When the Phillies Nuggets Winter Meetings Preview was being written, there was some thought to include a portion about a scenario where the Phillies got into potentially serious talks with the Baltimore Orioles about superstar 3B/SS Manny Machado. Ultimately that portion was not included in the preview because it didn't feel especially likely. It's unclear if the Phillies will ever reach the point of having serious discussions with the Orioles about Machado, but if that article was being written now, the Machado part would be included.
Monday morning, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported that the Phillies were "believed to have checked in on" Machado. That report, in itself, is fairly innocent. It makes sense for the Phillies - who have the most financially flexibility of any big-market team in the league - to gauge the Orioles interest in even discussing Machado, who can become a free-agent after 2018.
Things really became interesting this afternoon, however, when MASN's Roch Kubatko reported that the Orioles "have been doing their homework on the Phillies farm system." Kubatko was quick to point out that this doesn't mean that a deal is imminent or even likely to happen at this time, but that the Orioles have to be prepared in the event that talks do heat up. Kubatko went as far as saying the the Orioles are high on RHP Sixto Sanchez and 2B Scott Kingery, the organization's top two prospects that haven't appeared in a major league game yet. He also mentioned Freddy Galvis' name, though he obviously would be more of a secondary piece in any potential trade, if he would be included at all.
The feeling from here is that for any trade talks to get serious, the Phillies would have to believe that the Orioles would actually pull the trigger on a trade if the right offer presented itself. It's hard to imagine they have that feeling currently. General manager Dan Duquette sounded uninterested in rebuilding in a recent radio interview. What's more, Orioles owner Peter Angelos is viewed as one of the most stubborn owners in all of sports. Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com recently cast doubt about whether Angelos would sign off on a trade of Machado even if the team fell out of contention during the 2018 season.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak should absolutely lay the groundwork for the chance that the Orioles do decide they need to move Machado, rather than losing him in free-agency next offseason, something that feels inevitable if he isn't traded. But there are a ton of hurdles to clear, and right now, there still seems to be a pretty good chance that the Phillies end up competing with a select few teams next offseason to sign either Machado or Bryce Harper in free-agency.
If trade talks were to get serious, it would be a no-brainer to part with Kingery in any potential deal for Machado. Kingery has All-Star potential, but Machado, still just 25, has a chance to be a Hall of Famer. For now, the Phillies also have Cesar Hernandez, a productive second baseman that can't be a free-agent until after 2020. The reason the Phillies are willing to listen to offers on Hernandez is because the expectation is that Kingery will be even better - one scout compared him to Dustin Pedroia - but Hernandez is more than serviceable. If it takes Kingery to land Machado, you do it, keep Hernandez as your starting second baseman and also have a talented young backup in Jesmuel Valentin.
The idea of trading Sanchez is where things become more complicated. In theory, yes, if push-came-to-shove, it probably would make sense to move Sanchez if it allowed you to acquire Machado. But the Phillies could probably get away with taking Sanchez off-the-table and completing a trade with other pieces. Between Franklyn Kilome, Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez, the Phillies have enough talented young pitchers to move in a deal along with Kingery that they shouldn't have to move Sanchez. On top of all that, third base prospect Cole Stobbe, who had a disappointing 2017 season but was a second-round pick in 2016, could be of interest, as could any of the outfielding depth throughout the organization.
It would take an enticing group of young players to acquire Machado. It probably wouldn't take moving Sanchez and Kingery in a deal together, especially if general managers around the league still have the feeling that they may be able to sign Machado next offseason if a trade can't be worked out.
Frankly, the Phillies need Sanchez. Currently at the major league level, they have Aaron Nola and not much else. Jerad Eickhoff is a No. 4 on a contending team. Vince Velasquez seems to have too much working against him to pan out as a starter, or maybe even as a major leaguer. And then there is a group of young starters, like Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta, that look as though they will be No. 5 starters or long-men at the major league level. Sanchez is still a few years away from reaching the major league level, but part of the hope of acquiring someone like Machado would be that you would have him leading a World Series-caliber lineup at the end of this decade and Sanchez at the top of a World-Series caliber rotation with Nola.
Any trade involving any of the Phillies names we've mentioned would also have to include a 72-hour negotiating window for the Phillies to attempt to reach a new contract with Machado. From the Phillies side of things, there's little reason to think they would have any trouble working out a contract. John Middleton, who is the closest thing the Phillies have to a majority owner, seems motivated to spend his money and help the team return to contention. You presumably wouldn't trade for someone like Machado if you weren't prepared to offer him a 10-year deal in excess of $400 million.
On Machado's end, there's a level of familiarity with the Phillies. Current Phillies president Andy MacPhail was in charge of the Orioles front-office when the team drafted him in 2010. Current Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and assistant general manager Ned Rice were in the Orioles front-office when Machado was drafted. Philadelphia, in relative terms, is close to Baltimore, so it wouldn't be a drastic culture shock for Machado.
While the Phillies probably wouldn't be an immediate contender with Machado, they certainly would over the life of his contract. $400-plus million could make up for a year or two of moving towards contention at the beginning of his tenure - as could a no-trade clause and an opt-out somewhere in the middle of any potential contract. The opt-out clause probably wouldn't scare the Phillies much, because it would give them a chance to reevaluate whether they want to pay Machado into his late-30s. One interesting thing he could negotiate for is the right to play his natural position of shortstop, rather than third base, which some have suggested he's interested in doing.
Is this whole scenario getting way too far out in front of things? Probably. Chances are when the MLB Winter Meetings conclude, Machado will still be a member of the Orioles. But at the very least, there appears to be some smoke surrounding the Phillies interest in Machado. We've spent three years discussing the idea of the Phillies potentially signing Machado after 2018, this is nothing.
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