In the age of the rebuild, there’s almost nothing more important than dealing an impending free agent for new, younger players. It’s sad, of course, coming from the perspective of the Baltimore Orioles; Manny Machado represented the first competitive team in nearly two decades, and himself, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Buck Showalter rode their one-run-game-magic to three playoff appearances from 2012 to 2016, most notably in 2014 when they came just four games away from the World Series.
Those days are long gone, though. The Orioles are currently projected for a 55-win season, which would make them one of the worst teams since the 2003 Tigers. All of the proverbial tires fell off: Mark Trumbo is the only above-replacement-level position player, and only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman have above-average ERA-’s (97 and 98, respectively). Davis, most remarkably, is on pace for one of the worst seasons in history, hitting at just a 33 wRC+ clip with -2.2 (!!) fWAR already.
Which leaves Machado, who has been his usual self. Hitting .310/.380/.557 (149 wRC+) with 21 home runs and 3.1 fWAR, he’s doing Dan Duquette one more solid in performing in stellar fashion leading up to the deadline. He is projected to be worth about another two wins in the second half, which could make all the difference for the teams in the mix.
Those teams have been rumored to be the Diamondbacks, Phillies, Indians, Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, and Cubs. Of those teams, four (Arizona, Philadephia, Atlanta, and Milwaukee) have playoff odds between 25-75%, which is where those two wins would be most operative.
A quick word about how valuable Machado could be, and what an opportunity it would be for any team to acquire him for any amount of time.
If you look at the through-age-26 leaderboards, you won’t necessarily find Machado at the top, but you’ll find him, still, in impressive company for WAR through age 26 since 1945. Some players that put up around 27 wins through that span: Joe Mauer, Reggie Jackson, Gary Carter, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Adrian Beltre, Willie Randolph, Duke Snider, Scott Rolen, and Eddie Murray. If you had the chance to acquire one of those players at age-26 for a playoff run, what would you give up?
For the Indians, that looks like Francisco Mejia or Triston McKenzie. For Arizona, Jon Duplantier and Pavin Smith, for starters. For the Dodgers, Alex Verdugo will be at the top of the list. For Chicago, Adbert Alzolay. For Philadephia, Sixto Sanchez. For Milwaukee, Keston Hiura. And for the fully stocked Atlanta, they’re the most poised to make such a trade with Kyle Wright, Luiz Gohara, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Touki Touisaint.
For now the Orioles are not satisfied with a price, and that’s largely because the receiving team will try to pull off the following brinkmanship: if you know the Orioles need to make this deal, then you need to offer the best non-blue chip prospect that can get the deal done. In the end, it will come down to who blinks first. If you don’t get Machado, you can likely still manage. But for a team like the Orioles, who just finished their contention window, there’s no other option for the next rebuild.