Manny Machado is awesome, and remains a guy I think the Cubs should very much at least look into when he hits free agency this offseason at the age of just 26.
But it’s been our position since rumors swirled connecting the Cubs to a trade for Machado that it made more sense to simply let Addison Russell, 24, have one more year to show what he can do at the plate, to determine whether he’ll add positive contributions there to what is already one of the best gloves in the game. Then, after the season, the Cubs can re-evaluate everything with more data, and without the prospect of losing Russell *AND* seeing Machado walk away in free agency.
Since those rumors crested with a report that Machado was the Cubs’ top trade target – rumors that Theo Epstein described at the time as fantasyland – all Russell has done is hit .340/.391/.490 with a 137 wRC+. In that same time span, since May 25, Machado has hit .272/.326/.456 with a 109 wRC+.
It should be no surprise then to see that the rumors attaching the Cubs to Machado have cooled precipitously since then, and I don’t think anyone is expecting Machado to wind up with the Cubs at this point, even if he still is very much expected to be traded.
To that end, Ken Rosenthal reports that the Orioles want to trade Machado soon, if possible, believing they can get more for him now than if they wait until he’s only got two months of service time left. We talk about that kind of thing every year, and then most teams end up waiting until the deadline, since that’s when buyers – many of whom have only fully committed to buying in the last couple weeks – can be squeezed the most, even if they’re getting less service time. So, I suppose we’ll see it when we see it.
The Cubs are mentioned as a Machado suitor, but Rosenthal acknowledges what we said above – the urgency simply isn’t there to swap out Russell for Machado. Other suitors include the Phillies, Dodgers, and Brewers in the NL, each of whom has a clear need for the upgrade. The Brewers, to me, may make the most sense of all, even as they arguably have needs in the rotation, they have a giant hole at shortstop in the near-term, given Orlando Arcia’s deep struggles. They could add Machado, let Arcia work in the minors (assuming he wasn’t dealt), and then turn it back over to Arcia next year.
Even if the Cubs did still have an inclination to go hard after Machado, I found this work from Bradford Doolittle at ESPN to be very interesting. He calculated just how much adding Machado would project to improve various teams’ performance, and the 1.9 wins he could add to the Cubs by the end of the year was the 2nd *smallest* improvement in all of baseball. It also gave them a mere 1.1% bump in title probability.
To be sure, the numbers here are just projections, and when you’re a very competitive team with a shot at a title, even a small movement in the needle can be worth a whole lot. But if Machado to the Cubs is one of the smallest improvements in baseball, is it really worth giving up Russell+++ at this time? When you could then be without all of those players at the end of the year?
This is not the same thing, in my opinion, as adding a lock-down closer at the deadline when you *already know* you’re going to be in the playoffs, and closers like that have disproportionately huge value in the playoffs.
So, then, like I’ve said from thing one: yes, I like Machado a whole lot, and I hope the Cubs kick the tires in the offseason. Right now, though, I don’t think Machado makes a lot of sense as a rental acquisition unless something dramatic changes between now and the trade, or unless the Cubs are dead set on moving on from Russell as soon as they can, regardless of the perceived value proposition in the trade.