It feels like the hot new trend in baseball is superstar redundancy. “How fun is it that the Yankees have Aaron Judge? Not as much fun as is it now that they have a second colossus in their lineup in Giancarlo Stanton!” “Why should we worry about a Carlos Correa injury when Alex Bregman exists?” “David Price isn’t enough, so let’s get Chris Sale too!”
Now, with the Dodgers striving to break through after years of sniffing around the Commissioner’s Trophy, they deign to replace their young, oversized, and elite (but broken) shortstop/third baseman with an even more hyper-talented version. After months of speculation that Los Angeles could offset the unfortunate Corey Seager injury by reaching out and plucking an equally tantalizing player off the shelf, Andrew Freidman, Farhan Zaidi, and company somehow did just that by sending five prospects to Baltimore for Manny Machado.
Make no mistake, this does not feel like the kind of trade that should happen. Just days after turning 26 years old, a player with the pedigree and capability to go down as one of those entire-career-with-one-team Hall of Famers was dealt because his franchise couldn’t or wouldn’t convince him to stay long term. Machado’s resume is as impressive as his fashion game, a shortstop turned third baseman turned shortstop with a .285/.335/.487 career hitting line, 27.1 WARP, four All-Star appearances, two Gold Glove awards, and three top-10 MVP finishes in six full seasons after debuting as a teenager.
He’s a complete player, and those are the kinds of numbers that make even the most jaded baseball fans stop and catch their breath. And he’s in the midst of his most outstanding season yet; were Machado to have started the season in the National League playing for a contender, his .322 True Average and 24 homers likely would make him a front-runner for the MVP award at the season’s midpoint. Heading to one of the NL’s premier teams this late in the season, it will be tough for him to claim any sort of personal hardware, but his collection of skills will undoubtedly be a boon for the Dodgers.
Before 2015, he was exactly the type of player about whom you’d say, “soon those doubles will turn into home runs.” And since then he’s averaged 35 dingers per season and is well on his way to more than that in 2018. This year he’s expanded his offensive potential by raising his walk rate and shrinking his strikeout rate, both of which are currently career-bests. He controls the zone, works the count better and better each season, and tends to barrel the ball well when he makes contact. The only thing Machado doesn’t do well, at least from an offensive standpoint, is run the bases, but he’s far from an anchor.
His defense has long been a calling card, and as a third baseman he flourished thanks to his reactions and his strong arm. Most defensive metrics rated him as one of the game’s elite defenders at the position, and he earned Gold Glove awards in 2013 and 2015, but recently both the numbers and the eye test indicated that he slipped a little bit. He shifted to shortstop full time this season, returning to his original position, and FRAA rates him as -4.0 runs 96 games—serviceable, but nowhere close to Gold Glove caliber. In essence, he may be similar to Corey Seager as a defensive shortstop, and the Dodgers have indicated that he’ll also resume seeing some time at third base.
If you could start a team from scratch, Machado would almost certainly be in the conversation for the top 10-15 picks thanks to his combination of youth, talent, and production. These players don’t become available all that often, and despite his upcoming free agency Machado remains an extraordinarily value asset for the next 2.5 months (and, the Dodgers hope, October). Los Angeles has 66 regular-season games remaining, and WARP shows Machado as being worth slightly more than two wins per 66 games for his career. That would be enough to give a considerable boost to the Dodgers’ current 80 percent playoff odds. And once there, playoff games are certainly a big part of Machado’s appeal to the Dodgers as well.
If you think the Dodgers would be loath to acquire Machado only to let him walk this winter as a free agent, then you weren’t paying attention last year. The team was perfectly willing to pay big to land the biggest name on the trade market, Yu Darvish, ride him out, and then let him sign with their biggest NL competition once the free agent bidding started. And I still think this might be the most cost-effective move for a team with more spare parts than your local NAPA shop. Mannywood 2.0 feels like a short-term replication of what Seager usually provides for Los Angeles. For now, it makes sense, but in terms of a long-term fit there may be too many spots filled by cheaper assets who also can hit quite a bit.
For 2019, dance cards have been punched for the returning Seager, steady Justin Turner, and the emergent Max Muncy, with either Cody Bellinger or Chris Taylor rounding out the last infield and center field slots. Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig are under contract for 2019, prospect Alex Verdugo is waiting for a shot in the outfield, and Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson figure to remain very useful in part-time roles. Even without Machado, the Dodgers appear to have at least one more starting-caliber hitter than they have room for.
You could find a home for Machado in L.A. for the next half-decade, but it’d involve moving on from two of the Dodgers’ current regulars, paying Machado upwards of $200 million, and shuffling the defensive deck so that Taylor, Muncy, or maybe even Turner is an everyday second baseman. That’s just too much work, right? Wrong. If there’s one thing that’s true about L.A., it’s that less is never more. More is more. And the Dodgers have been chasing their first championship since the 1980s for too long. Machado in 2018 is a win-now move, no doubt, but retaining another of the game’s true elite in free agency should be a card Friedman and Zaidi are willing to play.
The Dodgers could be very cost effective going forward, but “cost effective” sure isn’t the same thing as “best” and owners usually don’t care which team earns the most surplus WARP. While I think the Dodgers should buff their rotation, I’d advocate strongly for opening up the coffers and signing Machado to a long-term extension if they can. It’s simply too uncommon to have an elite, 26-year-old, up-the-middle offensive dynamo fall into your lap, even if you’re Los Angeles and can keep making breakouts like Turner, Taylor, and Muncy happen.
There are many months to think about Machado’s long-term future. For now, though, he makes the Dodgers even more dangerous, helping them on a level few players in baseball are capable of. They’re outrageously talented and likely the class of the National League (again!), but they’ll need every dinger and cleanly-fielded ball to help them get back to the World Series, let alone to the big parade in November. The future is already bright in Chavez Ravine, but if the Dodgers have the guts to retain their newest superstar, we could be looking at a left-side-of-the-infield pairing that rivals Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter—or maybe more like Paul Molitor and Robin Yount—as one of the greatest in history. Machado might be worth an addition $250 million investment, Corey Seager be damned. —Bryan Grosnick
In one sense, this trade probably doesn’t hurt the woeful Orioles too badly. After all, you can’t be that much worse than the basement of the entire league. On the other hand, it rips the last vestige of healthy production away from a lineup that can only charitably be described as rotten, leaving an ugly, festering mess. Nature abhors a vacuum, so someone like Jace Peterson or Ruben Tejada (or perhaps Breyvic Valera) will inevitably slide into Machado’s roster spot. The prospects acquired for Machado will inevitably fill the void in the Baltimore faithful’s hearts where hope for the future once lived. But it’s damn hard to replace a talent the caliber of Machado, who came into the organization young and much-hyped and lived up to all the expectations until he was sent away. Teams are lucky to claim one or two players on that level every 25 years.
A fistful of prospect disappointments and uninspired roster choices meant the Orioles were unlikely to contend before the turn of the next decade no matter which transcendent star played on the left side of their infield. Reloading for the future is as necessary as can be, but doing it at the expense of Machado will decimate the current roster as well as fans’ hopes. In fact, “decimate” might be under-selling his impact; historically the term meant to destroy one in 10, and while that might be true of what’s happening to the team’s starting lineup, Machado has outperformed every other offensive player on his team combined by most value metrics. He isn’t just the best player on his team, he is his team. Or rather, he was.
Without Machado, the Orioles are a team bereft of stars, in freefall, and without identity other than “the bad team that can’t develop pitchers but also has too many corner outfielders.” Lacking Machado’s spark, the Oriole orange looks a bit darker, a sunset rather than sunrise. —Bryan Grosnick
Signed for a hearty nine-figure sum out of Cuba in the 2015-2016 international period, Yusniel Diaz is a five-tool outfielder who has made steady progress in adapting to pro ball and turning his considerable if understated skills into playable tools. At the dish, one thing that has been evident from the jump with Diaz is his two-strike approach. Even as he was learning the ropes of professional pitching, and changing his swing, and then changing his swing again, there was always a strong baseline of a quick barrel, innate bat-to-ball skill, and quality pitch recognition.
Diaz has typically swung to contact more often than not, but as his two-homer outburst in the Futures Game showed there’s some juice in the bat, too. It shouldn’t surprise if he winds up with solid-average game power, as there’s plenty of raw strength on his frame and he’s made steady progress learning to more consistently engage his lower half and generate organic bat speed with quality hip rotation.
The rest of the package is every bit as solid as the offensive profile; he’s an above-average runner underway, and the speed plays well in the outfield, where he’ll show solid instincts and closing ability ranging into the gaps. He has split time between center and right field lately, and while he may be able to hold down the former occasionally, he’s a better fit in the long corner where his above-average arm strength and pretty good accuracy will fit just fine. One weakness has been and continues to be in the base-stealing department, as he has yet to develop a feel for picking spots or the technical skills to release into an efficient burst. He’s just 24-for-54 in his career, and he’s earned that (lack of) success rate.
Beyond that minor nit to pick, this is a very good, very well-rounded player headlining Baltimore’s return. His career arc has been one of initial struggle followed by rapid and impressive adjustment at each developmental step, and the 21-year-old is a prime candidate to take a little time to find his footing at the highest levels. Once he does, though, there’s a very high probability that he develops into a strong regular to help anchor Baltimore’s rebuild.
An undersized college performer taken in the eighth round last year, Rylan Bannon has continued to roll right along through a torrid first-half performance at Rancho Cucamonga. He’s a strong, physically maxed infielder with out-sized strength and a sneaky little dose of athleticism, to where he’s shown competent defensively at both second and third base this season. An average runner, he works the tool up slightly above that level with excellent instincts and controlled aggression on the basepaths. He won’t add much in the way of stolen bases, but he reads contact and takes extra bases.
The bat is the biggest thing to watch, as Bannon has yet to really struggle as a professional (or in college, for that matter). There are a lot of moving parts in the load and stride, along with some stiffness and a massive leg kick that adds another layer of timing concern. But the swing type is really effective when it works, and he has shown an impressive ability this year to make it work. He’s consistent, he’s pretty efficient, and he gets into his back leg hard to generate plane and bat speed into the zone. It’s solid-average power, and between the pop and a fine natural feel for getting the barrel through his contact point, there’s a nice collection of offensive tools here.
Add in the infield versatility and enough athleticism that you could probably throw him out into left field, and you’ve got the makings of a nice little utility player, with the chance for more if Bannon shows capable of continuing to bring his pop into games against more advanced stuff and sequencing.
Dean Kremer pitched poorly at UNLV after transferring from a junior college, but the Dodgers saw something and threw six figures at him in the 14th round of the 2016 draft. After some initial success he struggled in a transition to the bullpen at High-A last season, but has emerged a starter once more this season to ride near the tippity top of the minor-league strikeout leaders. He’s a big extension guy, he hides the ball well, and he shows some feel to locate a four-pitch arsenal that plays up from those delivery traits. There’s some crossfire to his delivery, as he lands short and off-line, and the front shoulder stays closed off until pretty late. It’s a bit of a slingshot arm action as a result, with a tighter path that helps the ball jump on hitters a bit.
The fastball has sat low 90s this year, though he’s flashed 96-97 mph previously in relief. Kremer generates excellent plane with the pitch, and he’ll move it around and manipulate it with some maturity. I like the slider best of his secondaries. He’s able to generate nice horizontal sweep to it from his arm action, and he can snap it off with some bite when he’s taking it out of the zone. It’s been a consistent finishing pitch for Kremer this year, and it was his primary go-to as a reliever. He also spins a pretty good curveball, which works best into the zone early and when he’s behind in the count. The changeup is a fourth pitch, and he’ll drag it and leave it wide to the arm side a good bit. It’ll show flashes of utility, though. There’s plenty here to keep him on a rotation trajectory for now. He’s fairly athletic, with a strong frame that looks the part of a durable multi-inning guy at the least.
Zach Pop never quite put together the stuff and health in college at Kentucky, and after a bout of forearm tightness and some underwhelming production in his draft year, the Dodgers snagged him in the seventh round last year. He’s a strong, prototypical two-pitch reliever. The delivery is minimal; he just up and slings it from a low three-quarter slot. When he’s right the fastball gets nasty, with hard arm-side run that really snaps back in the mid-90s. It’s a heavy pitch with plus late movement, and he’ll generate both whiffs and worm-burners with it. Pop pairs it with a high-80s slider that features short cut but lacks for consistent out-pitch depth right now. He’ll get out of whack with his tempo, and between the delivery and movement, fine command’s a dodgy proposition. The stuff and slot’s enough to make him a big-league arm, but it remains to be seen if Pop will be able to harness it enough to stick.
L.A.’s return for vaunted Double-A windmill Johan Mieses right at the beginning of the season, Breyvic Valera’s strong on-base skills, excellent contact skills, and infield versatility got the 26-year-old to The Show for a second straight season. It’s a fringy utility profile, but one that’s worth a shot to run out in Baltimore. If it works he’ll be a pesky 25th man who sneaks one over the fence from time to time, steals a few bases, and logs time at two hands-worth of positions. And if it doesn’t, well, he’s the fifth guy in the deal and Triple-A teams need utility players, too. —Wilson Karaman
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