Perhaps it feels like a distant memory, but there was a time last spring when the mere thought of Manny Machado donning a Yankees uniform brought somewhat of a sheepish smile to Aaron Judge’s face.
And that mere thought led to some finger-wagging from Major League Baseball’s tampering police, as they weren’t too thrilled that, prior to a Grapefruit League exhibition game between the Yankees and Orioles in mid-March, Judge told the pending All-Star free agent that he would “look pretty good in pinstripes.” A harmless and inadvertent sales pitch, but from the perspective of baseball’s big wigs, a sales pitch nevertheless.
Fast forward 11 months, and it turns out that Judge and the Yankees never really shared the same level of enthusiasm for Machado. The proof? Well, at long last, the 26-year-old infielder agreed to a record-breaking 10-year, $300 million deal with the small-market San Diego Padres on Tuesday afternoon, according to multiple reports.
Throughout the entire 2018 season, all signs indicated that Machado wanted to play for the Yankees — much to Judge’s delight. As a Miami native, he grew up idolizing Alex Rodriguez. He occasionally “liked” random photos of himself photoshopped in a Yankees uniform on social media. One family member even said on television during the All-Star Game that Machado had his mind set on playing in the Bronx.
But, the Yankees weren’t willing to meet Machado’s price or terms. According to multiple reports, the team hardly engaged with Machado’s camp following their Christmastime meeting with him in New York. Sure, the Yankees were never truly “out” on Machado. But by the same token, they were never truly “in” since Machado never received a formal offer from them.
Will the Yankees regret passing on a talent like Machado? Probably not. All winter, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner reiterated that the team’s major hole was pitching. And while he never publicly ruled out the possibility of signing a big-ticket item like Machado, it was clear that he wasn’t the top priority. The same can be said for free agent outfielder Bryce Harper who, in all likelihood, will top Machado’s dollar mark sometime this week.
With the additions of James Paxton, Zack Britton, J.A. Happ, D.J. LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino, and Troy Tulowitzki, the Yankees like where they currently stand. With this payroll and roster composition, they believe the championship window is wide open.
The Yankees never viewed Machado as a need. Suffice to say that they don’t view Harper as a need, either. Right or wrong, fair or foul, the offseason boiled down to needs versus wants for the Yankees.
And while it’s true that Judge once fantasized about playing alongside Machado, by no means is he miffed by Machado’s decision to play on the west coast for big bucks.
“The great thing about going into the offseason, the lineup and the team that we have is pretty darn good. We won 100 games,” said Judge, who spoke to reporters on Tuesday for the first time this spring. “So we were in a position, I felt like, didn’t really need to go out there and grab too many big pieces. We were already set.”
At the moment, the Yankees are operating above this season’s $206 million luxury tax threshold. According to Spotrac.com, entering Tuesday, the Yankees ($124.5 million) were second only to the Nationals ($183.3 million) in terms of money spent on free agents this offseason.
The team also just recently signed 24-year-old starter Luis Severino to a four-year, $40 million deal that bought out his remaining arbitration years and potentially his first year of free agency ($15 million club option in 2023). Overall, the Yankees’ total winter spending comes out to $218 million, which is the second-highest mark in baseball.
“The year before, we made it one game away from the World Series. This past year, we made it to the postseason and lost in the [ALDS],” Judge said. “We were just in a position where we just needed to add maybe one or two key guys and bring back a couple of key guys that are just going to get us over the hump. And I feel like we did that. So, I’m excited for our team. I’m excited for who we added. Just excited to get this thing going.”
Judge, who was limited to just 112 regular season games in 2018 due to a chip fracture in his right wrist, said he’s excited to see what this 2019 team is capable of.
And the key to staying on the field all season?
“Don’t get hit in the wrist. Turn the other way,” Judge said.
If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.