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What’s up with the Yankees? And how could it affect White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado?

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What’s up with the Yankees? And how could it affect White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado? originally appeared on nbcsportschicago.com

The most pressing question in the White Sox pursuit of Manny Machado isn’t whether he was at Sunday’s Bears game. He wasn’t.

It’s what the heck the New York Yankees are doing. Because there’s a legitimate case to be made that they’re moving on from Machado with some of the other moves they’ve made of late. And if that is the case, it will dramatically change everything, as it’s been reported plenty of times that he supposedly prefers to land in The Bronx and play for the team he grew up rooting for.

But there are so many things going on with the Yankees that a union between them and Machado seems, let’s just say more complicated than it does with the White Sox – who have reportedly already made an offer, one characterized last week by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale as “serious” and “closer to $200 million than $300 million” – or the “spend stupid” Philadelphia Phillies.

Let’s start with the Troy Tulowitzki signing, which didn’t and still doesn’t seem like something that would greatly impact a pursuit of Machado. Tulowitzki is a five-time All Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, sure, but he’s also 34 years old and coming off a lost season in which surgery on both heels kept him out completely. He’s played in 66 games since the start of the 2017 season. The Toronto Blue Jays paid the nearly $40 million left on his old contract to get rid of him, yet there’s plenty of speculation the Yankees might have signed him (to a league-minimum deal, remember) with thoughts of him starting. That thinking would likely bring an end to their pursuit of Machado, as he would be the likely candidate to start at shortstop, at the very least until Didi Gregorius (slated to become a free agent after next season) returns several months in after recovering from Tommy John surgery. But Tulowitzki seems more like a zero-risk move that could also act as a type of insurance policy should the Yankees miss out on Machado.

As is often the case when discussing free agents, money could end up the biggest issue. And whether the Yankees merely want to remain relatively flexible as their fleet of young stars inches toward big raises or are using Machado’s supposed preference as a bargaining tool, they reportedly aren’t willing to offer the kind of long-term, record-breaking contract it was assumed Machado would command when the offseason started. The Yankees don’t need Machado, the winners of 100 games last season and the potential preseason World Series favorites without him. And so they don’t need to win him over with a massive contract offer. The Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly in a similar spot in the Bryce Harper derby, unwilling to make a gargantuan contract offer and in a fine position without his services, the winners of the last two NL pennants.

But the Yankees are the Yankees, of course, and they’ve never let dollars get in the way of improving their team. So look what they’ve done in recent days, bringing back Zach Britton on an expensive free-agent contract that keeps him in their bullpen for the next three seasons at $39 million. Britton’s got a great track record, sure, and the Yankees are facing the possible defection of Dellin Betances to free agency following the 2019 season, but that’s an awful lot of cash. They could have saved if they gave David Robertson the same deal he got from the Phillies, but maybe they just wanted Britton. And they might not be done splurging on relievers, either, as Adam Ottavino reportedly has their interest, too. After his 2.43-ERA, 112-strikeout season in 2018, he’s expected to cash in on a multi-year contract. That means even more dollars spent on the relief corps – and more of that offseason budget not spent on Machado.

But what if the Yankees don’t care about dollars? What if they don’t care about shortstop, either? What if this whole thing hinges on clearing room at third base, the position where Machado’s won a couple Gold Gloves?

There have been multiple offseason rumors about them potentially trying to trade Miguel Andujar, the guy with just 154 major league games under his belt who almost won AL Rookie of the Year honors last season. Keeping that 23-year-old in the lineup for years to come – and at a much cheaper price than Machado – would seem like a no-brainer, but Machado, as White Sox fans know, is a heck of a player. There’s been suggestion, too, that the Yankees could try to move Andujar to first base, where their current starter is Luke Voit.

Machado’s supposed preference for the Yankees and their hole at shortstop made them the most sensible option when it came to Machado’s landing place. But they are doing things the other suitors in this derby aren’t doing, which at this point in the process effectively means they’re going on with their offseason rather than sitting patiently while Machado deliberates. The White Sox have added in small ways, as expected, considering where they are in their rebuild. There might no be no stereotypical Plan B in the form of a significant consolation-prize signing should they miss out. The Phillies have added a couple big names in Robertson and Andrew McCutchen, but remember they have “stupid” money they’ve vowed to spend and they view themselves as far closer to contention, whether or not that’s actually a reality in the increasingly competitive NL East.

In the end, the size of the contract offer could wind up the difference maker (big shock, right?) and the White Sox have already made an offer, per Nightengale, one that could, if we’re connecting some various dots, be in the ballpark of seven years and $210 million. Certainly the possibility for those numbers to be larger exists. If the Yankees don’t want to go that high, or come anywhere near that high, then that’s a sizable gap that could cause Machado to abandon his preference. The Phillies, of course, are in a similar position to the White Sox when it comes to offering a big contract, and according to Nightengale’s latest update – which also focuses on the unknowns surrounding the Yankees – they remain the two most aggressive pursuers.

In other words, stay tuned. But if the Yankees aren’t quite as “in” on this whole thing than it initially seemed, perhaps “stay tuned” changes to “buckle up.”

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