Fantasy Island: Manny Machado

You’ve seen the rumors. You can’t hide. And you probably have thought to yourself at some point, something to similar to, “These rumors just won’t die.” Like it’s a burden of some kind. Or an infection. For some, the idea of the Cubs trading for Manny Machado is something to be endured instead of enjoyed. Well, not the trade itself, because no Cubs fan who has the requisite electrons firing between the ears wouldn’t be excited by this. It’s more the rumors and anticipation. Because it makes you envision Machado in blue pinstripes, and then you kind of want it, and know you can’t have it yet, and you drive yourself batty.

Yes, there is a faction of Cubs fans—they tend to live in bunkers and buy A LOT of bottled water—who live in fear of any Cubs trade, or more to the point what the Cubs would give up in a trade. They’ve scratched the words “Gleyber” and “Eloy” into their forearms, rage at the sun daily, and think any future deal will lead not only to the collapse of the Cubs but perhaps the city, and society as well (I suppose the former isn’t all that far away, if you think about it for any length of time).

So let’s get into a possible Machado trade just for funsies, because we’re tired of arguing over the Cubs offense or Yu Darvish.

If you haven’t been paying attention, and because they’re the Orioles it would be better for you if you haven’t, Manny Machado is basically eating lightning right now. .342/.422/.652 is the slash-line, which makes for a 181 wRC+ or .341 TAv. He’s top-1o in WARP, according to the mother-site here. If you need a blemish, he’s a negative defensive player so far, though the numbers are hardly scandalous. Machado is also carrying a career-high walk-rate and a career-low K-rate, though the former might be somewhat due to pitchers deciding there are better ways to get through an inning that trying to actually pitch to a bear from Greek mythology.

You may remember Machado had an off-year last year. Maybe that’s what a lot of Cubs fans still remember. I don’t know that if I put his .265 BABIP in neon lights with neon arrows pointing at it, it would explain it all, but man it does seem like that’s a pretty big reason. Machado’s BABIP has rebounded to .333 this year, which would also be a career-high. So whereas last year was some insanely bad luck, this year is probably just tinged with good.

What has stuck from last year to this is Machado’s sinking line-drive rate. Much like everyone else, Manny has bought into the idea of launch angles and fly balls. And fly balls in Camden Yards especially are a really good idea, and you might notice he has nine homers at home this year and four on the road, with only four fewer road games played. Machado’s line-drive rate last year was 15.8 percent, and this year it’s 16.5. His hard-contact rate has actually dropped five percent from last year, but his fly-ball rate has jumped by the same.

Statcast to the rescue!

Machado’s barrel%, exit-velocity, and launch-angle are all up from last year, and the highest marks he’s put up (this kind of data only goes to 2015). He’s aiming up, he’s hitting the ball higher, and he’s hitting it harder when hitting it up than he ever has before. His number are all above his expected averages (quick primer for those who don’t know, Statcast has xBA and xSLG, which basically takes the contact information and maps out what a player “should” be hitting based on past data and if the defense were completely neutral. It’s not super predictive, and, as we know, this isn’t a world where “should” happens a lot, but let’s save your cursing of the gods for another time). But even if Machado sank to his “expected” numbers this year, you’d still have a .282 hitter, slugging .511, with a wOBA of .366. At shortstop. You’ll take it.

So clearly, he’s a superstar. He’s better than Addison Russell. He’s one year older than Russell. He has three 5.0+ WAR seasons to his name already, and is already halfway to a fourth and we’re not at Memorial Day yet. So the question becomes: what do you think Russell will ever become.

Based on his new approach and what we’ve seen the past week, I do think we’ll see something of an offensive breakout from Russell this year. But does that make him a six-WAR player? Almost certainly not. Russell is almost certainly never, ever going to slug over .500. He may be a better defensive shortstop than Machado for his entire career, and that counts for more than appears on the surface, but the bat may never come close. The best slugging Addy has come up with so far is .417. Machado slugged .471 in his “off” year of last year. You see the disparity.

So the question becomes what would Machado cost, and this is where things get tough. Because the Orioles are not going to charge a “rental” price. While the Dodgers have been mentioned, I doubt they’d pay anything over a high-rental price, because they have Corey Seager coming back next year. I suppose they could move Seager to 2nd to accommodate Machado and tell Forsythe to do one, but that hasn’t been mentioned as a possibility yet.

Finding a comp for a Machado trade is nearly impossible. Shortstops who tear a hole in time at the plate at the age of 25 simply don’t get traded. They get locked up to deals for forever and they start commissioning the statue of them that’s going to be placed in a plaza outside his home park. You can’t really use Giancarlo Stanton as a comp, because the Marlins are a criminal organization, and were after salary relief as much as they were prospects. While Machado makes $16 million this year, this is not the Orioles aim. And were he inclined to stay, they might be happy to pay him the GDP of Belgium—which he’s going to ask for.

Cleary, a simple swap of Russell for Machado isn’t going to work unless someone can work white-out into Dan Duquette’s coffee on a daily basis. The Cubs would have to throw in Schwarber or Happ or both and that might be just a starting point. There isn’t much left in the minors, although I’m sure Alzolay’s name would get mentioned, and I’m sure the Cubs wouldn’t automatically just add him to the deal.

Say Schwarber and Russell are subtracted from the everyday lineup and Machado is added. Machado probably, just barely, gives you enough to make up for the loss of two players, unless Schwarber shows back half of 2015 form for a full season. There’s really no solid metric, as Machado isn’t going to produce the same as two players. You’d have a six-WAR player and be losing somewhere between six and eight WAR, but that’s not how these things work. Because someone would fill in the other role. ¬†At the moment, you’d be losing basically an average hitter in Russell and a plus-hitter in Schwarber for an unholy, celestial being in Machado. You can stomach that, and pretty easily. If you go beyond that though, things get a little dicey.

Say Almora has to be added to the deal as well. Now you’re basically left with playing Happ in center, or Heyward, Zobrist in the outfield full-time at 37. That’s a pretty weak looking outfield with defensive questions everywhere. Zobrist has been good, but again, 37. And that’s going forward too. We know Heyward is unlikely to recover to any sort of average form at the plate. Happ could be anything in any direction. Zobrist is around for only another season before a retirement filled with listening to his wife sing, so we all mourn for him. Your outfield looks suddenly shaky for the foreseeable future.

There’s also the money question. Machado is going to get $35 million a year, maybe even more than that. That’s just how it is. It’s not my money, though I wish it was. And the Cubs can take that in, because we’ve heard how they would happily toss that at Bryce Harper next winter as well. But paying Machado almost certainly means no Harper. The Cubs are already on the hook for $132 million next year, and that’s before Bryant, Baez, Hendricks, have their arbitration hearings. Bryant could easily move past $15 million next year, Hendricks between $7-10 million, and Baez could honestly be anything. Safely, that’s another $25 million on the count. Add in $35M for Machado, and you’re already at $192M for the team with something of a goofy outfield.

Like any trade, the price on Machado is what’s key here, and after 1400 words that’s a pretty bland conclusion. If the cost were simply Russell +1 (Schwarber, Happ) you do it. If it’s Russell +2 or +3, it seems like you’re tearing an awful lot down. Considering how many teams are already calling Baltimore, I’m guessing the price is going to go beyond that.

Lead photo courtesy Kamil Krzaczynski—USA Today Sports

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