Nobody ever really believed in the Baltimore Orioles of Buck Showalter/Adam Jones/Manny Machado/Chris Davis. The Orioles never had a No. 1-caliber starter. Some years, they didn’t seem to have a No. 2 starter. Jones didn’t walk enough. Davis alternated good seasons with bad ones. The corner outfielders were a revolving door. The front office would never be lauded for its analytical genius.
Yet, over a five-year stretch from 2012 through 2016, the Orioles had the best record in the American League and fourth-best in the majors. They hit home runs. The bullpen usually was strong. The defense was reliable. Baltimore made the playoffs three times, more than the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Orioles never reached a World Series, but it was a good run.
That run is over. After finishing 75-87 in 2017, the Orioles are a dreadful 8-26 after losing 2-1 to the Oakland A’s on Sunday. Only the Miami Marlins have scored fewer runs per game, even though Machado is off to a tremendous start. Showalter, Jones and Machado are pending free agents -- and with every loss, it becomes more likely the Orioles trade Machado. Yes, they could keep him with the hope of re-signing him, but that seems doubtful given the money he’ll command in free agency.
What are some likely destinations for Machado? His ability to play shortstop, as he’s doing for the Orioles this season, opens up a number of trade targets.
As soon as Corey Seager went down with season-ending Tommy John surgery, immediate speculation pinned the Dodgers as a favorite to land Machado. I’m not so sure. First, they have a solid alternative at short in Chris Taylor, who came up through the minors as a shortstop before moving to center field last season and can handle the position defensively. They have other center-field options in Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo if they want to keep Taylor at shortstop. Maybe most important, all indications are they want to keep their payroll under the luxury-tax threshold of $197 million, and acquiring Machado would likely push them over that (or right up to the limit if the trade comes in late July).
That doesn’t mean the Dodgers won’t look to add offense if they have to. In fact, one consideration for adding a bat would be to move Cody Bellinger to center and acquire a first baseman who costs less than Machado’s $16 million and still keeps the payroll under the tax threshold. Kansas City’s Lucas Duda is a possibility, with a $3.5 million salary (although he’s off to a bad start at the plate), or maybe the Marlins’ Justin Bour, who is making $3.4 million.
It’s time to consider that Amed Rosario might not be that good -- or at least might not be ready to contribute in 2018. Rosario really needs to overhaul a swing that has a weird hitch that often leaves him making contact with his back foot off the ground. He’s hitting .230/.267/.300 and has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors of 75 to 7. Look, he's played only 75 games and he’s just 22, and maybe the best scenario is to just let him play and learn, but he’s not helping the Mets right now.
As the decline and pending departure of Matt Harvey proves, you also never know about pitching. The Mets have to try to cash in while they still have Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom. They’ve followed up their feel-good, 11-1 start with a 6-14 run, and the offense now ranks 27th in the majors in wOBA.
Would you trade Rosario for Machado? Not if you think Rosario is going to be a star. But he has a lot to improve on to get there. The NL East looks like it might be wide open this year, and Machado would easily be worth three, or maybe even four, wins over Rosario over half a season. He also would provide a spark much like Yoenis Cespedes did in 2015.
The surprise leaders in the NL East have been raking -- they easily lead the NL in runs per game -- but they have a hole at third base, where they’ve already started four different players. Jose Bautista is the new guy at the hot corner in one of the more interesting experiments in recent years. Even if he’s adequate at a position he last played semi-regularly in 2011 (when he started 25 games there), there’s no guarantee there’s anything left in the bat after an abysmal season with the Blue Jays in 2017.
The Braves also line up as the perfect trade partner because they’re loaded in the minors with pitching prospects, something the Orioles obviously need. Ownership would have to be willing to take on Machado’s contract; you never know with Liberty Media, but any team should be willing to take on $8 million or so for 80 games of a player of Machado’s caliber. If the Braves stay in this race, they could also make a move for pitching help -- bullpen depth is a need -- but runs are runs, and adding Machado behind Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman would create a scary top four.
The Brewers are off to a solid 20-15 start, and the surprising part of that is it’s thanks more to the pitching than a lineup that was supposed to be one of the better ones in the league. Instead, the Brewers are averaging a paltry 3.77 runs per game, down from 4.52 in 2017. With Orlando Arcia hitting .222 without any power or on-base skills, Brewers shortstops have been the worst in the league, with an overall line of .167/.214/.235. Arcia is a superb defensive shortstop, but right now, this lineup needs a bat.
They’re in first place even though Marcell Ozuna hasn’t hit, Dexter Fowler hasn’t hit, Kolten Wong hasn’t hit and Matt Carpenter hasn’t done much except draw walks. The Cardinals could play Machado at shortstop or third base (moving Paul DeJong to third), and once Ozuna and Fowler start hitting, the lineup should move up from sixth in the NL in runs to one of the best.
This would be my sleeper entry. Addison Russell, like Arcia, is a premier defender, but he’s hitting .240 and is still looking for his first home run. The Cubs don’t need Machado, and Russell is under control for three more seasons after 2018, but a Russell/Machado trade might make sense for both teams. As with the Gleyber Torres-for-Aroldis Chapman deal in 2016, the Cubs give up future value for immediate improvement, while the Orioles get a shortstop to replace Machado. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made this type of move before ... oh, and they might want to sign Machado after the season, as well.