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NEW YORK — Manny Machado visited Yankee Stadium as a free agent on Dec. 19, 2018 — and, by all accounts, he preferred to wear pinstripes.
But the New York Yankees never did make Machado an offer, and when he finally returned to The Bronx on Monday afternoon, No. 13 was Public Enemy No. 1 — booed vociferously by the sellout crowd of 46,254 before each of his at-bats.
“I get booed everywhere I go. Great players get booed,” Machado said after the San Diego Padres lost to the Yankees, 5-2. “It happens.”
These particular boos, though — seemingly misguided given what transpired in the offseason — came close to rivaling the receptions hated Boston Red Sox villains like David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez used to get in New York. And they were accompanied by chants of “Overrated!”
“A boo’s, a boo,” said Machado, who ultimately landed a 10-year, $300 million deal with San Diego. “We took the ‘L.’ It sucks. There’s nothing worse than that.”
Machado went 1-for-4 on the day, turning on Aroldis Chapman’s 97-mph fastball leading off the ninth inning and roping it 111-mph into left for a double. He now has a 12-game hitting streak on the road. But the 26-year-old hasn’t fared as well at Petco Park, where he owns a .713 OPS in 114 plate appearances.
From 2016-18, Machado owned a .942 OPS at Yankee Stadium — and he certainly sounded like a guy who enjoyed playing there.
“I think everybody kind of knows how short right field is,” Machado said. “We definitely saw it today with Gary (Sanchez). (His homer in the eighth) was what, 300 feet I think it was. It is what it is.”
Machado, no stranger to being prickly on occasion, abruptly ended his postgame interview when a question about his free agency was posed.
“Is that a baseball question?” asked Machado, who said before the interview started that free-agency questions were off-limits. “Ok. S—. You guys good? I gotta catch a bus, so …”
With that, he left the clubhouse.
Manny Machado preferred to be a Yankee. Today Yankee fans preferred to boo him and chant overrated pic.twitter.com/VIM0zxvC8W
— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzYahoo) May 27, 2019
In New York, Machado’s return generated little buzz.
That probably wouldn’t have been the case if the Yankees were struggling.
But despite being ravaged by injuries — with 15 players currently on the IL — the Bombers sport one of the best records in baseball: 35-18.
“We have a really resilient team,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Yahoo! Sports. “We have a lot of depth. We’ve been forced to cash in on some insurance policies and thankfully they’re performing for us. You never want guys to get injured, but the way the ‘B-Bombers’ have played is really great to see. When somebody goes down, it gives others the opportunities to make a name for themselves.”
The Yankees came into Monday’s game sporting a .910 OPS at shortstop and an .856 OPS at third base — both higher than Machado’s current OPS (.788). Miguel Andujar (shoulder surgery) and Troy Tulowitzki (calf strain) were supposed to make up the left side of the infield before both got hurt, paving the way for DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela to step up.
And step up they have.
Still, it wasn’t like Cashman hadn’t been on Machado for awhile.
Leading into the 2018 trade deadline, the Yankees had a lot of conversations with the Orioles about their long-time franchise player. But nothing came to fruition.
“They had defined that they were looking for pitching back and we thought we matched up well,” Cashman said. “I can’t tell you how close we got because towards the end they pivoted and wanted a high-end position player and they were locked in on another team (the Dodgers).
“I had a great relationship with (former Orioles GM) Dan Duquette (the two made a deal for Zack Britton that year) and it looked like we had good momentum on a potential deal. But we knew there was competition, and once they changed their philosophical effort from a pitching-rich deal to wanting position players that took us out of it — from the front of the line to out of the driver’s seat.”
Then came free agency — and a 90-minute meeting plus dinner — even despite concerns about Machado’s lack of hustle and playoff struggles.
“We expressed interest in him, and (his reps) conveyed to us that he wanted a visit — a meet and greet introduction similar to the one we had with Patrick Corbin,” Cashman said. “But obviously that timeframe dragged out and dragged out. And once Troy became available it gave us a different avenue to diversify our financials. We saw Troy’s workout and just felt like we needed a short-term fix until Didi (Gregorius) came back.
“We were able to put (Gleyber) Torres at short and then add (Adam) Ottavino and LeMahieu. It was a tough decision, but we never made an offer.”
The Yankees have managed a plus-68 run differential despite missing Aaron Judge (oblique strain), Giancarlo Stanton (biceps strain, shoulder inflammation, calf strain), Gregorius (Tommy John surgery), Luis Severino (shoulder inflammation, lat strain) and James Paxton (knee inflammation) for significant chunks of time.
They recently sent a scout to see free agent Dallas Keuchel pitch a simulated game in Newport Beach, Calif. And it seems like pitching remains a priority.
“I’m not gonna talk about our needs,” Cashman said. “I’m going to continue to evaluate. I like being under the radar. I’d rather do a sneak attack.”
As for Machado getting booed, Cashman said: “He’s obviously a really talented player. And if he does some damage against us, then I’ll get booed.”