Given the dearth of teams being publicly linked to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, it was inevitable that the ubiquitous “mystery team” would make an appearance at some point. Occasionally an actual team with very real designs on signing a big free agent, these mysterious specters are often unmasked as nothing other than an agent or competing team floating rumors to drive the market. And they would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t you pesky kids and that darn dog.
In any case, reports are coming out that a third team has joined the Phillies and White Sox as the race for Manny Machado appears to be entering the home stretch. That comes via ESPN’s Jeff Passan, who wrote that “they’ve been told a third team is involved, according to sources.” Now, there are a couple things we need to note here just to establish a little context.
Passan’s titular claim that “Manny Machado has offer from White Sox for 8-year contract” was subsequently contradicted by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, who tweeted that the initial seven-year offer hasn’t changed. And while I know many are skeptical of anything Nightengale reports, to the extent there’s a running joke that the opposite must be true, this isn’t the first time a Passan report has been shot down.
He had written in early January that the White Sox were willing to go to 10 years, which 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine quickly chided as being, “Without any substance and flat out wrong.” Levine went on report that the Sox were unwilling to push past seven years for either Machado or Harper, which is in keeping with what Nightengale tweeted.
Levine even got back into the ring with his tag-team partner to double-down on refuting the report of an eight-year offer.
Despite reports of 8 year offer @JeffPassan ,the White Sox have not bid against themselves on long term Machado deal. Seven years has been the max offered . AAV likely between $25 and $30 mil.
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) January 14, 2019
Please don’t take this as a hit piece on Jeff Passan, that’s not it at all. He’s beholden to his sources on stuff like this and we’ve seen time and again this winter how information is spotty and subject to change all the time. Rather, I’m just trying to establish a little consistency here and overlay the different circles to see where they overlap. And what we find in that darker section of the Venn diagram is that the offers for Machado aren’t as high as first anticipated.
So if he’s truly looking at something around seven or eight years and $210-250 million, it’s easy to see another team or two showing up to the party fashionably late. Or perhaps a wallflower has finally imbibed enough to hit the dance floor. Heck, it’s a teams that’s been around the whole time and just masked their intentions. As Ken Rosenthal wrote for The Athletic ($), the Yankees could still be a factor despite signing Troy Tulowitzki and D.J. LeMahieu already.
I’ll believe the Yankees are out on Manny Machado when I see him wearing another team’s jersey at his introductory news conference.
This is not to say the Yankees are “in” on Machado, not after reaching agreement on Friday with free-agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu on a two-year, $24 million contract.
But the Yankees don’t really fit the definition of a mystery team, at least not in the traditional sense. Which is where we turn to the rumors that one of the Cubs’ division rivals could be going full Red October and lurking below the surface as the market becomes much more favorable. A Twitter search for “Manny Machado mystery team” reveals several potential suspects.
For instance, @BaseballDoggo, an account with a whopping 23 followers that boasts of being “theman” [sic], has stated at least twice that the Pirates are the mystery team. Without directly providing credence to Mr. Doggo, this does actually make a little sense. If you recall, Pittsburgh was reportedly one of the teams pursuing Tulowitzki to play short. As dubious as parts of that report are, it’s impossible to ignore the dovetailing desires of the Pirates and Yankees here.
And when you look at the young talent in Pittsburgh, not to mention their power moves to contend at last year’s deadline, it’s possible they could view Machado as their key to getting back into a bunched-up division. Maybe there’s even a desire to make it up to fans who’ve had to watch stars like Barry Bonds and Andrew McCutchen leave town.
Other rumors have floated the Brewers and Cardinals as possible clandestine suitors, with both even being mentioned on MLB Network Radio Monday morning (sorry, don’t have audio yet). MLB.com’s Richard Justice likewise listed St. Louis among potential mystery teams and we’ve seen the Cards getting aggressive this winter with the additions of Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller. They were in heavy on Giancarlo Stanton last winter, and may still be seeking that long-term cornerstone given the likely brevity of Goldschmidt’s time in St. Louis.
But ask yourself this: Would playing in the shadow of the Gateway Arch really be a good fit for Machado? I know every fanbase has its share of unremittingly awful meatballs, but Machado’s “not Johnny Hustle” style probably isn’t going play well there. Not when half of the fans in attendance at any given game have definitely asked to speak to the manager more than once. And I don’t mean Mike Shildt.
Now we go back to the Brewers, who Passan had reported were still in the hunt for an infielder after signing Yasmani Grandal. With an aging Ryan Braun and potential for regression across the board, they might want to bolster their chances to remain atop the division. They’re also quite familiar with loading up on infielders and finding spots for them, something we saw throughout the 2018 campaign.
Or maybe it’s not a matter of just one Central team being in the mix on the low-low. According to SNY’s Andy Martino, the source of the Tulowitzki report I sort of panned earlier, there are actually multiple unidentified teams still pursuing Machado. It’s also believed the superstar plans to choose the highest bidder, which means the lack of sex appeal of cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh may not matter.
Machado landing in any of those spots would be bad news for the Cubs, so maybe another team should just go ahead and give him huge money and be done with it. And maybe the Cubs should be that team. Your move, Theo.