The opportune time for the Baltimore Orioles to move superstar SS/3B Manny Machado has long since passed. Still, it sounds as though the Orioles do plan to salvage something for the impending free-agent prior to this summer's non-waiver trade deadline.
Ken Rosenthal appeared on FS1's Inside Pitch, and was asked by host Kevin Burkhardt whether he believes Machado will be traded before the July 31 deadline. Rosenthal said yes, but like every transaction involving the Orioles, it doesn't figure to be simple:
"By the time the deadline rolls around, yes, but they're not going to act quickly. Not when they've spent a combined $76 million on free-agent pitching...not when they're waiting for Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo and Zach Britton to come off the disabled list. Kevin, there's another complication with Machado as well. He is enjoying a monster season in his return to shortstop. He made a commitment to return to the position, and he has said he is sticking with it. Now, he does not have a no-trade clause, and the Orioles obviously could send him to a team that wants him to play third base. The problem is, that team, if Machado truly wants to control his destiny, would be taking on the risk of acquiring an unhappy player."
Given the resources that it would take to acquire Machado, it's difficult to imagine him being traded to a team that plans to play him at third base if his long-term hope is to play his natural position of shortstop. Despite the fact that the 25-year-old was a Hall of Fame caliber fielder at third base, he pushed for a move back to shortstop in a contract year. Even though he'll be a rental, it will still likely take a fairly significant haul of prospect capital to acquire Machado. The hope in doing so - beyond just adding one of the game's elite talents for a playoff push in 2018 - would be that he would enjoy his brief time in said place so much that he ultimately re-signs there. Any acquiring team would be doing themselves a great disservice trading for Machado and playing him at third base if their hope is to retain him past 2018.
Fortunately for the Phillies, there's no one on the left side of their infield that would prevent them from playing Machado at either shortstop of third base, should they land the former first-round pick. If Machado wants to play shortstop, J.P. Crawford, for as much upside as he may have, wouldn't be enough to convince the Phillies to hold off on pursuing him. If Machado is willing to play third base, Maikel Franco may be out of time in Philadelphia, while Scott Kingery has shown an ability to play at four other positions on the diamond.
The question then becomes, would the Phillies trade for Machado just months before he can become a free-agent? The guess here is that is unlikely. It feels like almost regardless of where Machado finishes the 2018 season, he's going to test free-agency. In free-agency, the Phillies could offer him an attractive landing spot. Much of their front office held high-ranking roles in the Orioles front-office when Machado was drafted by Baltimore, so there would be a sense of familiarity. The Phillies have also jumped out to a 16-10 start, and adding Machado to a lineup that includes Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez would seemingly give him a chance to be competitive for the foreseeable future.
There's one other extremely intriguing part about the Phillies: they possess as much financial flexibility as any big-market team in the sport. Managing partner John Middleton seems extremely motivated to use the team's financial resources come next offseason, when the free-agent class is expected to be one of the greatest in the history of the sport. There's a reason that an anonymous MLB executive told Robert Murray of FRS Baseball last week that he expects the Phillies to land either Machado or Bryce Harper next offseason.
It just seems unlikely then that the Phillies would trade for Machado, knowing they can present him with an attractive land spot in free-agency just months later, which wouldn't require them relinquishing any of their top prospects.
That's not to say someone won't take a flier on Machado this summer, hoping to gain an edge in free-agency. Jon Heyman of FRS Baseball reminded readers this week that the Phillies were one of nine teams that attempted to acquire Machado last offseason, before the Orioles ultimately elected to retain him for the start of the 2018 season. There will, in all likelihood, be a team that trades for Machado this July, making them better down the stretch run and potentially into the postseason. Will that team be the Phillies? Probably not, but that may not have much of an effect on their ability to sign the three-time All-Star come next offseason.