NEXT MANN UP

Matthews: News of Didi need­ing Tommy John surgery means Yanks must get Machado

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY WAL­LACE MATTHEWS

For the Yan­kees, the bad news did not end when their chal­lenge of Gley­ber Tor­res’ ground­out in the ninth in­ning Tues­day night was re­jected, end­ing ALDS Game 4 against the Bos­ton Red Sox and with it their dream of get­ting back to the World Series. It turns out the trou­ble was only be­gin­ning. About 40 min­utes into Aaron Boone’s post­mortem press con­fer­ence at Yan­kee Sta­dium on Fri­day, the Yan­kees dropped an­other bomb­shell: Didi Gre­go­rius, their stand­out short­stop, had suf­fered a torn UCL in his throw­ing el­bow early in the ALDS and would un­dergo Tommy John surgery.

For a pitcher, that nor­mally means a year of re­cov­ery time, mean­ing the Yan­kees would be with­out Gre­go­rius for all of the 2019 sea­son. Since a short­stop rarely makes more than a half-dozen throws a game, the Yan­kees are hope­ful Gre­go­rius will be back a lot quicker than that.

But what it does mean is that now, there should be no rea­son and no ex­cuse for the Yan­kees not to go all­out in their pur­suit of Manny Machado this win­ter, even if it means blow­ing up Hal Stein­bren­ner’s dream of keep­ing his team’s pay­roll be­low the lux­ury tax thresh­old.

There is no guar­an­tee the Yan­kees would get him; as gen­eral man­ager Brian Cash­man pointed out, the Yan­kees are no longer the only big check­book in town.

But if ever there was a time for Hal Stein­bren­ner to open his up, now is that time.

“His last name is Stein­bren­ner and he’s acted ac­cord­ingly, al­ways,’’ Cash­man said.

But his given name is still Harold Z., not Ge­orge M. The old man never de­scribed him­self as a “fi­nance geek’’ and al­though The Boss op­er­ated in an en­vi­ron­ment in which the rich didn’t have to share their wealth with the pe­ons, it’s hard to imag­ine him not or­der­ing his GM to bring back a player like Machado at any cost.

Cash­man, how­ever, op­er­ates un­der dif­fer­ent rules than his dozens of pre­de­ces­sors. Since Hal be­came the new Boss, base­ball has been a num­bers game at Yan­kee Sta­dium, and not just in Cash­man’s an­a­lyt­i­cally-minded front of­fice. His man­date this sea­son was to keep his pay­roll be­low the thresh­old of $197 mil­lion, over which the Yan­kees would be taxed as much as 50 per­cent of the over­age, which would then go into a pool to be di­vided among base­ball’s have-nots.

For years, Hal Stein­bren­ner and team pres­i­dent Randy Levine have con­sid­ered this a par­tic­u­larly ob­jec­tion­able form of cor­po­rate wel­fare, and on Fri­day, Cash­man par­roted their main talk­ing point.

“I don’t speak for Hal but my gen­eral feel­ing is he does not want to line the pock­ets of oth­ers and let them uti­lize that against us,’’ Cash­man said. “But he’s a very open-minded per­son. We pro­vide him with the in­for­ma­tion and he makes in­formed de­ci­sions. He takes his time do­ing so. I don’t think he’s go­ing to limit any­thing from his con­sid­er­a­tion. He’ll set the tune and we’ll dance to it.’’

The in­for­ma­tion Cash­man and his staff should be pro­vid­ing him is the fol­low­ing: Machado will be 27 on his next birth­day, which does not come up un­til July. Over the past four sea­sons, he has av­er­aged 35 home runs with 96 RBI, and in 2018, he posted a ca­reer-high .905 OPS. And like Bryce Harper, he is that rare free agent whose best days will still be ahead of him, not in the rear-view mir­ror, when he finds his pot of gold.

And a big pot it will be; some es­ti­mate it will take a 10-year con­tract worth as much as $400 mil­lion to win the Manny Sweep­stakes this win­ter.

But the re­al­ity of Gre­go­rius’ in­jury is that he will miss at least the first half of the sea­son, and maybe more. It should be noted that Tor­res un­der­went Tommy John last July on his non­throw­ing el­bow and was out eight months. By that yard­stick, Gre­go­rius is likely out un­til the 2019 All-Star break at min­i­mum.

And the Yan­kees’ in-house op­tions are not great. They could move Tor­res over to short­stop and re­tain Neil Walker as the every­day sec­ond base­man, or try to mud­dle through with Adeiny Hechavar­ria, a de­fen­sive wiz­ard with a balsa-wood bat, un­til Gre­go­rius comes back.

Or they could make the bold move, the one that per­haps puts them over the top – they still need start­ing pitch­ing of course – and the move that Ge­orge would have made with­out ques­tion.

“We’ll do what we al­ways do,’’ Cash­man said. “We’ll plan to im­prove this club in any way, shape or form we can. I don’t know what the bud­get is go­ing to be, but we’ve nav­i­gated a lot of dif­fer­ent things this year in a very suc­cess­ful way fi­nan­cially.’’

That seems to in­di­cate that there could be some flex­i­bil­ity in the bud­get, as well as a chance that Hal Stein­bren­ner could bend the lux­ury-tax rule a bit, es­pe­cially since with the Yan­kees re­main­ing un­der for 2018, the clock re­sets, and if the Yan­kees go over in 2019, they would be taxed at the first-year rate of 20 per­cent. The rate then es­ca­lates to 30 per­cent for a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive over­age and a whop­ping 50 per­cent for ev­ery year there­after.

Next year, the thresh­old rises to $206 mil­lion. Right now, with the Yan­kees in a po­si­tion to shed nine free agents, they are com­mit­ted to $86 mil­lion for four play­ers: Gian­carlo Stan­ton ($26 mil­lion), Masahiro Tanaka ($22 mil­lion), Ja­coby Ells­bury ($21.4 mil­lion) and Aroldis Chap­man ($17.2 mil­lion). The rest are un­der team con­trol and only nine are ar­bi­tra­tion el­i­gi­ble.

That could al­low Cash­man the fi­nan­cial flex­i­bil­ity to make a com­pet­i­tive bid on Machado. And just a re­minder, Gre­go­rius be­comes a free agent in 2020, which was ex­pected to present the Yan­kees with a tough call. If they sign Machado, that be­comes an easy call.

“Own­er­ship has al­ways been very sup­port­ive of this fran­chise and I don’t see that ever chang­ing,’’ Cash­man said.

No doubt he will present his case to Stein­bren­ner when the front of­fice con­venes for its an­nual post­sea­son or­ga­ni­za­tional meet­ings in Tampa in the com­ing weeks.

The news about Gre­go­rius was one of the few things Cash­man and Boone spoke defini­tively about in a 90-minute press avail­abil­ity. The oth­ers were that CC Sa­bathia, who is a free agent, un­der­went cleanup surgery on his trou­ble­some right knee on Thurs­day, and that Sonny Gray, who has been a bust in pin­stripes, is al­most cer­tainly not com­ing back.

“It hasn’t worked out thus far,’’ Cash­man said. “We’ll en­ter this win­ter un­for­tu­nately open-minded to a re­lo­ca­tion.’’

As for Gre­go­rius, the Yan­kees be­lieve he suf­fered the in­jury mak­ing a throw from the Fen­way Park out­field in ei­ther the first or sec­ond game of the ALDS. The Yan­kees were aware that he had a par­tially-torn UCL when they ac­quired him from the Ari­zona Di­a­mond­backs in 2014 but were sat­is­fied that he was asymp­to­matic. What­ever he did on that out­field throw is a sober­ing re­minder of the fragility also of Masahiro Tanaka, who has been pitch­ing for the past four sea­sons with a par­tial UCL tear that, ac­cord­ing to the Yan­kees, is also asymp­to­matic.

But Cash­man called two throws by Gre­go­rius that bounced to first in Game 4 “very un-Didi-like,’’ and the first clue that some­thing was very wrong.

“In the back of my mind, I was think­ing, ‘Oh boy, I won­der if we have a real prob­lem here,’’’ Cash­man said.

Turns out he did. But there is a way to rec­tify that prob­lem, a way that a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of Stein­bren­ners would have han­dled the old-fash­ioned way: By throw­ing money at it.

“The Yan­kees are about cham­pi­onships.’’ Cash­man said. “Whether any­one be­lieves it or not, we’re do­ing ev­ery­thing in our power from own­er­ship on down to find a way to be what we’re not go­ing to be this year, which is a world cham­pion.’’

Go­ing hard af­ter Machado would be a good way for Hal Stein­bren­ner to prove it.

Su­per­star Manny Machado is the clear an­swer at short­stop af­ter Yan­kees an­nounced Fri­day that Didi Gre­go­rius will be side­lined af­ter hav­ing Tommy John surgery.

GETTY

Go­ing af­ter Manny Machado should be a no-brainer for Yan­kees once they found out Didi Gre­go­rius (inset) will miss sig­nif­i­cant time be­cause he needs Tommy John surgery on his throw­ing arm.

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