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Making sense of the Manny Machado rumors

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We’ve entered July, which means rumors linking the Phillies to Manny Machado are going to be everywhere. How believable are they?

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

If a person was to poll 1,000 Phillies fans and ask them whether they wanted Manny Machado on their baseball team, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which all 1,000 Phillies fans wouldn’t scream yes.

Manny Machado to the Phillies is a no-brainer. Everyone in Philadelphia wants him, and it appears when he becomes a free agent after the season, the Phils are going to do everything in their power to either make him their cornerstone shortstop or third baseman for as long as possible. The team’s front office is compromised of former O’s executives, Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak included. There’s nothing not to love about the guy.

But with the calendar now flipping to July, the Phillies are just 3.5 games out of first place in the NL East and currently hold the second wild card spot in the National League. They are about to play 16 straight games against teams with losing records, and starting tonight, the Baltimore Orioles, with Machado in tow, will play the first of two games in Citizens Bank Park, the place everyone hopes he’ll one day call home.

As a result, the rumors connecting Machado to the Phillies this season are growing louder and louder. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal says the “pace of the talks” surrounding Machado around baseball “has accelerated in recent days...”

The conventional wisdom is that the Phillies do not want to trade top prospects for Machado when they can simply sign him as a free agent after the season. But the Phils, who just won three of four from the Washington Nationals, are not likely to fade anytime soon — their next 16 games are against sub-.500 clubs.

The question, for every club interested in Machado, is the acquisition cost. Would the Phillies, for example, be willing to part with shortstop J.P. Crawford, a favorite of GM Matt Klentak, without knowing whether they could sign Machado long-term?

Rosenthal hits on the crux of the issue — giving up too much for a rental.

There is no way Sixto Sanchez is going to be involved in any deal for a 2-3 months of Machado. That’s a non-starter. But it would also be incredibly risky to give up the 23-year-old Crawford, who has admittedly underwhelmed in the 55 Major League games he’s played in thus far (.202/.332/.319 slash line in 199 PAs), with no guarantee Machado will sign a contract extension.

Imagine the worst-case scenario. Imagine the Phils miss the wild card after trading Crawford to Baltimore for Manny. Machado then signs a free agent deal somewhere else. Now, you have no Machado, no Crawford, and are probably left with Scott Kingery at shortstop or some other bridge player (Freddy Galvis again?) until you develop another one.

Or let’s say the Phils win a wild card and get the one-game playoff. Say they lose that game and Machado goes elsewhere. Was just playing in the wild card game enough to sacrifice your potential shortstop of the future?

These are not implausible scenarios, and they illustrate the risk in giving up Crawford for a rental of Machado, especially when the Phillies can offer more money to him in free agency than anyone.

Of course, if the Orioles are interested in something a little less, say a deal headlined by Adonis Medina, Adam Haseley, and Maikel Francio, that would be more palatable. That would be a risk worth taking for the Phils, although it would seem likely another, more desperate team — like the Dodgers, Diamondbacks or Indians — could make a better offer.

And a quick word on the theory that Machado might be more likely to sign an extension after the season with whatever team he’s traded to now. It would be silly to think Machado is going to sacrifice anything on the cash side because he liked where he played in August and September. As NBC Sports Philly’s Corey Seidman noted, it’s been a while since a player did that.

Trading for Manny in the hopes he likes Philadelphia enough to give the Phils the inside track to sign him is using hope as a tactic, and that’s a dangerous game to play. The most likely scenario is that Machado is going to play the final 2-3 months of this season for whomever he’s traded to, and then enter free agency looking for the biggest payday in MLB history.

It makes all the sense in the world for the Phils to be involved in the Machado trade talks right now. They have a collective fWAR of 0.3 at shortstop this year (tied for 25th in MLB) and 0.0 at third base (28th). Machado, by himself, has been worth 2.9 Wins Above Replacement at the half-way point of the season, according to Fangraphs, so assuming he maintains the same production in the second half, he would be worth an additional three wins for the team. That could be enough to push the Phils from a high-80s win total into the low 90s. That’s not nothing.

But at what cost?

It’s clear the Phillies should be buyers at the deadline. They need infield help, perhaps another, more reliable starting pitcher, and certainly another dependable relief pitcher.

Whether Machado is one of those pieces all depends on the ask, and Machado’s willingness to talk extension. At the moment, a deal for him doesn’t seem likely, no matter how many rumors are out there.