When the Philadelphia Phillies host the 24-59 Baltimore Orioles over the next two days, there will be an elephant (or perhaps an Oriole) in the room: the future of shortstop Manny Machado.
Machado, 25, is on-pace to start at shortstop for the American League All-Star team, which will mark his fourth All-Star appearance. The former first-round pick figures to be a mainstay at the All-Star Game over the next decade, though it could be in the National League. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported last week that the Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers appear to be the two favorites to acquire Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
For his part, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says that the Orioles are motivated to deal their franchise icon as soon as possible, under the belief they’ll get a larger return the quicker they move him:
The Baltimore Orioles want to act sooner rather than later, knowing they almost certainly will receive a greater return if they trade Machado with approximately three months of control remaining instead of two, major league sources say.
Throughout the last year, I’ve wondered if the Orioles are capable of pulling the strings on a Machado trade, even if general manager Dan Duquette is able to agree to a deal in principle. Orioles owner Peter Angelos famously nixed a Zach Britton trade with the Houston Astros last July. Angelos is still in the picture, as are John and Lou, his two sons that appear to be transitioning into power. Brady Anderson – who inexplicably hit 50 home runs in 1996 – is the Orioles vice president of baseball operations, with some under the belief he could be the team’s next general manager. And Buck Showalter – who, like Duquette, is in the final year of his contract – is someone else that has been thought of as a potential executive in the future. The Orioles are the definition of too many cooks in the kitchen, with Rosenthal also pointing out that a lot of parties will have to come together for a Machado trade to be completed.
If general manager Matt Klentak is able to get into advanced talks with the Orioles regarding Machado, Rosenthal says he may have to ponder parting with long-time top prospect J.P. Crawford:
The question, for every club interested in Machado, is the acquisition cost. Would the Phillies, for example, be willing to part with shortstop J.P. Crawford, a favorite of GM Matt Klentak, without knowing whether they could sign Machado long-term?
The Orioles are thought to like Crawford. The Phils value him so highly that they traded Freddy Galvis, the major league leader in defensive runs saved, to create an opening at shortstop. But Crawford, who is on the disabled list a second time and batting just .194, continues to elicit mixed opinions within the industry.
Crawford, who broke his hand last month, is currently on the disabled list. He’s expected to return at some point after the All-Star Break, but the feeling here is the Phillies won’t be entirely sure what Crawford is at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
Like Machado, Crawford is a natural shortstop who has graded out much better as a fielder at third base. Unlike Machado, it’s unclear if Crawford will develop into a good enough hitter to regularly have his glove in the starting lineup. In his first 199 major league plate appearances, Crawford is slashing .202/.332/.319 with a -4.2 offensive WAR. With that said, he’s walked an impressive 28 times. Crawford’s April 11-14 stretch this season – when he hit two home runs and drove in four runs while walking twice in three games – offered a glimpse into what his offensive upside could be. However, simply because Crawford has a high offensive upside – something that as Rosenthal said, probably isn’t a unanimous opinion among evaluators – doesn’t mean he’ll achieve his offensive ceiling.
Even if Crawford does reach his offensive ceiling, it seems fair to assume he won’t be as productive as Machado over the next decade. If the Phillies trade for Machado and are able to retain him this offseason – which feels like a realistic, but not guaranteed scenario – it probably wouldn’t burn too much to part with Crawford. Machado would become the team’s shortstop, Cesar Hernandez could remain at second base and Scott Kingery could play third base. Or the Phillies could trade Hernandez, have Kingery play his natural position of second base and sign an external third baseman, such as Mike Moustakas.
Regardless of whether the Phillies trade for Machado or choose to wait until the offseason to pursue him, there’s going to be a level of risk. Trading Crawford – or anyone – for a rental leaves you with the possibility that Machado will elect to go elsewhere in free-agency this offseason and leave you empty-handed. But then there’s also the possibility that a team like the Dodgers trades for Machado in July and he enjoys his time there so much that even if he tests free-agency, the Dodgers have an overwhelming advantage.