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Should the Cubs trade for Manny Machado?

The Orioles are almost certain to deal their superstar. Should the Cubs make that deal?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles are off to a terrible start to the season. The team is currently 7-19, 12½ games out of first place and with little hope of getting better. Any sensible team would look to start rebuilding by dealing off their current players for future stars. Yes, we’re talking about the Orioles here and they’re a weird team, but the Orioles front office isn’t delusional. They know that something needs to be done.

The Orioles have two players having terrific seasons. While they are likely to hang on to pitcher Dylan Bundy, who isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, shortstop Manny Machado will be a free agent after this year and has shown zero inclination to re-sign with Baltimore.

So everyone assumes that Machado will be traded before the July 31 deadline and many people think the Cubs are the perfect destination for Machado. This makes some sense. Current Cubs shortstop Addison Russell is not off to a great start to the season and he had a down season in 2017. Most other teams who consider themselves playoff contenders don’t really need a shortstop. The Red Sox have Xander Bogaerts. The Yankees have Didi Gregorius. The Indians have Francisco Lindor. The Astros have Carlos Correa. The Angels have Andrelton Simmons. The Dodgers have Corey Seager. The Nationals have Trea Turner. Sure, Machado would be an upgrade over all of those players except maybe Correa, but most of those teams aren’t going to give up much to upgrade for a position that they’re already very strong at.

That leaves the Cubs and Diamondbacks as the two teams expected to make the playoffs, before the season started, who could use an upgrade. Of the teams in the next tier, the Mets, Brewers and Cardinals could all use Machado. The Phillies are likely to stick with J.P. Crawford and the Braves won’t give up on Dansby Swanson. (Nor should they. He’s off to a great start.) Those two NL East teams are likely a year away anyway.

So why would the Orioles trade Machado to the Cubs? The biggest reason is the Cubs could send their current shortstop, Addison Russell, back to Baltimore in the deal. Russell’s bat has been disappointing, but he’s a terrific defender and he’s still young enough that a breakout at the plate is still very possible. On top of that, Russell is not a free agent until after the 2021 season. The Orioles would be giving up half-a-lost-season of a superstar for three-and-a-half years of a player who has already made one all-star team and could easily make more in the future.

Why would the Cubs make the deal? Machado is a superstar. He’s one of the top 20 players in the game and maybe one of the top ten. In their pre-season rankings, ranked Machado as the 18th-best player in baseball. ranked him 16th. The MLB Network ranked him 7th. So far this season, he’s made the transition back to shortstop and is hitting .344/.430/.677 with eight home runs. Adding Machado to an offense that already has Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez would probably give the Cubs the best lineup in baseball. Many people have argued that between Machado and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, Machado is the better player.

Why wouldn’t the Cubs make a deal for Machado? He’s a free agent at the end of the year and he’s going to get a contract that’s north of $300 million. There is no way that Machado is going to negotiate an extension with the Cubs before a trade, so the Cubs would be giving up the guy they had planned to be their shortstop for the next several years in favor of a guy who could be leaving at the end of the year. On top of that, while Machado has played shortstop this year (and he’s made it clear he wants to play shortstop), he’s been a third baseman his entire major league career up until this season. Certainly he’s a terrific defensive third baseman who has won two Gold Gloves, but the jury is still out on his transition back to short. The Cubs also don’t need a third baseman, so it really would be shortstop or else for Machado in Chicago.

Also, the Orioles would probably want more than just Russell. However, as much as I love Adbert Alzolay and Aramis Ademan, I don’t think either one will be a great enough player on the major league level to block a deal for a talent like Machado. They could both be good major leaguers, but neither projects out to be a star.

I’m sure if the Cubs started negotiations with the Orioles about Machado that they would ask for Javier Baez or Kyle Schwarber first, but I’m going to assume that those are non-starters for Theo Epstein and company. The deal, if it goes down, will likely be based around Russell.

I should dispel the idea that if the Cubs trade for Machado now that they would somehow get an advantage in signing Machado as a free agent if they trade for him. Machado wasn’t willing to give a hometown discount to the Orioles and he wouldn’t give one to the Cubs. There may be two reasons that Machado would give the Cubs a discount, but those are true whether or not he gets traded to the North Side. One reason is just the way that the Cubs front office treats the players. The other is that Albert Almora Jr. is a lifelong friend of Machado’s, dating back to their childhood in Hialeah, Florida. They even called each other “cousin,” even though they aren’t actually related. But I don’t think Machado would make a decision about where to play over the next eight years (or so) based on Almora, if only because there is no guarantee the Cubs won’t trade Almora one day. In any case, any “discount” Machado would give would probably just be a few million dollars in a contract worth likely over $300 million.

So the big downside is that the Cubs lose Russell plus prospects for half a season of Machado. If the Cubs win another World Series in 2018, then great. But if they fall short, the Cubs could see Machado head out to the Yankees after the season and the team would have little to show for Russell.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Orioles would accept a package based on Russell. The Cardinals or Brewers could decide to throw their farm systems at Baltimore and both of them have far better minor leaguers than the Cubs to offer. They could also offer Paul DeJong or Orlando Arcia so that Baltimore would have a major league shortstop to go along with the better prospects.

But let’s say the Orioles have made an offer: Machado for Russell, Alzolay and Oscar De La Cruz. You can substitute Ademan or Jose Albertos or some other top five prospect in the Cubs system if you want. But do you make the deal, knowing that the Cubs will have to offer him, at minimum, a $300 million contract or they’ll lose him at the end of the year? Or that the Cubs could make that offer and lose him anyway?

Tell me, do you feel lucky?


Would you trade Addison Russell plus prospects for Manny Machado?

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