White Sox fans are trying to decide which superstar they’d rather have: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. At any other time, in any other life, those fans would be in serious need of a drug test. A conversation about the Sox, megastars on the market and huge-money contracts? Only if a bong was involved.
But not now. Not with the Sox far enough along in their rebuild and with money to spend to make a run at either player. Amazing. And so much fun in the drear of November.
Harper, the hair-flying, tradition-be-damned, five-tool showstopper, or Machado, the wonderfully talented, black-hat-wearing villain?
If I were Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf – only $1.4 billion more and I’m there! – I’d want the player guaranteed to pack Guaranteed Rate Field. To ignore that part of the equation is to ignore the issue that has dogged this franchise for years.
Machado is the more consistent player, year to year. Harper is the more compelling player.
Some of their stats are remarkably similar. Machado’s 162-game average is .282, 31 home runs and 90 runs batted in. Harper’s is .279, 32 home runs and 91 RBI.
The difference? You can’t take your eyes off Harper. The last player who created this much buzz when he walked onto a field – and I apologize, Sox fans – was Sammy Sosa. He would sprint to his spot in right field at Wrigley Field (and elsewhere), blowing kisses to the Cubs’ faithful and breathing in their love. When Harper comes to bat or takes the field, he’s likewise the center of attention. An African bush elephant could be trotted out to play second base, and it would still be so. But let’s not give Joe Maddon any new ideas.
You can’t ignore that if you’re the White Sox, who are to a sold-out ballpark what Chris Sale is to a 62-inch waist. Their average attendance has been below 30,000 10 straight seasons. The last six seasons, it has been below 22,000. It’s why one reader suggested that Guaranteed Rate Field, named after a mortgage company, be called Zero Interest Field.
When Harper won the Home Run Derby last season, he tossed his bat in the air as if he had just won the World Series for the Nationals. The made-for-TV competition seemed to be more important to him than it was to anybody else. Is his act too much? All I know is that the guy is a natural showman. Last season, I saw him tear around the bases on a triple and purposely knock his helmet off his head near second base. My guess, and I think I know a dig-me guy when I see one, is that Harper did it so we could see his flowing mane. My other guess is that everyone watched.
The problem with the born-entertainer line of thinking is that it minimizes Harper’s abilities, which are enormous. His career on-base percentage (.388) and slugging percentage (.512) are better than Machado’s (.335 and .487). To obsess on his Q rating reduces the Sox’ decision, if they’ll be lucky enough to get to make one, to a bottom-line question. Harper is excellent, and the Sox are in it to win.
But you can’t dismiss the other side of it, the butts-in-the-seats quotient. Machado would bring in fans. Harper would bring in more of them.
Every baseball fan knows who Harper is. He has taken a power washer to the unwritten rules of baseball. He sneers at convention. He’s the darling of millennials who question why things have to be the way they are. Baseball needs millennials.
The Sox have a history of signing bad boys, from Albert Belle to A.J. Pierzynski. So Machado, who recently admitted he’s not “Johnny Hustle’’ on the base paths, would fit perfectly. He’s not above the occasional dirty play, as he showed several times during the postseason for the Dodgers.
The price tag for either player will be well above the 10-year, $300 million offer Harper reportedly turned down from the Nationals in September. Is a $400 million contract out of the question for one or both of the 26-year-old superstars? Probably not. The Phillies seem to be the favorite to land Harper or Machado, but, and this is what the Sox are counting on, you never know. Maybe one of those players likes the idea of joining a team that’s on its way up. And maybe the Sox blow away the competition with a ridiculous offer. If so, I hope it’s Harper. I’m rooting for fun.
What’s that? You think the Sox will shell out enough money to grab both Harper and Machado? Here’s a specimen cup, and there’s a bathroom stall. Get busy.
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