Oct 28, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado (8) reacts after striking out in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox in game five of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Images

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Keidel: Yankees Best Off Steering Clear Of Big-Ticket Free Agents

Jason Keidel
November 02, 2018 - 11:56 am
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New Yorkers are so used to a lavish free agent splurge from the Yankees every winter, it becomes reflexive to belch the big-ticket players on the market. Instead of stats, you can just mutter, "Machado" and "Harper" and everyone knows what you're talking about.

Bryce Harper was the bat du jour earlier this year, but now we're hearing about Manny Machado, the former Orioles infielder who was dealt to the Dodgers to help them win the World Series they lost in 2017. It didn't work. In fact, we learned more about Machado on the MLB playoff stage than we had while he was toiling in last place for Baltimore.

We learned he likes to live on the fringe. Machado is an All-Star, a gifted shortstop with a muscular bat. But we saw he's also a diamond provocateur, kicking a first baseman's leg while he galloped across the bag. When asked why he doesn't always bust it down the line on ground balls, Machado said he's not "Johnny Hustle" - perhaps a mutation or cousin of Charlie Hustle. Sounds like an odd mission statement for a player day away from the most lucrative offseason of his life. 

Do the Yankees want to spend a quarter-billion dollars on a guy who admits he doesn't always play hard? Who just went 4-for-22 in the World Series? Who seems to be saying farewell to the Dodgers on Instagram because he needs to warm his monetary hands by the hot stove league? Why wouldn't' Machado make Los Angeles his top suitor? After two trips to the World Series, a roster bubbling with talent, a town with perfect weather 350 days a year, and team with a biblical payroll, what team is more tempting than the Dodgers?

Haven't the Yankees learned by now? Isn't that what helped collapse the Joe Torre dynasty? Isn't free-agent binging what poisoned the pristine feel of those '90s clubs? Isn't the whole Evil Empire template - replace bad money with more money, double-down on bulging contracts - something we're trying to inch away from? 

Indeed, part of what locals love about these Yankees is the farm system motif that makes them somewhat reminiscent of the Core Four clubs. Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are the faces of a group that was either nursed by the Bombers' farm system or plucked from another club's minors.

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The 2018 Yankees set the all-time record for home runs, and were at or near the top in every salient offensive metric. The club came within one game of the 2017 World Series, added Giancarlo Stanton, then didn't even reach the ALCS. It's not Stanton's fault, but the ALDS loss to Boston italicized the defining difference between the two teams - pitching. Boston rained 16 runs on the Yanks in Game 3 and, as manager Alex Cora implied during their championship parade, that fueled them all the way to their fourth World Series title since 2004, arguably their best team ever. And they beat the Dodgers with superior pitching, their biggest boost coming from David Price, who finally found his playoff mojo. 

Pitching is the keyword to this championship search. Don't corrupt this balanced lineup with team-first players by signing a me-first mercenary. Pitchers tend to be solitary creatures who pitch every fifth day, spend their off days tucked away behind an outfield wall with other pitchers. It's far easier for someone like Machado to break the delicate emotional balance of these Yankees than for Arizona's free agent pitcher Patrick Corbin to bring any bad karma to the club. 

It sounds so facile, to just fill the hole at shortstop left by the injured Didi Gregorius, who just had Tommy John, by replacing him with an even more gifted player. But Gregorius was perfect for this team, and his numbers jumped once he wore the pinstripes. Add Machado's monstrous ego to New York City and you have a potentially toxic celebrity cocktail. No one doubts his glove, or his bat. 

But remember the Yankees once added an even more talented shortstop in 2004, who was so eager and selfless he moved to third base in epic deference to Derek Jeter. Yet even an athlete of A-Rod's historic dimensions didn't prolong the Yankees dynasty. In fact, Boston lost out on A-Rod at the last hour yet they are the ones who won the World Series that year and have ruled our pastime ever since. 

Since the Red Sox stormed to the World Series title, it feels like the Yankees are eons behind Boston. But they're not. You only have to augment a 100-win club, not rebuild it. Add a starting arm or two, beef up the bullpen, then take your chances in 2019. Don't take a polo mallet to a small nail. Don't don that Darth Vader mask when common sense and pinstripes will do. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel