In season three, episode 12 of Breaking Bad, Mike Ehrmantraut told Walter White, “I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.”
The New York Mets have become comfortable with half-measures, doing just enough to field a team that they feel can compete or play “meaningful games” down the stretch. When they did choose to go all in by trading for Yoenis Cespedes in 2015, they made it to the World Series.
Over the past decade—since the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal broke in 2008—the Mets’ days as exorbitant spenders have mostly become a thing of the past. If you overlook the contracts given to Cespedes and David Wright, the Mets have handed out mostly modest contracts over the past ten years and have typically avoided long-term commitments to free agents, especially those exceeding four years. When they have spent, they’ve spent on the wrong players. This is just one of the reasons they have missed the playoffs in eight of the past ten seasons.
The Mets should break that trend, step out of their comfort zone, and make a serious run at Manny Machado, who will command a ten-year deal costing approximately $25-$30 million annually. There is almost no shot that they will make a small ripple, let alone a big splash, in the Machado sweepstakes, which is a shame and quite frankly not acceptable for a big-market team with postseason aspirations. Machado will not guarantee a World Series title, but he would represent a sizable first step towards building a legitimate contender.
With the luxury tax threshold rising to $206 million in 2019, the Mets could very easily raise their current payroll by $60-$70 million and still fall below that number. While it’s safe to assume they won’t, it would go a long way toward earning the fans’ trust back after a long run of futility interspersed with two playoff appearances. Amazin’ Avenue expressed its support for the club signing Machado back in July after the Mets held on to their young starting pitchers at the trade deadline. Nothing that the team has said or done since July 31 has altered this opinion.
Signing Machado would drastically change the narrative after back-to-back fourth place finishes and would put the Mets on the right path. Sticking Machado in the middle of the lineup would immediately improve their lackluster offense, which finished 9th in the National League in wRC+, 12th in runs scored and team OPS, and second-to-last in team batting average. Machado would nicely slot behind Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil, who got on base at a 40% and 38% clip, respectively, and would give them a formidable top half of the batting order once you factor in Michael Conforto.
Machado, who plays third base and shortstop, was drafted third overall in the 2010 draft by the Baltimore Orioles and made his debut 26 months later in August 2012. After a modest rookie campaign (.262/.294/.445, seven home runs, .183 ISO, 97 wRC+, 14.8 UZR/150, and a 1.2 fWAR in 51 games), Machado broke out in his sophomore season. He hit .283/.314/.432 with 14 home runs, a .148 ISO, a 102 wRC+, a career-best 21.5 UZR/150, and a 5.0 fWAR in 156 games. These numbers were good enough to earn him his first All-Star game selection, a Gold Glove award at third base, and a ninth place finish in the American League MVP race.
Injuries hampered his 2014 season, and Machado was limited to just 82 games. The Orioles still won their first American League East division title since 1997, and Machado hit .278/.324/.432 with 12 home runs, a .153 ISO, a 111 wRC+, and a 2.3 fWAR despite the setbacks. The following season, Machado established himself as a star, and it’s no exaggeration to say he’s become one of the best all-around players in baseball since then.
Over the past four seasons, Machado has averaged 159 games, which includes playing in all 162 games in 2015 and 2018. In that span, he has hit .284/.345/.511 with 142 home runs, a .227 ISO, a 128 wRC+, and a 21.7 fWAR. Machado ranks eighth among all big-league hitters in home runs and runs batted in during that time, and only Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson have a higher fWAR among third basemen. On top of that, Machado was selected to the American League All-Star team in 2015, 2016, and 2018, won a Gold Glove award at third base in 2015, and finished in the top five in the American League MVP race in 2015 and 2016. In 2018, he set career-best marks in batting average, .ISO, OPS, OPS+, wRC+, walk rate, and strikeout rate.
Machado is not without his controversies. The infielder drew the ire of the Boston Red Sox and Dustin Pedroia back in 2014 when he spiked Pedroia while sliding into second base. The bad blood resulting from this play has developed into a long-running feud. The play in question could, at best, be described as reckless but can hardly be classified as dirty, but has nevertheless resulted in a largely unfair portrayal of Machado as a “villain”.
This past postseason, Machado again found himself in hot water after he kicked the leg of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar while running through first base, which resulted in a fine being levied by Major League Baseball. It wasn’t the best look for Machado, who was already drawing criticism for saying “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle’, and run down the line and slide to first base”. The quote followed a question about his lack of hustle on several plays during a postseason in which he struggled offensively for the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, a quick look at the full quote shows Machado owning up to his shortcoming, saying “I’ve been thinking about it and it happens every time, there’s no excuse for it honestly. I’ve never given excuses for not running. I’m not hurt, there’s no excuse but I’ve been the same player.”
The bottom line is that no athlete is perfect, and any new addition will come with some downside. Machado’s lack of hustle will hardly cost him or his team all that much over the course of a 162-game season. If he hits at the rate that he has over the past four seasons and continues to suit up for 150-plus games, his new team will absolutely live with a questionable play here or a lack of hustle there.
Mets fans would learn to look past it if he’s hitting 30-plus home runs, putting up a 120-plus wRC+ and a .900-plus OPS, and posting a 6+ WAR, especially when the alternative is a light-hitting Todd Frazier who was inconsistent at best in his first season in Flushing. Signing Machado is also enticing because he is still on the rise. Many players hit free agency at the age of 29 or 30, when it’s fair to wonder if their best years have already bypassed them. At 26 years old, Machado is still growing as a player and can provide five to seven prime seasons. While ten year contracts are always risky, this one would be worth it.
Mets ownership was reportedly not interested in any general manager candidate who recommended a total rebuild. In his introductory press conference, Brodie Van Wagenen said, “I expect to be in on every free agent I can and if they fit into our roster, I expect to go after them.”
Machado fits the roster, fits the lineup, and fits New York City. This is a perfect opportunity for the Mets to show they are serious about winning and send shockwaves through the baseball landscape by landing the biggest name on the open market.