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Winter Meetings: Should the Phillies trade for Manny Machado?

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On Episode 165 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis is joined by Justin Klugh for a Winter Meetings mailbag preview, including whether the Phillies should trade for Manny Machado now.

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Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

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It feels almost inevitable that the Phillies’ 2019 Opening Day roster will feature current Baltimore Oriole and future free agent Manny Machado at the hot corner for a Phillies team that is ready to challenge for a spot in the postseason.

In my mind, it’s already happened. It’s such a perfect fit and fits the Phils’ timeline so well, it has to happen, right? Unless Maikel Franco goes off in 2018 and has a season no one is expecting, the Phils will have a need at third base two years from now, and Machado would be one of the crown jewels of a free agent class that includes Bryce Harper, Dallas Keuchel, Clayton Kershaw (possibly) and Josh Donaldson.

Certainly the Phillies will make a strong offer for Machado, perhaps something in the 10-year, $400 million range. And yes, it would be worth it. He’s that young (25), and he’s that good. But Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports indicated this week that, while the O’s don’t want to trade Machado right now to anyone and would prefer to keep him, they are at least willing to listen to offers.

Of course it would make sense that the Phillies would be one of the teams reported to be interested if that were the case. But what would a Machado trade look like, and would it make sense for the Phils right now?

In other words, how painful would it be?

If the Phillies are going to trade for Machado now, they would have to work out a contract extension as a prerequisite. Any deal likely would not be done with Machado playing out the final year of his contract and then heading to free agency. Why would the Phillies give up one of their two or three best prospects for one year of Machado, and then risk losing him to one of the other 29 teams who may be interested?

Any discussion about a Machado trade involving the Phils would have to involve a contract extension. So, let’s assume that happens. Let’s assume Machado is willing to give up free agency and, potentially, tens of millions of dollars by negotiating with just one team now instead of 29 teams a year from now. What would it cost the Phillies in terms of prospects/players?

Machado’s 2017 numbers may look like a big step backward, but the dude had some horrible luck last year. He hit .259/.310/.471 with 33 homers and 95 RBIs, but saw his fWAR drop in a big way from the seasons before. In 2015, it was 6.9, in ‘16 it was 6.6, and last year it was 2.8. But Machado had a BABIP of .265 (league average was .300), and he actually lowered his strikeout rate from the year before (17.2% to 16.7%) and increased his walk rate (6.9% to 7.2%). He was also much better in the second half (.290/.326/.500, 114 wRC+) than the first half (.230/.296/.445, wRC+ 92), and is one of the finest defensive third basemen in the game.

If the Phillies want to trade for Machado now, and if they agree to a contract extension, he’s going to cost the Phillies two of these four players: J.P. Crawford, Sixto Sanchez, Scott Kingery and/or Rhys Hoskins. Is that worth it?

The whole idea of adding Machado after the 2018 season was so that he could join all those players in a potent Phillies lineup, not replace them. It would be a steep price to pay for a guy for whom they may just be able to wait for a year and get him for lots of money but without giving up other young players.

The Phils should be aggressive on Machado, to a point. After all, even if some other team trades for him now and signs him to an extension, the Phillies would still be able to pursue one of the other big-time free agents next year without giving up valuable prospects. They could sign Josh Donaldson to a three or four-year contract and keep all four of those young studs.

It’s more likely than not that Machado stays in Baltimore anyway. It would financially benefit him to move towards free agency, where the entire league would engage in a feeding frenzy over him, rather than for him to negotiate with just one team now. He’s going to get a better deal if he waits. And if he does get traded, it’s likely to happen at the trade deadline this summer to a potential playoff team that just wants to use him as a rental (provided the Orioles are not in the postseason hunt themselves).

As for the Phillies, a trade for the Baltimore third baseman doesn’t make sense now, even if he does agree to a contract extension. The cost would be too high.

Joining me on the Felske Files podcast for Episode 165 to talk about this and open up the Winter Meetings Mailbag is Deputy Editor of The Good Phight and Contributor to The Athletic, Justin Klugh. Justin is also one-half of the duo that brings to you The Dirty Inning Phillies podcast.