MLB Free Agent Manny Machado Could Gamble on Himself with Monster 1-Year Deal

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2019

Los Angeles Dodgers' Manny Machado blows a bubble after hitting a single against the Seattle Mariners in a baseball game Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, in Seattle. The Dodgers won 12-1. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Entering the 2018-19 MLB offseason, the notion of Manny Machado signing a one-year contract was virtually unthinkable.

No, check that...it was straight up absurd.  

Now, with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in a week, it's time for Machado to afford the idea some serious thought.

Machado's name has churned through the rumor mill all winter. (Duh.) He's a generational talent in the midst of his prime at age 26. Along with Bryce Harper, he was the crown jewel of this vaunted free-agent class.

Yet, along with Harper, he's flapping unsigned in the breeze. As of this writing, there aren't any credible reports that he's even close to inking a deal.

Nearly everyone assumed a $200 million payday was inevitable for Machado, and it was possible he'd vault past $300 million. Yet, so far the reported high-water mark was a $175 million offer from the Chicago White Sox, per ESPN's Buster Olney and USA Today's Bob Nightengale

Machado's agent hit back against Olney's and Nightengale's reports and called them "completely wrong" in a statement, via Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown. But if there was a bigger offer from the ChiSox, it hasn't been noted publicly. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Manny Machado #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after flying out during the tenth inning against the Boston Red Sox in Game Three of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 26, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Phillies have been extensively linked to Machado, but they're also pursuing Harper and don't plan to sign both superstars, per Matt Gelb of The Athletic. 

The New York Yankees looked like a logical landing sport, but they appear set in the infield after signing veterans Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu.

Other than that, there aren't many franchises with the need and financial flexibility to hand Machado a long-term megadeal.

Which brings us back to the idea of a one-year pact. The money would need to be supersized silly—well past the $23 million the Atlanta Braves gave Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson is 33 years old and coming off a pair of injury-marred seasons. Machado is at the height of his powers and had a typically stellar stat line in 2018 with 37 home runs and a .905 OPS between the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers while proving he can capably play shortstop as well as third base.

Granted, he stumbled in the postseason with the Dodgers. His hustle (or lack thereof) came under fire, and he hit .182 in a five-game World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox.

Obviously that's a small sample and doesn't negate Machado's lifetime body of work. But it might have left enough of a bad taste in prospective suitors' mouths to nudge his value southward.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 26:  Manny Machado #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts to his eighth inning strike out against the Boston Red Sox in Game Three of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 26, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo b
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Now, if Machado let it be known he'd consider a monster one-year deal in the $30-$35 million range, his market might suddenly expand to include teams that would love him in their lineups but are wary of a career-spanning commitment. 

Consider the deal the NBA's Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors in June 2018 for one year and $30 million with a $31.5 million player option that Durant will almost certainly (read: certainly) decline, assuming he stays healthy and Golden State marches to another title. 

There's a template for the short-term-windfall, long-term-gain strategy.

Machado could probably bring the Yankees back to the negotiating table, even with their added infield depth. The Phillies might reconsider whether they can afford both Harper and Machado. The White Sox would surely be in the mix. And other dark-horse suitors such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs or even the Dodgers could get involved. 

It would be a gamble; injuries strike and numbers can sag. But it would be Machado betting on himself in a sluggish market with a chance to have a great (even by his standards) 2019 campaign and cash in next winter.

In fact, shorter massive-dollar deals could become the new norm in MLB. Owners understand that they control players through what are often their best years via the arbitration system and are no longer willing to cough up payroll-depleting dinero for guys deep into their 30s. 

The players can groan all they want, but that's the reality at least until the current collective bargaining agreement expires in Dec. 2021.

Machado could "settle" for a contract in the range of what the White Sox supposedly offered. It would be life-changing cash for the rest of us. 

Or he could roll the dice, get a higher annual value in 2019, and hope he performs well enough and the free-agent winds shift enough next winter to get the $200-plus million he was likely bargaining for.

A few months ago, it was unthinkable. Now, it might be inevitable.

        

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference; contract information courtesy of Spotrac.

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