Who is the most sensible suitor for one year of Manny Machado?
At the moment, the market seems to think the answer to that question is either the Chicago White Sox or the Philadelphia Phillies, both of which would be…odd landing places. The White Sox are barely over a year into a full-on tear-it-down rebuild, and while they’ve built an impressive collection of prospects and young players in a very short period of time — mainly because they, uh, probably didn’t actually need to do a full-on tear-it-down rebuild — they’re not going to even be wild card contenders next year and are either two or three years away from being at the point where trading for one year of a young superstar about to hit free agency makes sense from a cost perspective.
The Phillies are a bit more sensible, mainly because the Phillies’ tear-down wasn’t as extreme as the White Sox’s, they’re in a bigger market with an ownership group that’s shown a much greater willingness to spend, and their rebuild is a couple years ahead of the White Sox — they’re at the point where signing guys like Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal makes sense to both shore up their first base production as they transition back into competition and to signal to free agents that Philadelphia is open for business again. They still have the problem of probably not being a particularly good team in 2017 unless they find two or three starting pitchers and a couple more everyday players from either their prospect system or elsewhere.
The main reason the White Sox or Phillies would want Machado is the nebulous benefit a year of playing for either club would give them in the negotiations for his services after the 2018 season. This is both very, very difficult to put any sort of price-tag or label on with regards to what to give up for Machado in trade, and not something that has particularly strong historical precedent in working.
Even in the most memorable recent instance involving Yoenis Cespedes and the New York Mets, Cespedes still hit the open market the season after he was traded to New York, didn’t re-sign with the Mets until late January, and did so without providing the Mets with a discount. While in theory it sounds nice to use the upcoming season as a way to show off the club to Machado, there’s no incentive whatsoever for him not to hit the market anyway — if only to drive up the final contract value from the Phillies or the White Sox a little bit more — and frankly, if he’s just spent the entire season losing, his one-year layover with a rebuilding team might have the opposite of the intended effect.
Which means the conversation has to proceed to teams that want to win right now.
This is where Machado’s stated desire to play shortstop, where he is merely very good defensively, rather than third base, where he is either the best or second-best defender in baseball, comes into play. The Chicago Cubs, for instance, don’t need a third baseman; they have Kris Bryant, who has produced at MVP levels each of the past two years like a machine. They could, however, upgrade from Addison Russell at shortstop — if they were willing to deal the four years of control they have over Russell for one guaranteed year of Machado.
They too would be playing the “spend a year wooing Machado and then try to sign him long-term” game, and they too likely would only succeed with an at-market offer after Machado has left in free agency, but for Chicago that wouldn’t be the whole point of the deal — the Cubs are in a contention cycle and trying to win a second World Series in three years. Getting a ring with the team on the north side might be a powerful inducement to come back for eight years or so (more realistically, for however many years until the player opt-out Machado’s representatives will likely secure for him).
Does it make perfect sense for the Cubs? The marginal-value crowd doesn’t think so, because four years of Addison Russell is three more years than one year of Manny Machado, and they’ve gotten a bit fundamentalist about giving up any years of player control or paying at-market rates for player production. For instance, there’s a version of this trade involving the Red Sox and either Xander Bogaerts or Eduardo Rodriguez, and it’s even less likely to occur because of the cost-controlled years being dealt for one season of Machado. But while it makes perfect sense from a win-now perspective, the Cubs are only the second-most sensible place for Manny Machado to end up.
The most sensible place for Machado to land is also the one place to which the Baltimore Orioles will do every petty and petulant thing in their power to prevent him from going: the New York Yankees.
They have an immediate need at either third base or, if Didi Gregorius is amenable to sliding over to second or third base, at shortstop, and Machado is a clear target of theirs in the upcoming 2018 spending spree. The team is built to win now with a lot of fantastic young talent, and just added the reigning National League MVP. They’ve built a monster in the Bronx, and Machado makes perfect sense to join it.
They’re also the Orioles’ primary foe in a very unbalanced rivalry, and Baltimore owner Peter Angelos takes the Yankees’ historical dominance over his team personally. Not only will he not trade Machado to the Yankees, but he won’t trade Machado to a team if he thinks that team will then flip him to the Yankees. He can’t stop Machado from leaving for New York like Mike Mussina did, but he’ll be damned if he packs his bags for him.
The most likely outcome to all of this, then, is probably: nothing.
Angelos won’t deal to the Yankees, the Cubs and Red Sox won’t agree to give up enough to make it worth Baltimore’s time, and the Orioles won’t be able to trust that the White Sox and Phillies won’t just flip Machado to New York, either over the winter or at the trade deadline.
But who knows. The offseason is long yet, and many very silly things have happened already. It can always get weirder.