LOS ANGELES — The next logical question to ponder on the Manny Machado beat:
Will the star shortstop perform better selling himself in a conference room, or a hoity-toity restaurant, than he did on the field?
Because after closing his month with far more dud and thud than stud Sunday night, fittingly making the final out of the season with a strikeout as his Dodgers fell to the Red Sox, 5-1, in Game 5 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, Machado prompted a searching through the memory banks: Has any other treasured free agent — in any sport — damaged his brand the way Machado has on his sport’s greatest stage?
The 26-year-old wound up 0-for-4 with three Ks as the Dodgers and their Octoberphobe pitcher Clayton Kershaw went down meekly to the Red Sox and former Octoberphobe David Price, falling in games by an underwhelming 4-1 count. In his first Fall Classic, Machado slashed a terrible .182/.208/.182, managing a paltry four singles and one walk (intentional) and a sacrifice fly in 23 plate appearances.
That one of those singles should’ve been a double, instead of him admiring a long fly ball off the wall during the Game 3 marathon, spoke perfectly to the disaster this stretch became for Machado, whose swings of strong play — he did slash .296/.367/.444 in the National League Championship Series as the Dodgers outlasted the Brewers in seven games — proved no match for his controversy proclivity.
Where does The Post begin? Probably with his kick of Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar during the NLCS, which he duplicated to Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce during Saturday night’s World Series Game 4 (it garnered less attention). Then to his lack of hustle and his vow to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that he would never be a “Johnny Hustle.” Wrap it up with his overall numbers for this postseason: .227/.278/.394 in 16 games.
As Adam allegedly said, upon eating the serpent’s apple from Eve and recognizing his nakedness for the first time, “Yeesh.”
Look, someone will pay Machado handsomely to join them because he has supreme talent and helps teams win ballgames. The issue now becomes how handsomely and specifically whether he’ll a) surpass Giancarlo Stanton’s record package of $325 million and b) out-earn his fellow free agent Bryce Harper. The odds on “No” to both measuring sticks have dropped since the end of the regular season, haven’t they? Will the Yankees really pay to pair him with Stanton as long-termers?
For when a team and an owner make the sort of commitment that Machado expects — that he has the right to expect, based on his age and his output since his 2012 arrival in the big leagues — the conversation expands from talent to likability and personality. Will acquisition of the player spark ticket sales? Can he be counted on to be a clubhouse leader, a community pillar, a schmoozer with sponsors and season-ticket holders?
An icon of the entire baseball industry, respected by teammates and opponents?
OK, let’s discuss the obvious comparison: Machado’s idol and South Florida pal Alex Rodriguez. When the Yankees set a record with a $275 million deal for A-Rod after he won the 2007 American League Most Valuable Player award, they already knew from firsthand experience how polarizing and tone-deaf, among other liabilities, he could be. Yet A-Rod created buzz wherever he went — he served as a household name to households that don’t follow baseball closely — no one ever questioned his effort, he mentored young Latino teammates and he could schmooze folks just as well as his more polished and revered frenemy Derek Jeter.
Machado’s villain role doesn’t play as well because he hasn’t achieved A-Rod’s stature or notoriety — or his sheer production, for that matter.
The 2017 World Series concluded with Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish, a trade rental like Machado, getting pummeled by the Astros to complete a terrible Fall Classic. The Cubs ignored that tiny sample and rewarded Darvish with a six-year, $126 million contract.
That Darvish proceeded to pitch terribly and undergo elbow surgery won’t help Machado’s cause, either. Yet no one has hurt Manny more than Manny. Can he sell this showcase meltdown to his next employer as small-sampled, big-stage growing pains? If he can, then he’ll prove considerably more clutch in November and December (and beyond?) than he wound up in October.