It was a persistent rumor in the offseason, circulated by a range of sources, and tethered to the known reality that the Baltimore Orioles were shopping their star third baseman: the Chicago Cubs were interested in trading for Manny Machado.
To be sure, Machado is a superstar whose peripherals last year foretold what he’s been doing this year (blowing up (again)), but the rumors at the time were shocking – Addison Russell AND Mike Montgomery AND Albert Almora type rumors. For a single year of upgrading from Russell to Machado? And then not having any of those guys this year? Or next year? Or the multiple years after that when they are still under team control?
It was just impossible to imagine a deal like that actually happening, and, thankfully, it did not happen.
… but is that stuff about to kick back up?
With the Orioles off to a brutal start, and Machado a free agent after this season, it’s about a safe a bet as you ever see in these situations that Machado will be traded before the July 31 Trade Deadline. So, the speculation and rumor mongering will start early. I get that, and I won’t necessarily complain about it.
But I will regard the rumors with circumspection, as I did before.
Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier this week that the Cubs – among other teams – make sense in a Machado trade, with Russell as the “center piece.” Then Jon Heyman stepped things up with a dedicated article on the Cubs as a Machado trade partner, pointing to unnamed sources who suggest the Cubs could be the “most logical” fit.
To me, the most logical fit in a Machado trade is going to be a playoff contender with a gaping hole at shortstop or third base (if Machado will oblige for the second half of the season, which he may not want to do), and overflowing with top tier prospects. The Orioles need a real rebuild, in my view, and they should maximize their prospect return in a deal like this.
The Cubs are not a great fit for either of those qualifications, especially on the prospect currency front.
Of course, that’s why Russell is mentioned in the rumors, since Machado would be replacing him anyway, and he’s much more valuable in trade than any Cubs prospect. But are the Cubs going to be ready to move on from Russell so quickly? Russell is just 24, has three more years of team control, is elite defensively, and has plenty of upside in the bat (it doesn’t always come right away for guys who reach the majors young!).
If the Cubs have decided – for whatever reason – that they’re willing to move on from Russell in any case, then sure, the opportunity to add an MVP-caliber player for the second half and the playoffs when you’re in a competitive window, is enticing, even if it’s only a short-term move. The Cubs would then also have a little extra time to show Machado what life is like in Chicago with the Cubs, and start their sales pitch for his impending free agency. Though, let’s be clear: there are ABSOLUTELY no guarantees that trading for Machado would ensure he could be signed long-term. The Cubs might deal Russell, and then lose Machado anyway. (Of course, in that situation, Javy Baez would become the starting shortstop, and perhaps Tommy La Stella and Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist split time next year at second base. I’m getting ahead of myself.)
The long story short here is that, as with the rumors before, yes, there are versions of this kind of trade that I can see making some sense, but they mostly come back to what the Cubs believe about Russell going forward. Me? I’d like to see him get a full season here in 2018 before the Cubs do anything too drastic. But I’m open-minded.
Of course, if we’re still talking about an enormous package like Russell plus Montgomery plus Almora? My reservations return in force.