by: Matt Carlin – November 8th, 2018
Since both players broke into the league, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have been viewed as option 1a and 1b within the potentially historic 2018 Free Agent class. Although poor production, age, and injuries have tempered expectations with some of the depth in this class, both Harper and Machado stand to become very wealthy individuals this off season. According to SOTG’s projection model, Manny Machado should command a contract of 9 years $301 million:
|Lower Fit||Mean||Upper Fit|
First, I think it is important to differentiate between the two player’s respective potential markets. In my opinion, the Harper market is a bit more clear to draw out than that of Machado. As Matthew had spoken about, there seems to be two clear options and a resulting domino effect: Becoming a (most likely) lifelong National or landing in a major market such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. For Machado on the other hand, I have been fascinated with the plethora of storylines surrounding his free agency. From his position flexibility at shortstop and third base as well as the media portrayal of him as a clubhouse issue, the spotlight will be on whichever team ponies up this off season. I believe this has led to a more open market and the potential for a dark horse team to sneak in and grab their cornerstone player for the next decade. While all 30 teams would benefit from adding a player of Manny Machado’s caliber, and by no means am I trying to surmise what is going on inside Manny Machado’s head, or any of the 30 teams front offices, I established a few guidelines to help logically narrow down the potential landing spots.
THE NON CONTENDERS:
I found there to be three main reasons for eliminating the bulk of the teams:
- Fit: Teams with no need for Manny Machado (set at short and third) or teams that just do not make much sense (full rebuild) Teams: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Rockies, Tigers, Angels, Nationals, Brewers, Astros
- Financial: Teams with notorious financial restrictions and likely to be priced out Teams: Royals, Athletics, Rays, Pirates
- Future: Teams with other reasons to not pursue Manny Machado such as position on their win curve, reluctance to add more high priced free agents, or overall team strategy. I would not be surprised to hear any of the below teams appear as dark horse candidates, but as of now they appear on the outside looking in. Teams: Mets, Giants, Blue Jays, Rangers, Reds, Mariners, Twins, Cubs, Marlins
After eliminating 22 teams, we are left with eight that should be active contenders for Manny Machado next year:
Los Angeles Dodgers
With their confirmed pursuit of Machado, the Los Angeles Dodgers would truly be an example of “you can never have too many good players.” Since the Dodgers believe that Corey Seager’s future will be unaffected at shortstop post Tommy John and hip surgery, it is hard to see where Machado would fit in. Furthermore, the presence of Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Kike Hernandez, Chris Taylor, and Cody Bellinger makes for a plethora of options around the horn not named Manny Machado. However, based on LA’s reliance on analytically based positioning, manager Dave Roberts assessed the Dodgers could further “fix” Machado’s defensive struggles. For example, look no further than Corey Seager. In 2016, Corey Seager had -1 DRS and a 6.5 UZR, while in 2017 he improved to 10 DRS and a 9.0 UZR. Currently, via Craig Edwards’ Fangraphs article, the Dodgers 2019 projected pre-free-agency payroll sits around $175 million. According to our projections, a Machado deal would be pushing right up on the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax (not taking into account deferred dollars or incentive laden deals). Due to the prospects invested in him already, their belief he can improve at short, and the Dodgers desire to end their season with a win, I expect Los Angeles to be very aggressive in their pursuit of Manny Machado.
San Diego Padres
The Padres proved last year they are willing to successfully spend on top free agents with their addition of Eric Hosmer. Additionally, the team was linked to Machado at the deadline, and GM AJ Preller has acknowledged the willingness to spend this off season. In 2018, shortstop Freddy Galvis (played all 162 games) put up an 85 wRC+ season with a .294 wOBA in 656 plate appearances. For comparison, Manny Machado had a .377 wOBA and 141 wRC+ in 709 plate appearances. Defensively, Machado (-13 DRS) would be a downgrade from Galvis (7 DRS) but the offensive upgrade would be incredible for a team that had an 84 wRC+ in 2018. With this being said, number two overall prospect in baseball Fernando Tatis Jr projects to stick at shortstop, with top prospect Luis Urias also an option up the middle. By signing Machado for a one year “audition” at shortstop (assuming Tatis won’t be ready until late 2019), the Padres could include Tatis in a package for a top flight arm with the hopes of expedited playoff contention. Additionally, with the Padres also rumored to be looking to move now third baseman Wil Myers, an option to keep Tatis and move the players around the diamond could also arise. Overall, the Padres have plenty of cash, a loaded farm system and a need for a top flight bat, which the Machado to the Padres scenario feasible for both the short and long term futures of both parties.
St. Louis Cardinals
While the St. Louis Cardinals were also connected to Manny Machado at this year’s trade deadline, I see their level of interest dependent upon Machado’s willingness to go back to playing third base. The Cardinals have long been in the market for a third baseman, and recently extended incumbent shortstop Paul DeJong (14 DRS in 2018) through the 2023 season. While Machado is clearly the better overall player, it is apparent moving him to third would be easier than moving DeJong to the hot corner. Due to an exciting mix of young talent such as Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Jack Flaherty, and Jordan Hicks, proven Major Leaguers such as Marcell Ozuna and Carlos Martinez, and longtime Cardinals in Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter and Adam Wainwright the time to make a splash is now with Machado.
Like the White Sox and Yankees to an extent (because they’re the Yankees) Philly is expected to be a major player for BOTH Harper and Machado due to their massive amount of financial flexibility. Mike Petriello has a fantastic article on MLB.com about the additions of both to the Philadelphia lineup. According to steamer predictions for 2019, the Phillies are currently projected to win 78 games. As Petriello described, adding Harper and Machado (modestly projected for about 8 WAR combined) would turn them into an 86 win team with a much higher ceiling, right in the thick of the division race. Furthermore, I view the Phillies as a team teetering on the brink of an unsuccessful rebuild. They currently are in win now mode, albeit with players such as Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera who have demonstrated inconsistencies, Carlos Santana and Rhys Hoskins playing out of position, and other holes which need to be addressed in the bullpen. With the Nationals floundering, the Mets a major question mark, and Miami in full rebuild mode, the East is there for the taking, and the Phillies have the financial resources to stamp their name all over the 2018 free agent class.
New York Yankees
The Yankees would be an interesting landing spot for Manny Machado, as they finally have reset their luxury tax figure. With the loss of Didi Gregorius for most of 2019, shortstop is open at the moment. However, the Yankees could slide Gleyber Torres over as a short term fix or look for a rental as a cheaper, more flexible option. Additionally, like the Cardinals or Padres, Manny Machado would profile better at third base for the Yankees long term. With legitimate concerns about Miguel Andujar’s defense (-25 DRS) as well as a high chase rate (39.4 %), Andujar is by no means a finished product. Were the Yankees able to add Machado to a lineup that led the league in home runs, wRC+ and was second in wOBA, the rookie sensation could become trade bait for a starting pitcher, an area that the Yankees need to address. With their arch-rivals coming off a World Series victory, it is time for the evil empire to go all in and sign Manny Machado.
The 2018 Braves were one of baseball’s surprise teams, and will enter 2019 with a target on their backs as the team to beat in the NL East. In addition to their present roster, the Braves boast the best farm system in all of baseball despite graduates such as Ronald Acuna Jr., Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint (check out our interview with #30 prospect Drew Lugbauer HERE). More so than the Phillies, were the Braves to acquire Manny Machado, they would immediately become the favorites in the NL East. However, there are two major roadblocks in the way. First, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos stated that the Braves would be cautious buyers with the big name free agents, as they feel their team has more than one hole to be addressed. Second, Atlanta currently has Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo at short and third respectively. While both players are young and have potential, at some point down the line, the Braves will need to decide which young players to pay (as well as Freddie Freeman’s decline years). For a team who was the “runner up” for Machado’s services in July, I would love to see the Braves replicate what the Milwaukee Brewers did last year, push their chips to the center, and declare now is their window.
Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox are in a strong position this off season. According to Fangraphs, the Chicago White Sox only have about $75 million committed pre free agency to their 2019 roster (only the Rays have less). Additionally, the White Sox have the third best farm system in baseball, boasting an abundance of outfielders and flame throwing starting pitchers with near MLB ready talent in Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. Losing Michael Kopech was a massive blow to the staff, but Reynaldo Lopez finished 2018 incredibly strong (thanks to an increased fastball usage and a resulting 33.8% k-rate in September). On the offensive side of the ball, the White Sox were 20th in the league with 92 wRC+. However, due to their financial condition, they could bring BOTH Machado and Harper to the Windy City to immediately improve the offense. Even in signing just Machado, the White Sox would still have plenty of money to address other needs such as their rotation, catcher, and lineup by acquiring premium talent. For Machado, it would again most likely be as a third baseman in the long term, as Tim Anderson is signed through 2022. Lastly, should the Indians begin a sell off, the AL Central would be wide open. Although the White Sox lost 100 games last year, using their available resources to land Machado (and others) combined with hitting on some of their top prospects could lead to bright horizons on the South Side sooner rather than later.
Overall, one could expect these eight teams as well as a few surprise teams to emerge as players in the Manny Machado market. Although he does not come without question marks, when factoring in his age, talent, and ability to play multiple positions (it will be interesting to see how many teams view him as a true shortstop), a team should be quite confident in offering Machado close to our projected 9 years $301 million dollar contract. While I would love to see the White Sox make a big move, I predict Manny Machado will be rockin’ the script A and the Atlanta Braves put the National League on notice as the team to beat in 2019.