MAYBE IT’S NOT A MACH

In the end, land­ing Machado might have been out of Yan­kees’ hands

New York Daily News - - CLASSIFIED - WAL­LACE MATTHEWS

Zach Brit­ton, who two years ago led the Amer­i­can League in saves, says he re-signed with the Yan­kees de­spite know­ing he will not close, for a sim­ple rea­son.

“I had the op­por­tu­nity to close for some teams that I didn't think were go­ing to be as good as New York,” Brit­ton said. “I wanted to go some­where where I could win.”

Brit­ton's words are worth re­mem­ber­ing as the pur­suit of Manny Machado drags on into its third month, or more than three times as long as the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

While it is in­dis­putable that pro­fes­sional ath­letes, like any other hired help, will al­most al­ways work for the out­fit that is will­ing to pay them the most, it is some­times dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine what a player's true mo­ti­va­tion is when all else is es­sen­tially equal.

For Brit­ton, the mo­ti­va­tion was to be part of a team he per­ceives as a win­ner.

For Machado, it may be some­thing else again.

By my re­port­ing, it ap­pears that the Yan­kees, the Philadel­phia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox are all bid­ding in a sim­i­lar range for the ser­vices of Machado, the 26-year-old in­fielder who along with Bryce Harper rep­re­sents the cream of this year's free-agent class.

In spite of re­ports that Machado and his agent, Dan Lozano, were seek­ing a con­tract in line with the 13-year, $325 mil­lion deal signed by Gian­carlo Stan­ton in 2015, the like­li­hood is that some­where be­tween $240 mil­lion and $270 mil­lion spread over seven or eight sea­sons gets it done.

So why aren't the Yan­kees, who have a his­tory of get­ting any player they re­ally, truly want, clos­ing a deal with Machado?

Be­cause maybe it's not up to them.

The fact that the Yan­kees have ap­par­ently not made an of­fer yet to Machado is of no real con­se­quence. Lozano is no id­iot and cer­tainly would not sign off on any deal with­out giv­ing the Yan­kees one last crack at it.

But the Yan­kees' moves over the past week or so seem to in­di­cate they be­lieve any of­fer might be in vain. Their re­ported sign­ing on Fri­day of D.J. LeMahieu, a ver­sa­tile in­fielder who led the NL in hit­ting (.348) for the Colorado Rock­ies in 2016 seems to in­di­cate that they are not high on their chances of land­ing Machado.

Last week, they also signed Troy Tu­low­itzki, a tal­ented but oft-in­jured short­stop, in a move that looked a lot like stock­pil­ing ta­lent in the event Machado's salary de­mands turned out to be too rich for Hal Stein­bren­ner's fis­cally-re­spon­si­ble blood.

But adding LeMahieu to the mix, at $24 mil­lion for two years, seems like an in­di­ca­tion that the Yan­kees think sign­ing Machado is un­likely, if not out of the ques­tion.

And the rea­son may be that Machado's mo­ti­va­tions are not what you thought they were, or what the Yan­kees hoped they would be. They may not, for in­stance, be the same as Brit­ton's.

Ear­lier this week, I re­ported on a con­ver­sa­tion I had with some­one who knows Machado well who be­lieved that Machado's wife, Yainee, would wield a strong in­flu­ence over her hus­band's de­ci­sion. This per­son felt that Yainee's affin­ity for soak­ing up the am­bi­ence of New York City on $25 mil­lion or so a year would tip the bal­ance in the Yan­kees fa­vor.

But what if Manny Machado, a grown man who pre­sum­ably makes his own de­ci­sions, prefers the city of Chicago? Or play­ing with his brother-in-law (and Yainee's brother) Yon­der Alonso, who was traded to the White Sox last month, or his friend Jon Jay, who signed there this week? What if he has a han­ker­ing for gen­uine Philly cheeses­teaks?

What if he just doesn't want to deal with the daily scru­tiny from both the me­dia and the fans that comes with play­ing in New York? Clearly, it's not for ev­ery­one. The next time you see Sonny Gray, ask him.

Be­cause the truth is, they can't all be Zach Brit­ton, who prob­a­bly could have cho­sen a more anony­mous place to play, and close, for the same guar­an­teed three years and $39 mil­lion he is get­ting from the Yan­kees.

Brit­ton and his agent, Scott Bo­ras, worked out a unique deal in which at the end of his sec­ond sea­son, the Yan­kees must ei­ther ex­er­cise their op­tion for a fourth sea­son, at an ad­di­tional $14 mil­lion, or al­low Brit­ton to opt out of the deal and re-en­ter the free agency mar­ket. It's sim­i­lar to the deal Bo­ras worked out be­tween Jake Ar­ri­eta and the Phillies last year so it's prob­a­ble Brit­ton could have got­ten the same

deal else­where.

But he chose to re­turn to the Yan­kees, know­ing that he may not play the spot­light role in the Yan­kees bullpen for 2019 at least. Aroldis Chap­man is the closer and Dellin Be­tances and Chad Green are both ca­pa­ble of pitch­ing the sev­enth and eighth in­nings.

And while, a year re­moved from Achilles ten­don surgery, Brit­ton says he is fi­nally start­ing to feel like his old self, there is no guar­an­tee Brit­ton will be Chap­man’s set-up man, al­though not even the Yan­kees are will­ing to pay $13 mil­lion a year for mid­dle re­lief.

“The fact that I had been a closer and I knew that I could do that at a high level, I didn’t feel it was a role I felt I needed to prove my­self in,” Brit­ton said. “I wanted to go back to a team that was go­ing to win year in and year out and if the op­por­tu­nity wasn’t there for me to close then that was kind of OK. It was more im­por­tant for me go­ing to a place where I was com­fort­able and gave me a chance to win.”

That doesn’t make Brit­ton a morally su­pe­rior be­ing to a player who goes strictly for the money or for a pre­ferred role. It just goes to demon­strate that dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­als have dif­fer­ent mo­ti­va­tions.

And Brit­ton was quick to ex­tol the virtues of Machado, a team­mate of his for six sea­sons in Bal­ti­more, as a player and as an in­di­vid­ual.

“He’s def­i­nitely sought af­ter and right­fully so,” Brit­ton said. “He’s a good team­mate and even bet­ter player. I think any­body that gets him is get­ting a spe­cial ta­lent. His de­fense is game-chang­ing. Ob­vi­ously the of­fense is go­ing to be there but he can change the game de­fen­sively and of­fen­sively. I’m hop­ing he de­cides to go to New York (but) I know Manny is go­ing to make a good de­ci­sion for him and his fam­ily.’’

Brit­ton said he has been in con­tact with Machado and may in fact be one of the few peo­ple out­side Machado’s in­ner cir­cle who knows where he will wind up.

“Ei­ther way, I wouldn’t say,” Brit­ton said. “I try to do my best to stay away from that stuff and try to sway peo­ple. Hope­fully that de­ci­sion gets made and he’s a New York Yan­kee but we’ll see how it plays out.”

I have no idea what Manny Machado’s mo­ti­va­tions are, who he lis­tens to or what he wants the most. It’s pos­si­ble that like Brit­ton, he’ll de­cide that his chances of win­ning are bet­ter in the Bronx than in Philadel­phia or the South Side of Chicago, even if it costs him a few bucks.

It’s just as pos­si­ble that there is some­thing else that will tip the scales in fa­vor of a place other than Yan­kee Sta­dium.

And un­like the case of Zach Brit­ton, the sight of those 27 World Cham­pi­onship ban­ners fly­ing above the Sta­dium may not make the slight­est bit of dif­fer­ence.

PHOTO BY GETTY

DJ LeMahieu is ex­pected to play mul­ti­ple in­field po­si­tions for the Yan­kees in 2019.

GETTY

With Fri­day's de­vel­op­ments, Manny Machado prob­a­bly won't be play­ing ball in the Bronx.

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