Not to say that the American League is boring... but OK, it’s kind of boring over there. The Yankees and Red Sox will duke it out for the East, sure, but beyond the surprise Athletics, and the possibly drought-breaking Mariners, a lot of teams are already out of the race before the break.
In the National League, however, there are a number of teams in contention and quite a few surprises. Two of them reside in the East, the Braves and the Phillies, and they collectively have a better chance of winning the division than the Nationals, the presumed divisional favorite this year and last.
The Phillies, though, are finally making progress in this horse race, hitting the inflection point where their divisional odds, and the Nats’, somewhat meet:
One of the reasons for this is that, frankly, the Nationals are in free-fall. Even though Max Scherzer has been... Max Scherzer, and the staff has a collective 108 ERA+, the offense has been dreadful, just a 91 OPS+ in this first half of the season. When your second-best hitter is Matt Adams, you have a problem.
That’s not to say the Phillies haven’t been resurgent or anything, because they have proven to be well on their way to “rebuilt” after their post-World Series nadir. They’ve reached another inflection point, too, according to FiveThirtyEight:
This season marks the first time they crossed a league average ELO since... July 20, 2013. It’s also something that general manager Matt Klentak perfectly understands, and ownership is insistent on “mak[ing] a splash,” aka acquiring Manny Machado from the Orioles.
Let’s talk about what the implications of such a trade would be. If they somehow retain Sixto Sanchez, which is the tightrope every Machado contender is trying to walk—get the deal done while retaining your blue chip—it’s a somewhat minimal prospect impact for, based on the projections, a drastic change in playoff/divisional odds.
Take the FanGraphs’ playoff odds page, for example. Even though we can’t use a needle to see what talent level would change like, it actually gives us a decent indication. Let’s say that Machado adds... something like two wins, even considering the maneuvering of moving Maikel Franco around.
Under the current projections, the Phillies are projected to win 85.6 wins, a tenth-of-a-run shy of first place. If we assume the “coin flip” method, which assumes a coin flip game the rest of the way and tosses out projections, the Phillies would win about 87 wins, or approximately what Machado would add to the team (probably more).
Not to mention what the probability difference would be, the point of this exercise: under the projections model, it’s a 38.3% chance of winning the division and a 52.9% of making the postseason in general; under the latter, a 15.9% chance of winning the division and a 70.7% of making the postseason.
If we assume something like a 12.5% chance of winning the World Series for every division winner, then adding 14.6% division odds is like adding 1.8% World Series odds. Excuse the back-of-the napkin math here, because adding wild card odds has some of that too, and coin flip doesn’t reflect the rest of the league accurately either, but the point is that by adding a Machado it would make them a legitimate World Series contender, and those odds have a monetary value in of themselves.
Considering they have very little payroll on the books, additional playoff revenue would give them the flexibility to spend further—say, by actually signing Machado—to cement their legitimacy into 2019 and beyond.