
There's also no ignoring that signing Machado would be quite the elixir for an offseason that can thus far be described as disappointing.
Though it didn't get in the way of 100 regular-season wins, New York's starting pitching crashed and burned in the postseason. The Boston Red Sox torched J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and CC Sabathia for 15 runs in 13 innings in the American League Division Series, which ended in four games.
The Yankees have since gone 1-for-3 in finding upgrades for their rotation. Their November trade with the Seattle Mariners for James Paxton outfitted their rotation with one of Major League Baseball's nastiest left-handers. Otherwise, they've settled for re-signing Happ (two years, $34 million) and Sabathia (one year, $8 million).
The Yankees have tried to aim higher. Even after adding Paxton, they were a favorite to sign Patrick Corbin. They also appeared in trade chatter concerning Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Noah Syndergaard.
Alas, the Washington Nationals took Corbin off the market with a $140 million deal. According to Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News, a trade for Syndergaard is "extremely unlikely." After the Cleveland Indians cut salary, Jon Heyman of Fancred noted the team is less likely to deal either Kluber or Bauer:
With these options apparently off the board, Dallas Keuchel might be the best the Yankees can do. Beyond being far removed from the Cy Young Award-winning form he displayed in 2015, he's not really the Yankees' type. They prefer power pitchers. Keuchel is...not that.
At present, the AL East arms race still leans in favor of the Red Sox. Sans free agents Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, they have basically the same roster that produced 108 wins and a World Series championship in 2018. Though the Yankees' signings of Paxton, Happ and Sabathia loom large, so do their losses of relief aces David Robertson and Zach Britton to free agency and shortstop Didi Gregorius to Tommy John surgery.
For instance: Machado.
Though fellow superstar free agent Bryce Harper gets the bulk of the headlines, the hype ought to be on Machado's side.
Machado and Harper are both 26 years old. And while they've played almost exactly the same number of major league games—926 for Machado and 927 for Harper—the former holds a significant edge in career wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference: 33.8 to 27.4.
Machado has never had a season like Harper's MVP campaign in 2015, which was highlighted by a 198 OPS+, 42 home runs and 10 WAR. He has, however, been more than twice as valuable than Harper since 2016. That's due to greater durability, superior defense and comparable offensive consistency.
One thing Harper offers that Machado can't is a left-handed power stroke that's perfect for Yankee Stadium. But despite its notoriously short right field porch, Yankee Stadium tends to favor right-handed sluggers almost as much as lefty sluggers.
It helps if a righty slugger has an opposite-field power stroke a la Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Machado is fresh off going the other way a career-high 26 percent of the time in 2018, and an overlay of his oppo fly balls and line drives at Yankee Stadium leaves room to dream:
At least in terms of Machado's playing ability, the biggest knock against him is that his shortstop defense doesn't measure up to his Gold Glove defense at third base. He finished deep in the red for defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating in 2018.
However, Machado put up positive ratings (plus-five DRS and 0.8 UZR) at shortstop down the stretch with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That might be a fluke due to the small sample size.
Or, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic noted, it could be indicative of how his glove can benefit from an organization that values analytics more than the Baltimore Orioles did under former GM Dan Duquette and former manager Buck Showalter. As Britton vouched to David Laurila of FanGraphs, the Yankees fit the bill.
That could be related to owner Hal Steinbrenner's disapproval of the "Johnny Hustle" remark that Machado made to Rosenthal in defense of his disappearing/reappearing effort level in October. As Steinbrenner said, per Hoch: "That ain't going to sell where we play baseball."
Or, maybe the Yankees simply fear the luxury tax. Roster Resource projects them to start 2019 less than $20 million away from the $206 million threshold. A $30-million-per-year deal for Machado would wipe out that space and then some.
However, these concerns ought to be met with a Tommy Lee Jones-style skeptical gaze.
Machado has obviously succeeded in becoming one of MLB's elite players despite not always giving 100 percent—not to mention not always playing cleanly. And for evidence that frequent hustle isn't necessarily, um, necessary to become a successful Yankee, see Robinson Cano.
Why the hell the Yankees should fear the luxury tax is a good question. They just reset their penalties by finishing under the threshold in 2018. So long as they don't exceed the $206 million threshold by more than $20 million, they'll only be hit with a 20 percent tax on overages if they go back over in 2019.
As of now, a $30-million-per-year deal for Machado would take the Yankees about $11 million over the threshold and line them up for roughly a $2 million penalty. That's pennies for a franchise that Forbes values at $4 billion. Indeed, the Yankees would be looking at an even lighter penalty if they can clear Gray's $9.1 million projected salary.
It's understandable if the Yankees merely wanted Machado at the outset of the winter. But now that starting pitching upgrades haven't been as forthcoming as they probably hoped, their want for Machado is more of a need.
To put it in their own parlance: Best not to leave any exhaust ports exposed.