Manny Machado is one of the biggest young stars in the game, and, thus, his name being on the trade market in the past week has sent nearly every fan base into a tizzy trying to figure out a way to finagle his way into town. Front offices are probably only slightly less tizzied.
But what about the Cubs? Outside of Luis making an argument for going after Machado on Twitter, I haven’t really given the notion much serious thought, and the reasoning – for me – is pretty simple and straightforward. The Cubs don’t have the pitching prospects to land him, per the rumored Orioles preferences. The Cubs would have to oust an infield regular to make room for Machado. And the only way to solve those first two issues is by sending the Orioles a controlled infield like Addison Russell or Javy Baez for Machado, and I ain’t into doing that.
On that last part, I’m not saying Machado isn’t an upgrade over what the Cubs have. I’m saying only that, if you’re asking me to trade four arbitration years of a 23-year-old Addison Russell for one $17 million season of Manny Machado, I’m saying the most aggressive “no” I can without dotting your face with spittle.
Much of that is prelude to an article Jesse Rogers wrote this morning at ESPN, arguing for precisely that trade, and then a hoped-for extension of Machado. You should read his piece for the full rationale. It’s not without some logical points – like Luis’s Twitter argument – but suffice it to say, I strongly disagree that this is a swap the Cubs should make.
I am not categorically opposed to trading for Machado, I guess, but I don’t see the right value lining up in a trade for Russell unless the Orioles were including more – and when they’ve got upwards of 10 suitors for Machado, I don’t see that happening. Moreover, even if I think about wanting the Cubs to step up and land Machado, I then question myself about whether that’s the best spot for the Cubs to upgrade on the roster. Imagine the controllable starting pitcher the Cubs could get for their positional talent. If you’re going to make a trade, isn’t that the route that best improves the Cubs for 2018 and beyond?
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.