Once again (counting yesterday’s surprise Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer trip to Texas), the Cubs rumor mill has surprised us with a late-afternoon treat … depending on how you feel about a Manny Machado trade …
Both White Sox and Cubs still in on conversations about Manny Machado . ( sources confirm.)
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 19, 2017
To be quite clear, as many as ten unidentified teams have been connected to Manny Machado in rumors over recent days, and we’ve noted that if the connection included every team that called the O’s to ask hey what’s up, well, then the Cubs very well could be one of those teams. Moreover, a recent rash of speculation has connected the Cubs to Machado in a hypothetical sense, notably from Jesse Rogers (fairly tapped into the Cubs’ world, in general) and Ken Rosenthal (just very tapped in, in general). Neither was a rumor, per se, and the issue was that both of those accounts suggested that the Cubs include Addison Russell (plus more) in order to acquire one year of Machado … which, no thanks.
But for Bruce Levine to confirm that the Cubs (we’ll put the Sox aside for now) “still” have interest in Machado is really quite notable – let alone that they might literally be in “conversations” about him (I don’t want to parse words, that could’ve been a figure of speech from Levine).
It still doesn’t make a ton of sense to me for the Cubs to move on from four cost-controlled years of someone like Addison Russell in exchange for one $17 million year of Machado, and the front office probably feels the same way, if the trade talks were quite that strict. But if, perhaps, there’s some other version of the trade involving Machado, it’s not like it’s out of the question. And in that case, you could always then take Russell and apply his value more appropriately in another trade elsewhere since someone on the infield would have to be moved out at that point.
Of course, the problem with that is that 1.) the second trade isn’t a guarantee, and 2.) you’d lose a fair bit of leverage if it wasn’t agreed upon ahead of time. On top of everything else, the Orioles are reportedly looking for young, cost-controlled pitching in exchange for Machado, which, if the Cubs had that, they wouldn’t be looking for it themselves. If you *squint* you can imagine a world where the Orioles might have some interest in Mike Montgomery as a starter – and we know how he feels about it – but there’s a lot of guessing involved right there.
*IF* the Cubs could do it – moving Russell for a controllable pitcher, for example, and acquiring Machado with other pieces – there’d be a lot to like about that maneuvering. But, as we said, pulling it off is incredibly difficult.
For now, I guess we’ll have to accept a world in which the Cubs are legitimately interested in trading for Manny Machado – who is, by the way, unquestionably one of the best, most (non-trade) valuable players in the game (he’d arguably be second only to Kris Bryant on the Cubs, and could very well be better next season – just so we’re crystal clear on that front). I would still call a trade here an extremely unlikely event, and, even if it did come to pass, it feels like it would be much more complicated than a straight one-for-one swap of Machado and Russell.
As for the White Sox, I think Manny Machado makes a ton of sense … next winter when he’s a free agent. I have no idea why they’d spoil their extremely well-run rebuild for one extra year. Don’t do it, ya dummies, you’re so close.
Some additional thoughts here from Brett in his earlier post about the wisdom of trading for Machado when the speculation started:
Consider that Machado is projected to be worth 6.2 WAR in 2018, according to Steamer (we don’t have ZiPS or PECOTA yet). Addison Russell projects to be worth just 2.8 WAR. Let’s assume Steamer nails it (ignoring Russell’s upside), and the swap would thus net the Cubs a 3.4 WAR bump in 2018. That’s a *HUGE* single-position bump, and could easily be the difference between a playoff appearance and no playoff appearance.
But that’s not the end of the story, because not only would the Cubs have Russell for three more years after 2018, they’d also have an extra $15 million to play with in 2018 – the difference in projected salaries for the two players. If the Cubs can add Alex Cobb with that $15 million, and if he’s a, say, 2.0-WAR bump over whatever other pitcher the Cubs would start, then the gap between Machado and Russell suddenly shrinks considerably.
This trade does not make sense for the Cubs. As alluring as the idea of having Machado in there hitting next to Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, and Kyle Schwarber, I do not see this approach being the best for the Cubs.
I do want to offer some “this is not a totally insane suggestion” points, for the purposes of discussion:
The ability to take the first swing at extending Machado – to the contrary of the opinions of some prominent thinkers out there – does have some value. Given that offers among the final two or three teams for a player frequently coalesce around the same range (especially these days of homogenous valuation thinking), having a guy in-house, showing him what it’s like to be on your club and be comfortable in your city is the equivalent to getting the world’s longest pitch meeting. It is an advantage that other free agent suitors do not have. Yes, they can always top the money, and yes, free agents almost invariably go where the money is. But if the money figures to be close, having that extra year to sell the player has real value. Also: there’s the value in having a guy for a year to see what he’s really like before you commit $300 million to him in free agency. Maybe it winds up causing you to avoid making a huge mistake.
Swapping out Machado for Russell does improve the Cubs for 2018. I mean, of course it does. He’s Manny freaking Machado. In a wonderful, *perfect* world, Russell keeps playing elite defense and his bat steps forward considerably, making him a six win player in 2018. Being a six win player is very close to Machado’s floor.
Speaking of which, you’ve probably seen Machado’s .259/.310/.471 (102 wRC+) slash line from 2017 and figured he was not himself. You can ignore those results. Everything in the underlying numbers, from his discipline rates to his contact numbers to batted ball rates, tells me he was totally himself in 2017. My guess is, as the offseason proceeds and we start to see the typical round of “here’s who was probably unlucky in 2017” analyses, Machado is going to be number one with a bullet.
If the Cubs are set on moving on from Addison Russell for whatever reason, be it health or off-the-field issues, then there’s a measure of “that’s that,” and only so much we can analyze from a baseball perspective. Perhaps the value of Russell to the Cubs is much lower than we can perceive on the outside, and any trade talks would proceed accordingly. I can’t speculate on that in a fair and honest way. All I can say is that, from a pure baseball value perspective, I don’t see it in this swap.