BALTIMORE – For the Baltimore Orioles, the year 2018 could leave a mark on the entire franchise for years to come. Not only are a bunch of expiring contracts to several veterans staring the Orioles in the face, but the contracts of both Manager Buck Showalter and General Manager Dan Duquette expire after the ’18 season too. Last week, the annual Major League Baseball Winter Meetings took place in Orlando. The week-long gatherings ended just like they always do for the O’s: quietly.
Several players above the age of 30 on Baltimore’s roster enter the final years of their contract – outfielder Adam Jones, and relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton. Manny Machado, 25, also faces free agency after the season concludes. Machado made his season debut in 2012 at 19, and he’s one of the young stars of MLB. His longevity and superb infield skills make him the most attractive option out of the soon-to-be free agents on Baltimore’s roster.
The 2018-19 MLB offseason includes a star-studded free agent class, including Machado, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, and David Price of the Red Sox. The price tag for a young, everyday position player like Machado or Harper remains to be seen, but is expected to be in the ballpark (pun intended) of $400 million dollars. This would mark the first MLB contract to go upwards of $400 million. Giancarlo Stanton‘s record-breaking deal, signed in 2014 with the Miami Marlins (now with the Yankees), broke the bank at $325 million.
Before the winter meetings, O’s fans and media speculated on a possible Machado trade, but little was said by the team about the matter. Last week in Orlando, the trade rumors started to unfold, and reports claimed that up to 10 teams offered trade packages to the O’s for Machado. Despite the Orioles’ sudden willingness to listen to trade offers, no deal transpired. After the meetings concluded, Duquette did not seem in a rush to make a decision on this matter:
“We’re going to do what we can to put together the best club we can and obviously there is a lot of interest in [the] players on our roster who are going to be free agents,” Duquette told reporters at the conclusion of the meetings. “We need to sort through the extent of that interest and see if a trade makes sense.”
The decision to listen to trade offers, especially on a big-name player, is not usually a protocol the Orioles follow. However, on Tuesday, former Cincinnati Reds / Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden, now a radio host at Sirius XM, Tweeted that the fate of Machado likely lies in the hands of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, not Dueuqtte, who handles all player transactions.
A lot of important decisions will be made by the Orioles over the next year. Whether or not Machado suits up for the Orioles beyond 2018 is clearly the most important one, and fans of The Birds share conflicting opinions.
In regards to Machado, three situations could play out. The Orioles could sign Machado to a long-term contract, trade him before his contract expires, or let him walk in free agency. Here’s a likely breakdown of how each scenario would play out, as well as the probability that I think each option has of actually occurring.
1. Sign Machado to a long-term deal
I don’t know about you, but this scenario appears unlikely. I give the Orioles all the credit in the world for finally breaking the bank in the form of $161 million for Chris Davis two years ago. What I will not give them credit for is spending that type of money on a player like Davis, and we know how his contract looks now.
I get the impression that spending $400 million on anyone, let alone on Manny Machado, would not sit well with Mr. Angelos. Baltimore remains one of the smaller markets in the MLB. In Angelos’ now 24-year run as the owner of the Orioles, the Davis contract stands out as the biggest investment Angelos made on a player by far. With that said, the deal the Orioles ended up giving to Davis out-bidded Baltimore’s prior offer of $150 million, which is the only other offer Davis received. In the two seasons since the O’s locked Davis up, the 31-year-old owns a .218 batting average with 414 strikeouts.
Attendance could also factor into whether or not the Orioles give Machado a payday. In 2017, the Orioles ranked 25’th in the majors with an average of 25,042 fans per home game (and many games saw attendance figures far less than that average. A historic Machado contract could result in a steep ticket price increase. With Davis virtually un-moveable, signing Machado to a monster contract might not match up financially.
Paying Machado also means that the Orioles limit themselves in their ability to strengthen the other areas of their ballclub. Yes, a new contract for Manny would take care of one infield position for the foreseeable future. I use the term “infield position” because recently Machado expressed an interest to play shortstop. It’s well known that the O’s like Machado at third base, so keeping him around would mean that an agreement on his position would need to take place.
Probability of happening: 10%
2. Trade Machado for prospects
After hearing about what transpired at the winter meetings last week, the chances of the Orioles trading Machado away appear more likely than before. From what reports claim, the Orioles received 8-10 trade offers for Machado from teams including the Phillies, Yankees, Cardinals, and White Sox.
Out of the teams listed, the farm systems of the White Sox, Yankees, and Phillies rank at the top of baseball. Looking at the current rankings on MLB Prospect Watch, the White Sox possess two of the top 100 prospects – OF Eloy Jimenez (.312 BA, 19 HR, 65 RBI with 3 teams in ’17) and RHP Michael Kopech (8-7, 2.87 ERA at AA Birmingham in ’17). Infielder Gleyber Torres (.287 BA, 7 HR, 34 RBI with 2 teams in ’17), the current #2 prospect in baseball, is the Yankees’ top up-and-comer. These are just three names, but the Orioles’ farm system falls in the middle of the pack, particularly void in the pitching department.
Since the Orioles got back to competing in 2012, Duquette shipped off a number of pitchers that found success elsewhere. Jake Arrieta, Eduardo Rodriguez, Zach Davies, Ariel Miranda, and Parker Bridwell fall on the long list of names that got away. Dealing Machado would give the Orioles an opportunity to improve their arms in the minor leagues. It may not yield immediate results, but it would help the team in 2019 and beyond.
With any trade, the key is timing. Duquette and the O’s front office obviously have until the late July trade deadline to work out a deal, but trading him before the season begins would net a bigger return than a last-minute move. Without question, teams inquiring for Machado’s services want him for a full season, not just a playoff push.
I certainly believe that it will take a lot of convincing for Angelos to agree to a trade, but at least the Orioles are listening. That’s a start.
Probability of happening: 30%
3. Let him play the season out and walk into the sunset
As much as we love Manny Machado, seeing him in an Orioles uniform the entire season without the team signing him long-term would go down as one of the worst moves in current sports history. In this scenario, the Orioles awkwardly go through the entire 2018 season, fail to hold onto one of the best young stars in the game, and in the process they also fail to improve their farm system.
Knowing what we know now, this situation still has a good chance to take place. It seems that Angelos feels hesitant to give away a star that came up through his system. It’s reasonable to believe that after seeing Davis struggle in the two years since signing his deal, Angelos feels hesitant to make a long-term investment and throw $400 million to Machado.
Probability of happening: 60%
Since he entered the league late in the 2012 season, Machado has been an amazing player to watch. He’s one of the best infielders in MLB and his bat can carry an offense at times. Although there are flaws to his game, he’s been the Orioles’ best player for a few seasons now. Saying goodbye to Manny will not be easy, but it may need to happen to better the Orioles as an organization. If we do say goodbye, hopefully the Orioles receive prospects back in return.
Image Credit: The Athletic