LOS ANGELES — On one side, there were raised arms, clenched fists and warm hugs. There was jumping and cheering and screaming and laughing, the typical bedlam that follows a World Series championship. On the other side, there was Manny Machado, who had just flailed at a Chris Sale slider toward his shoe tops, his backswing forcing him to a knee while the Boston Red Sox began a euphoric celebration.
It was, in all likelihood, the final memory of Machado’s turbulent 15-week stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He arrived on the 18th day of July and left, probably for good, on the 28th night of October. He hit a little worse than the Dodgers would have hoped, but played defense better than they could have expected. He loafed on several ground balls, but unleashed an array of scorching line drives. He often angered opponents, but he also ignited teammates.
“I can’t be more thankful,” Machado said Sunday night, moments after a season-ending 5-1 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5 of the World Series.
“What a great organization, what a great group of guys. I couldn’t have imagined any better picture, coming over here. Obviously getting traded halfway through the year is always tough. You have to come meet new teammates, new faces, players that you played against but don’t really know on a personal level. The guys here, the front office, welcomed me with open arms. Every single teammate here has been beyond amazing. I’m very, truly grateful to have been a part of this and what went on this year.”
Machado will officially become a free agent on Saturday, headlining the group of available players alongside Bryce Harper. They will both hit the open market at age 26, setting themselves up to sign contracts that will probably be valued in the $300 million range.
Machado was still in full uniform when he addressed reporters in the wake of another crushing finish to a Dodgers season.
He wasn’t ready to contemplate what will follow.
“The future?” he asked, repeating a question. “Honestly, I can’t even answer that. I don’t know. I’m hurt right now.”
While Machado spoke, Corey Seager, the young shortstop who is still considered among the building blocks of the Dodgers organization, leaned against a wall in the hallway that leads to a back kitchen, a good distance away from the media contingency that packed into the clubhouse.
Seager should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery — and the labrum repair he underwent in his hip — early in the 2019 season, if not by the start of it. Machado is no easy fit on the 2019 roster, especially if he remains adamant about his desire to stay at shortstop. Keeping Machado could mean Seager moving to third base, Justin Turner shifting to first and Cody Bellinger becoming a full-time center fielder.
Machado’s mercurial nature could easily turn off some suitors, but his undeniable talent cannot be overlooked.
His teammates appeared to vouch for him.
“Manny’s a great guy,” said Turner, one of the Dodgers’ core leaders. “Love him. He came over here and jumped right on board with the goal to win a World Series. Obviously super talented. Don’t know what’s going to happen, don’t know what’s in his future, but definitely have a lot of respect for him and wish him all the best in the future, whatever happens.”
Late Saturday night, after a stunning loss in Game 4, Machado wore a blue cap emblazoned with the word “VILLAINS,” the “L” and the “A” in the middle represented by the Dodgers’ distinctive logo. It was a term that followed Machado throughout October, one he seemed to begrudgingly accept.
The narrative reached its peak during the National League Championship Series, with two awkward slides into second base, several crotch grabs toward the Milwaukee Brewers’ fans and one cleat to Jesus Aguilar’s foot, inspiring seven telling words from potential NL MVP Christian Yelich: “A dirty play by a dirty player.”
Machado’s comments during a Fox interview — that hustling is “not my cup of tea” — lingered over him, igniting criticism from fans and players alike. He was booed by his home crowd for coasting into first base on a line drive that bounced off the left-field wall in the sixth inning of Game 3, the last in an assortment of similar incidents.
“There’s nothing to say,” Machado said of the flak that engulfed him this month. “Everyone’s going to have their own opinions on everything. The only thing that matters is these 25 guys in here. We play this game for every single player in there. We play for that, what they [the Red Sox] just celebrated.”
Machado finished the 2018 regular season with 37 home runs, 107 RBIs and a career-high .905 OPS. But his slash line with the Dodgers (.273/.338/.487) was dwarfed by his slash line with the Baltimore Orioles, who play their home games in a hitter-friendly park (.315/.387/.575). With the Dodgers, Machado, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner at third base, proved he can play an adequate shortstop on an everyday basis. He had big moments, several of them in important games throughout September and a few more in the NLCS — but he didn’t produce in the World Series.
Had Machado performed well against Boston and helped lift the organization to its first championship in 30 years, perhaps the Dodgers and their pragmatic front office would have tried their best to make this work.
But Machado batted just .182 against the Red Sox and the Dodgers lost in five games.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Machado said. “It’s not a decision I can make right now. Just remember this moment, remember these great couple months we had here, and see what happens.”
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