Manny Machado in the spotlight as free agency begins

While we know that the Orioles won’t be chasing top free agents, they are tied to one, and that is infielder Manny Machado. Drafted No. 3 overall by the Orioles in 2010, he went on to play 860 games for the team until they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July. Three times, he would finish among the top nine in the American League MVP race while an Oriole.

But now he’s a free agent, and despite his controversial postseason, he’s likely to get a huge contract via free agency. Maybe one for 10 years or more and $300 million or more.

Up until his trade in July, it seemed Machado was showing signs of maturity. He seemed to be handling his pending free agency and the constant media scrutiny that went with it well. I was there a few times on the road when various media outlets wanted to know how Machado felt about their city and team.

Machado-On-Deck-Orange-Sidebar.jpgIn Chicago in May, more than 20 reporters showed up to interview him. So many that his pregame interview was moved out of the clubhouse and into the hallway outside the clubhouse to provide more space.

Reporters wanted to know if his pending free agency was a distraction for him or the team.

“Like I’ve said before, I’m here to play baseball,” Machado said that afternoon. “Obviously, you have to answer these questions. But at the end of the day, all that matters is winning games for your ballclub. That is what I’m here to do.”

Machado offered little that day when asked if he liked Chicago as a city.

On the Fourth of July, Machado held court in Philadelphia and made comments that seemed to be somewhat encouraging to the home fans of the Phillies.

Machado was asked his impression of that team, and he called them a “good club, young and hungry.” He said he would not be surprised if they aggressively pursued him.

“I know how Andy (MacPhail) works and I’ve seen those guys work and they’ve turned this organization around,” he said before the second game of a series at Citizens Bank Park.

But if Machado did make some gains on the maturity front while still an Oriole, he took a step or two backward in October with some of his actions and words. After he didn’t run out a grounder during the National League Championship Series, Machado told The Athletic he’s just not a Johnny Hustle type. He added this: “That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”

Ouch. That was surely a poor choice of words and a bad look.

Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter was interviewed about his former player by the New York Post this week.

Said Showalter: “There are a lot more pluses on him than minuses. When you are a manager, you don’t want to spend a lot of time on maintenance on players who can’t play. Manny is worth the time. You have to tell him what is expected. He is easy to talk to, and he usually is remorseful when he does something wrong.”

Usually remorseful, huh?

There are some who might point a finger at the Orioles organization and wonder why the team didn’t address problems such as lapses in hustle early on in Machado’s career.

Pretty sure they tried, even if they did not succeed. I once asked an O’s player if he spoke to Machado when he made baserunning mistakes or didn’t run balls out. That player said the only person Machado ever listened to was J.J. Hardy, who by then was no longer on the team.

As free agency begins, Machado is a much-talked-about player, but not always for the right reasons. It will still surprise me if any of this affects his contract at all. The big dollars will still be there for him.

I think he has to carefully consider his next team. If he plays for a club such as the Yankees, he will get a raft of criticism and scrutiny every time he comes up short in a big game or during a big moment within a game. Machado could wind up going to a market where his every mistake is called out and criticized. I can’t say he got that in Baltimore much, from the media or the fans.

Machado is front and center as free agency begins. At some point, we’ll find out where he’s headed and just how big the contract is. At some point we’ll also find out if his issues from October resurface and become a problem again - big contract or not.

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