By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor
It's unclear where Manny Machado will finish the 2018 season. But it appears that one team is becoming the increasing favorite to employ the three-time All-Star in 2019 and beyond.
According to Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the view from some around the league is that Phillies managing partner John Middleton will give general manager Matt Klentak the green-light to spend any amount of money necessary to sign Machado this offseason:
Across baseball, the strong presumption is the Phillies will throw wads of cash at Manny Machado this winter in a bid to make him their shortstop. Machado can practically name his price — $350 million? $400 million? More? — and ready-to-win owner John Middleton will meet it, at least in the opinions of several rival talent evaluators.
Machado, who won't turn 26 until July, is expected to highlight of one of the greatest free-agent classes in baseball history this offseason, along with Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper. Likely to make his fourth American League All-Star team this July, Machado is currently slashing .324/.392/.612 with 16 home runs, 45 RBIs, a .416 wOBA, 165 wRC+ and a 2.7 fWAR.
Perhaps one downside to signing Machado would be that he seems committed to playing shortstop, his natural position. In his first full season back playing at shortstop, the former first-round pick has graded out as the 25th best fielding shortstop, per FanGraphs
. You shouldn't write someone off as a fielder based on two months, but Machado's advanced fielding numbers at shortstop simply aren't impressive: he's got -6 defensive runs saved, a -3.1 UZR, a -10.2 UZR/150 and a -0.6 dWAR.
Given Machado's elite offensive talent, the Phillies are unlikely to be turned off by his desire to play shortstop. Frankly, if Machado simply wasn't a good fielder, it wouldn't be as difficult a pill to swallow. But Machado was one of the better fielding third baseman the game had ever seen prior to shifting back to shortstop. He won two Gold Glove Awards at the position. Despite a negative dWAR this year, Machado has a 61.7 career dWAR, propelled by how good of a fielder he was at the hot corner. Perhaps he'll improve at shortstop, but he'll likely never be as valuable at the position as he was at third.
In any event, it appears that Machado will be the team's No. 1 target this offseason. Lauber opined that the Phillies could attempt to acquire Machado this summer, perhaps giving them a slight edge in re-signing him this offseason. The Phillies are also currently leading the National League's second Wild Card, so Machado would obviously make the Phillies a better team in the interim. Roch Kubatko of MASN did write
this past weekend that the Phillies "left open the possibility of engaging in talks" for Machado when they visited Baltimore earlier this month.
Of course, what it would take to acquire Machado in a trade is unclear. The Athletic's Jayson Stark suggested last week
that the Phillies would likely need to part with top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez and/or Scott Kingery to acquire Machado. That falls in line with what Kubatko wrote
last December, when the Orioles gauged the Machado market at the MLB Winter Meetings. However, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports suggested
today that shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa, who MLB Pipeline says
is the Phillies No. 8 overall prospect, and pitcher Enyel De Los Santos, who the club acquired for Freddy Galvis this offseason, could headline a package. That's still a steep price for a rental, but nothing close to giving up Sanchez. An anonymous National League scout suggested to Lauber
that the Orioles have delusions of grandeur if they think they're going to get more than one "prized prospect" in return for Machado.
The risk for the Phillies in trading for Machado would be that despite their financial might, another team could pique his interest more this offseason in free-agency. All indications are that Machado will test free-agency, regardless of where he finishes the season. The Los Angeles Angels are one of the biggest market teams in the sport, but have twice gotten burned on trading for superstars that were near free-agency. They acquired Mark Teixeira from the Atlanta Braves at the non-waiver trade deadline during the 2008 season, only for him to sign a lucrative eight-year/$180 million deal with the New York Yankees that offseason. Four years later, they acquired Zack Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers, only to see him sign with the crosstown rival Dodgers that offseason.
The point being, the Phillies could trade for Machado this summer, provide him with a lucrative free-agent offer this offseason and still lose him in free-agency. Another team - perhaps the Yankees, despite a surplus of talented young position players - could give Machado a competitive offer, and the Phillies could lose him in free-agency. Even if they "just" had parted with De Los Santos and Gamboa, that's a lot of prospect capital to be out if Machado leaves. De Los Santos is on the cusp of reaching the major league level. He could be a part of the team's rotation or used in another major trade. Gamboa also could be used in a trade, or he could end up being the team's shortstop if Machado goes elsewhere and J.P. Crawford doesn't pan out.
None of this is to say that the Phillies shouldn't inquire on Machado's services this summer, but if they're viewed as a favorite to sign him this offseason, they may be best served waiting until the offseason to attempt to acquire him. And if Middleton is as committed to signing him as he appears to be, Machado appears likely to be wearing pinstripes at this time next year - red ones.