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Madden: Some dumb owner will be perfectly happy throwing money at Bryce Harper or Manny Machado


Baseball’s hot stove season has officially begun and all signs point to a decidedly more player-friendly free agent environment as opposed to last year’s deep freeze that lasted for many months, all the way into spring training. A few things are certain:

If you’re an accomplished 30 or younger starting pitcher, like Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi or Dallas Keuchel, you’re going to get your money. And if you’re Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, there’s at least one dumb owner out there eagerly waiting to dole out what will eventually be an untradeable 10-year contract worth upwards of $300 million. Why do we say that? Because even though Harper and Machado are only 26 and well below the new over-30 danger zone the analytics-minded GMs established last year, there are red flags aplenty with both of them suggesting, like almost every other 10-year contract over the years, there will be owners’ regret long before they’re over.

At the owners meetings in Atlanta last week, Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner fired the first salvo in the Manny sweepstakes when, in response to Machado’s “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle…that’s not my cup of tea…that’s not who I am” comments to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in October, he said: “If it’s a $300 million guy or a $10 million guy, clearly those comments are troubling…Because that ain’t gonna sell where we play baseball.”

Bryce Harper is looking for upwards of 300 million dollars in free agency. (David Zalubowski / AP)

By that, we can only assume the Yankees aren’t going to be in on Machado, who, if he’s saying those things before he gets the money, what’s he going to do after he gets it and doesn’t have to listen to anybody? It must also be assumed that it’s not lost on Steinbrenner that he already has two untradeable contracts on his books – the $47 million more he still owes useless Jacoby Ellsbury for the next two years, and the $270 million he has to pay Giancarlo Stanton through 2027. Does he really want to lay out another $300 million over ten years on a guy who newly crowned NL MVP and class act Christian Yelich called the dirtiest player in the game?

As for Harper, while his agent Scott Boras will continue to insist he’s the best player in the game and most worthy of becoming the highest paid player in the game, too many elements of his game suggest he’s far from it. Last year for the second time in his career he had more strikeouts (169) than hits (137), a trend that is almost certainly going to continue in this new age baseball of launch angles and exit velo in which hitters no longer take pride in not striking out. For the record, Harper’s all-time idol, Mickey Mantle, who led the American League in strikeouts five times, only had more strikeouts than hits one time in 18 seasons (his next-to-last, 1967). In all the others, he never came close.

Manny Machado doesn't hustle, but he'll hustle some teams into paying him the big bucks.
Manny Machado doesn't hustle, but he'll hustle some teams into paying him the big bucks. (Jae C. Hong / AP)

In addition, scouts rate Harper’s outfield defense average at best and while no one has ever said he was a bad teammate, he’s not a clubhouse leader either. Nationals people I’ve talked to are privately glad he turned down their offer of 10 years/$300 million because they considered him their third-best player behind Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto and that money saved can now be better spent on starting pitching and a catcher (and possibly an extension for Rendon). Why would you want to make Harper the game’s highest paid player when he’s only your third best player?

Still, Harper, for sure, and probably Machado will get that untradeable 10-year contract because it only takes one dumb owner, and Boras has the perfect free agent storm in 85-year-old Giants principal owner Charles B. Johnson and Phillies principal owner John Middleton. Both of them are eager to spend, have plenty of payroll flexibility and aren’t worried about looking dumb five years down the road. Middleton pretty much confirmed that last week when he told USA Today: “We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little stupid about it.”

And it was Johnson who put down the mandate to the Giants front office to do “everything it takes” to trade for Stanton until the then-Marlins slugger nixed a deal to San Francisco.

Let the dumb-ness begin.


There’s a reason why, in hiring 35-year-old Mike Ellis Friday, the Orioles became the last team to fill their president of baseball operations vacancy. This is the worst job in baseball and it’s highly unlikely Ellis, whose primary area of experience was in analytics and player development as an assistant GM with the Astros, will be able to turn things around in Baltimore. For one thing, the Orioles have only a handful of professional and international scouts and the worst farm system in all of baseball. Under owner Peter Angelos’ orders, they stayed out of the Latin America market and are thus starting from scratch there. Then there’s the matter of Brady Anderson, the former Orioles outfielder who’s a favorite of Angelos’ two sons, John and Louis, who are now running the operation for their ailing 88-year-old father. Anderson has the nebulous title of VP of Baseball Operations but no one knows exactly what he does other than show up in Baltimore periodically during the season and meddle in the GM’s duties. Ellis will have to get used to that. And with Peter Angelos never having designated a managing general partner successor, no one can say who’s really in charge in Baltimore. Lastly, the longstanding dispute between the Orioles and Nationals over each of their financial stakes in the MASN TV network is finally supposed to be resolved by MLB this week. It is expected the Orioles are going to be ordered to pay the Nationals substantially more for their TV rights which, if it happens, will put a serious crimp on their operations. It would seem a much wiser choice for president of baseball operations would have been a veteran general manager like Ned Colletti (whom they did interview) or Doug Melvin, experienced in all aspects of the job, not to mention a dysfunctional ownership. Leadership and experience can’t be mastered in your mid-‘30s. … Tweet from Alex Rodriguez last Thursday: “Congrats to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on his unanimous and well-deserved contract extension. Continue to take our great game to new heights around the world!” … Statement from Rob Manfred in November 2013: “This latest sad chapter in Mr. Rodriguez’s tarnished career is yet another example of this player trying to avoid taking responsibility for his poor choices. Given the disappointing acts that Mr. Rodriguez has repeatedly made throughout his career, his expressed concerns for young people rings very hollow. Mr. Rodriguez’s use of PEDs was longer and more pervasive than any other player.” Ah, ain’t love grand?