It seems like a perfect fit. A no-brainer. Manny Machado to the Phillies, right here and right now.
After beating the Cardinals 6-2 on Thursday night, the Phils moved to 25-16, a season-high nine games over .500 and a half-game behind the Atlanta Braves (whose game against the Cubs was rained out on Thursday) for first place in the NL East. Their .610 winning percentage and +46 run differential are 2nd-best in the NL, and were it not for two Hector Neris blown saves in the last fortnight, the team would be riding a 10-game winning streak right now.
The starters have been ridiculously good, the bullpen is loaded with a lot of young, hard-throwing, bat-missing arms, and the offense has been decent, if not spectacular.
Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Orioles are 13-30, already 16.5 games out of first. Their 2018 season is essentially over, and a discussion on which of their pieces to sell off should already be underway. Closer Zach Britton will be a hot commodity once he returns from injury, and it’s possible the Phillies, who have had closer issues of their own, will be interested.
But the biggest prize at the trade deadline this year is likely to be Manny Machado, the 25-year-old free agent-to-be who is 5th in the Majors in fWAR (2.4) and is batting .339/.418/.661, with 14 homers and 40 RBI.
Bob Brookover of Philly.com wrote a piece this week advocating the Phillies to go all-in on Machado now, instead of waiting for him to be a free agent this winter, and suggesting a package highlighted by Sixto Sanchez and Scott Kingery as a possibility in order to get the deal done.
While the benefits of adding Machado at shortstop are obvious, the price tag that would undoubtedly be required to land him is too rich for my blood.
First, as Brookover mentions in his piece, Machado is a free agent and, without an agreement to a contract extension with the Phils prior to a trade, would be a rental. It doesn’t seem to make much sense for Machado to agree to an exclusive negotiating window with the Phillies, considering if he waits two months he’ll be able to have 5-10 teams all offering him big-money deals as a free agent.
Twenty-six year-old players don’t often reach free agency, and Machado is a generational talent. Any team acquiring him is getting a future Hall of Famer for the prime of his career.
If Machado is not willing to negotiate an extension, there is no way the Phillies should offer anything close to what Baltimore would require to give up its young star. Sanchez, Kingery and J.P. Crawford should all be off the table under these circumstances, and honestly, these are the most likely circumstances.
But suspending reality for a moment, suppose Machado is willing to negotiate a contract extension with the Phillies prior to a trade. And let’s get even crazier and say the Phils, who would be bidding against themselves in this scenario, offer him a $350-400 million, 10-year contract. Would that exclusive negotiating window and getting Machado now be worth giving up Sixto Sanchez, rather than waiting a couple months and out-bidding everyone else, without having to give up their top prospect who some have compared to a young Pedro Martinez?
Yes, locking in Machado this season, and having him for a potential playoff run, would be fantastic, and giving up one of Kingery, Crawford, and anyone else in the farm system would be fine. But not Sanchez. Not for an extra two months of Machado and the ability to take him off the free agent market before he has a chance to enter it.
The Phils are certainly on a roll, and as one of the few prognosticators who picked the team to make the playoffs this season, I believe this is a team that can win now. If the Phillies continue to play well, and if the Orioles make Machado available, and if the two teams can make a deal work without Sanchez in it, and if Machado is willing to negotiate a contract extension now, and if the Phillies offer him enough money to get him to forgo free agency, then I’m all for this deal happening now.
If Machado was the final piece to the World Series puzzle, the one player that would take an already-great team over the top, I’d do it. I’d trade anyone. But the Phils still have a ton of question marks, and adding Machado does not make them a World Series favorite. Does it make them a better contender? Absolutely. But not a favorite.
Maybe I’m over-valuing Sanchez. Young pitching prospects often don’t work out, and it’s possible Sixto will flame out in the next few years. But the idea of dealing away a potential ace for two months of Machado, a player that would certainly be a huge addition but may not make the team favorites to reach the Fall Classic, is too high.
At the end of the day, there seem to be too many obstacles in the way for this to be a realistic possibility anyway. Yes, the Phillies have the money and the prospects available to make a deal happen, but the wisdom of dealing Sanchez, even for a generational talent like Machado, is too much for me to embrace, especially when he doesn’t push you over the top and you have the opportunity to outbid everyone this off-season to get him without giving up a potential generational pitching talent in the process.
On Episode 191 of “Hittin’ Season,” I talked with The Good Phight’s Paul Boye about Machado, as well as the recent criticism and journalist hit-jobs against manager Gabe Kapler and letter grades for the Phils at the quarter-mark of the season. Also, Tyler Kepner of the New York Times talks Kapler, gambling in baseball, Robinson Cano’s suspension, and the crazy 2018 seasons of the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers.
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