Believe it or not, Hal Steinbrenner likes to know the word on the street.
When it comes to Manny Machado, and the increasing likelihood that the free-agent infielder will wind up somewhere besides The Bronx, the street must be giving the Yankees’ managing general partner a splitting headache.
Has a baseball player ever polarized Yankees Universe as effectively as Machado?
When the Yankees agreed to terms with free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu on Friday afternoon, making it clear that Machado wasn’t in their plans, the reaction on social media — from my vantage point, at least — was fiercely divided.
A boatload of interlocking-NY enthusiasts, expressing concerns about both Machado’s controversial personality and the preponderance of right-handed bats already in the team’s lineup, expressed relief, noting that no one wanted him anyway. A seemingly equal boatload of Yankees fans accused Steinbrenner of being cheaper than a tenement owner in 1930s Brooklyn and vowed that Yankee Stadium consequently would be empty next season.
The cacophony tempts a prankster to invite all these folks to the same party and see the sparks fly.
Steinbrenner noted first in 2016, after the team opted to sell off assets at the trade deadline and then call up young players like Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, that he incorporated social-media vibes into his decision-making process. Wary of betraying his late father George’s “Never say die” philosophy, Steinbrenner wondered how the team’s supporters would feel about a reset. Multiple team officials assured their boss that a large segment of the fan base expressed a readiness and even an excitement about such an unusual step.
And when Sanchez exploded onto the scene, finishing second in that year’s American League Rookie of the Year race despite playing only 53 games, and Judge homered in his first at-bat (right after Tyler Austin did the same), Steinbrenner felt validated. Emotional, even, after the Yankees endured some dry years (for them, at least) as they transitioned out of the Core Four era and finally built a farm system of which they could be proud.
Fast-forward to this offseason, which began with a disappointing AL Division Series loss to the Red Sox that soured much of the positives — including the emergence of Gleyber Torres, who came over from the Cubs as part of the July 2016 selloff, as well as homegrown Miguel Andujar — contributing to a 100-win regular season.
With Andujar’s defense at third base a question, and with Didi Gregorius undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in October, the Yankees contemplated a Machado signing seriously enough to invite him to visit the Stadium and take him out to dinner in Manhattan. It doesn’t appear to have grown much more serious than that, however, despite Machado’s obvious desire to be a Yankee. The Yankees never made Machado a concrete offer he could accept, and while you never say never as long as he remains unsigned, Manny seems far more likely to wind up with the White Sox or Phillies.
While finances and fit clearly drove the Yankees to their extreme long-shot position on Machado, it would be in character for Steinbrenner, who values data and fan passion, to also check the heartbeat of his fan base on this one. In this instance, there would have to be two huge piles: One “Pro,” one “Con.”
It would be fascinating to see how this drill would’ve played out had the Yankees engaged Harper, whom I think would be a better fit as a lefty hitter and a guy who has lived under a microscope since he was 16 years old, as they did Machado. Alas, the Yankees have done everything besides skywrite that they don’t want Harper.
Who they have now probably represents the core of their 2019 team. No one would dispute these Yankees can win it all if enough goes right. And if enough doesn’t go right? Steinbrenner might want to say away from social media.