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 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 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 of 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.