With the Orioles already buried in the standings, holding on to Manny Machado seems less and less likely. USATSI
Orioles infielder Manny Machado endured a bit of a disappointing 2017 season, but thus far in 2018 he’s producing in line with expectations. Through 19 games, Machado in this, his age-25 campaign owns a slash line of .338/.414/.623 (189 OPS+) with five home runs and seven doubles. Those are excellent numbers, to say the least.
Machado of course is bound for a big payday next winter. He’s very young as pending free agents go, he’s a difference-maker at the plate, and this season he’s resumed his role as a primary shortstop, which will only expand his pool of potential suitors. At the same time, Machado’s Orioles are terrible. For evidence of this stirring claim, this scribe would point you to the current AL East standings …
Yes, Baltimore is already 11 1/2 games out of first place. In related matters, they’re percentage points behind even the similarly miserable Rays, and they’re on pace for 119 losses. No, the O’s aren’t going to lose 119 games this season, but they’re far more likely to finish last than they are to contend for a playoff spot. Throw in the fact that the Orioles engaged in Machado trade talks this past offseason, and it seems highly likely that Machado will be moved prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
As long as the Orioles had fever dreams of contention in 2018, they also had the rationale they needed to keep Machado. Even though we’re still in April, they’ve reduced themselves from “not likely to contend” to “legitimate designs on the top overall draft pick.” There’s no chance that Machado will sign an extension in Baltimore, which presents the club with a choice: Let Machado walk next winter in exchange for compensatory draft picks and finish far out of contention in 2018 … or trade Machado for a more bankable package of prospects before July 31 and finish far out of contention in 2018. Add it all up — Machado’s impressive start, the Orioles’ awfulness, and the recent willingness of the team to engage in trade talks — and it becomes clear that Machado will be dealt during the season.
Machado’s under contract for $16 million this season, and as mentioned he’s almost certainly a rental. That said, he’s a true needle-mover. Potential fits? Much depends on Machado’s willingness to go back to third base, which would broaden the trade market. Machado, to state the obvious, is under no obligation to make it easier for the Orioles to trade him, and he justifiably may prefer to establish himself as a full-time shortstop headed into free agency.
Assuming he’s a shortstop, then perhaps the Mets would be interested. Machado would upgrade the position significantly, and Amed Rosario would get a bit more time to develop his bat without being blocked long-term. The Diamondbacks may see the need for an improvement over Nick Ahmed at short. The Twins? The Rockies (Trevor Story has an 87 OPS+ since his breakout 2016 campaign)? If Machado’s willing to go back to third base, and then maybe teams like the Braves and Cardinals get into the mix.
However things play out, events have conspired to make it highly likely that Machado will be traded during the season, provided rational thought prevails in Baltimore. In turn, that means Machado may be the biggest name dealt leading up to the non-waiver deadline — assuming, of course, he isn’t shipped off well in advance of that date.
Machado was in trade rumors for good reason. The 25-year-old will be a free agent this upcoming offseason, and it’s quite unlikely that his upcoming $300 million+ contract will be with the Orioles. So it made all the sense in the world for the team to trade Machado over the winter. He’s probably signing elsewhere after the 2018 season, and the Orioles weren’t looking like a contender on paper entering the season. A full season of Machado would’ve likely brought back a tremendous haul of prospects in a trade, to kickstart a Baltimore rebuild.
But the Orioles chose to keep Machado and try to make one more run with him in 2018. And just 19 games into their season, the 5-14 Orioles are already 11.5 games back in the AL East. (The Red Sox are 16-2.) The AL Wild Card race doesn’t look much more promising for Baltimore; they’re 7.5 games behind two teams and have 10 teams ahead of them in the race.
If you’re wondering if maybe that’s just an early-season thing and the computers think the Orioles’ roster will turn it around, FanGraphs currently projects the Orioles to win 69.5 games and gives them a 0.1% chance to make the playoffs (and 0.0% chance to win the AL East). You never know in baseball, but the 2018 Orioles making the playoffs — or even so much as seriously contending for the playoffs — would seem to be a miracle at this point.
And that’s despite Machado playing fantastic baseball!
After a down 2017 season (in which he was still a very good baseball player), Machado looks much more like the 6+ WAR guy he was in 2015 and 2016. Machado has a .338/.414/.623 slash line and 1.1 WAR (eighth-best for position players) according to FanGraphs. And that’s all while playing shortstop exclusively, after he won two Gold Gloves at third base. He’s shown to be capable at shortstop still, and we know he’s an elite third baseman at the very least.
Needless to say, just about every contender would be thrilled to add Machado to their team.
If the Orioles were to seriously entertain trade offers immediately, you’d have to think the offers would be pretty massive. A contender that’s confident in their chances to play into October — after adding Machado, at least — could tell themselves that trading for Machado right now would essentially be getting a full season out of him. On paper, he’s likely adding four to five wins to the team the rest of the way and could be a series-changing talent in the playoffs.
Additionally, that team would get their foot in the door with Machado for potential contract talks. If he goes to the postseason with that team and develops a positive relationship with them, that would surely boost their chances to sign him.
So there’s really no sense in the Orioles waiting until July to at least intently shop and listen on Machado. They need to accept the reality of their situation and do the best to maximize it. The offers they’d get today could be much better than the offers they’d get in late July, since the suitor would get Machado for three extra months. There are also more teams in the contention mix now than there will be in July, so maybe one of these fringe teams (like the Phillies, a team that is expected to target him next winter anyway) would be interested in a deal soon and increase the bidding that may not be there in July.
The bottom line is the reasons to trade him far outweigh the reasons to not trade him. And the argument that “keeping him would help the chances he’d sign a long contract with Baltimore” doesn’t really work here. He surely understands the Orioles’ situation and he’d surely be fine with going to a team with a chance at a championship for the rest of this season. It’s not like the relationship would be destroyed or that there’s a rule they couldn’t sign Machado next offseason if they really wanted to.
But the reality is that the Orioles are unlikely to be willing to pay up for him, and he’d probably rather go to a contender if money is equal anyway. The sooner the Orioles accept this, the better, and it will accelerate their much-needed rebuild.
On the first of his three scheduled trips into the Bronx to face the New York Yankees, Orioles shortstop Manny Machado was made to maneuver around questions about how prominently the hosts could figure into his future.
Machado, who seven months from now is scheduled to be one of the prized free agents in a market where the Yankees will undoubtedly be a top suitor for his services, declared Thursday that he doesn’t plan to move off shortstop for any team next year and said he regards New York like any other baseball city, all while shooting down talks about his uncertain future.
“My future,” he said, “is looking pretty good.”
“I’ve just got to go out there, stay healthy, and play baseball. There’s nothing to it. I’ve just got to put up numbers and try to win games for my team and be the best person I can be out there on the field, and do everything possible to contribute to the ballclub and make it to the postseason.”
If nothing else, Machado aimed to keep himself off the back pages of New York’s newspapers as the Orioles opened a four-game series against the Yankees looking to pull themselves out of a 1-5 hole in the season’s first week. He downplayed the fact that the Orioles were even in New York at all, saying it “shouldn’t be different” from any of his other 41 games at Yankee Stadium.
“I’ve been coming here for seven years,” Machado said. “I like coming here and playing baseball. Who doesn’t like to play baseball? We’ll come here, win a couple games, and put ourselves in good situations. We’ll see where it goes.”
He made sure his time with reporters Thursday didn’t go too deep down a path he didn’t want it to. Machado’s presence in New York has always drawn attention.
“It’s a situation that was blown out of proportion,” Machado reiterated about the Judge controversy. “That’s how the New York media is, but he’s a great kid. He meant well. It’s just chit-chat that you mess around with, just like everyone else messes around with everyone. It was just blown out of proportion.”
Whether all the other attention Machado receives on his trips to New York is blown out of proportion as well will be determined next fall. Machado grew up idolizing former Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and wears his No. 13, and a move to the Bronx could put him on the same level as his hero.
One thing Machado won’t do is give up shortstop, a position he only moved to this year but that Rodriguez ceded to Derek Jeter when he came to the Yankees. Machado shot down the notion that he made the switch in 2018 for financial reasons, and said it wouldn’t be a temporary one.
“I made the commitment to go to short,” Machado said. “I think moving forward, I would like to stay there. This is not just a move, as you guys would say, for money purposes. I’m going to get mine. Everybody’s going to get theirs. It wasn’t for that. It’s just where my heart is and has always been, so that’s where I want to be.”
Machado, 25, is batting .261 (6-for-23) with a double and a run scored in six games this season.
Positional scarcity doesn’t matter quite as much as it used to now that seemingly everyone in the majors can hit 20 homers, but positional flexibility still matters quite a bit. Having a player or two on your roster who can slide in at two or three different positions makes it easier to survive injuries or slumps.
As the season goes on, players start to gain eligibility at new spots, and it can be hard to keep up with. We’ll collect the latest changes every few weeks to keep you up to date on who has a new position, and who will soon.
Note: CBS Fantasy eligibility is based on five appearances at a new position.
Added eligibility already
Manny Machado (3B) – Added SS: This is what we were waiting for. Machado immediately becomes a top-three option at the position. You presumably drafted him knowing you would slide him over to short before long.
Zack Cozart (SS) – Added 2B: A deep position gets deeper. You’re more likely to use Cozart at short, but flexibility is never a bad thing.
Derek Dietrich (3B) – Added OF: A useful player with some pop, this flexibility makes him especially valuable in NL-only leagues.
Tim Beckham (SS) – Added 3B: A move down the positional spectrum doesn’t change much for this fringe-y guy.
Brandon Drury (2B) – Added 3B: There have been hopes of untapped power in Drury’s profile, and he’s worth using as a corner or middle infield option.
Ryan Flaherty (2B) – Added 3B: He plays everyday, but Flaherty isn’t going to hit enough to play at either spot.
J.D. Davis (3B) – Added 1B: Another in a seemingly endless parade of talented young hitters for the Astros, he has 75 homers over the past three seasons in the minors. But he’s not going to be in the lineup everyday, and isn’t hitting well enough to guarantee an increased role. He’s barely an AL-only option.
Needs one more appearance
Dee Gordon (2B) – Needs one more at OF: You’re not necessarily going to use Gordon at OF, but it’s nice to have the option.
Hanley Ramirez (DH) – Needs one more for 1B: This could actually be pretty impactful. For one thing, it signals that Ramirez is healthy enough to play the field regularly, a good sign. If that leads to good results in the batter’s box, he can be a useful contributor of counting stats as a CI or U.
Neil Walker (2B) – Needs one more for 1B: You’re probably not sliding Walker over to 1B, but it’s nice to have him available at MI or CI in Roto.
J.P Crawford (3B) – Needs one more for SS: He needs to actually hit before he’s Fantasy relevant at either spot. The bar is lower at shortstop, but he hasn’t cleared it yet.
Brad Miller (2B) – Needs one more at 1B: With the exception of 2016, Miller hasn’t really hit well enough to justify a starting spot at either. He’d be a borderline option at catcher, frankly.
Other noteworthy eligibility developments
Matt Carpenter (1B) – Needs two more for 3B and three more for 2B: As with Ramirez, this is important as much for how it signals that Carpenter’s body is holding up better than expected. He’s healthy, and could soon be triple eligible. Carpenter looks like a steal at his draft price.
Wil Myers (1B) – Needs two more for OF: Injuries have kept him from getting in the field as much as expected, but he’ll be a useful OF option before long.
Ryan Braun (OF) – Needs three more for 1B: Having another spot to use Braun doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a huge difference maker for his value. As long as he’s healthy, he’s worth starting somewhere.
Scott Kingery (2B) – Needs three more for 3B and four more for OF and SS: He could be quadruple eligible soon, and has started three games in a row after sitting out the opener. Kingery’s going to play. The question is if he can hit well enough to earn a true everyday role.
Colin Moran (1B) – Needs two more for 3B: A move up the positional spectrum will certainly help, but he needs to hit to be mixed-league relevant.
Albert Pujols (DH) – Needs two more for 1B: This is sort of a less interesting version of everything I said about Ramirez. He’s healthy enough to play in the field, and we know he can rack up counting stats in this lineup.
Anthony Rizzo (1B) – Needs four more for 2B: And we’re back to this. It’s hard to say when he might get 2B eligibility, if ever, but it’s a potential game changer for your team if he does. Just watch those Cubs‘ bunt shifts.
The Major League Baseball season is 162 games packed into 180-odd days. Nobody escapes the grind.
On top of that, some players also have extra pressure on their shoulders.
Today in this space, we’re going to look at 10 MLB stars (emphasis on stars, as you’ll find only big names here) who will play the 2018 season under especially powerful microscopes.
Maybe the pressure comes from having to get back on track following a down season or two, from having big parts to play on teams with high hopes, or from having to establish their value before setting sail on the free-agent market. Maybe some combination of all of the above.
Let’s get to it.
1 of 10
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Ever since he signed up for 13 years and $325 million in November of 2014, Giancarlo Stanton has had the task of living up to the biggest contract in the history of professional sports.
Now he has to do it for arguably the world’s most famous franchise.
So far, so very good. Stanton’s two-homer Opening Day was an early taste of what he can bring to the New York Yankees. Led by Aaron Judge’s 52 and Gary Sanchez’s 33, they paced the majors with 241 home runs in 2017. They would’ve demolished the single-season record of 264 if they’d also had the 59 homers that helped win Stanton the National League MVP award. One game in, that already seems doable for this season.
What the Yankees must hope, however, is that Stanton doesn’t stumble into any pitfalls.
His undeniable talent hasn’t always translated into consistent production, due to injuries and occasional slumps. If those don’t get him in 2018, the juggling act of having to be a designated hitter, a right fielder and a left fielder might. Another challenge will await him if the Yankees make it to October, which is uncharted territory for the 28-year-old slugger.
If Stanton struggles, so will the Yankees to live up to massive expectations. Eventually, some Yankees fans might start wondering if the team would have been better off waiting for Bryce Harper.
But, hey, at least Stanton doesn’t have to worry about losing his job, unlike our next guy.
2 of 10
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Jason Heyward is heading into the third of an eight-year, $184 million contract. Ordinarily, a guy like that would have ironclad job security.
But in this case, not so much.
The Chicago Cubs have gotten the defense that they wanted out of Heyward. The 28-year-old has won his fourth and fifth Gold Gloves in his two seasons with the team. Alas, his bat has been an endless source of frustration. He entered 2018 with just a .669 OPS as a Cub.
For now, Heyward is safe as Chicago’s everyday right fielder—collecting a double and a walk on Opening Day only helped his cause. But when manager Joe Maddon was asked if money matters could cede priority to performance, he opened the door for Heyward to be demoted.
“I’m not going to say it’s impossible,” Maddon said, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Between Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr., the Cubs have enough outfielders to push Heyward to get his bat working consistently. If he can’t, he could find himself as a platoon player.
In theory, Heyward also has a looming opt-out clause to help motivate him. However, the ship carrying the idea of him re-entering the open market has probably sailed. That makes him unlike this next fella.
3 of 10
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
As much as the Cubs would love it if Heyward got back on track, their offense and defense can function fine without him.
By contrast, the Boston Red Sox truly need David Price to help their starting rotation function.
The 32-year-old was still an elite pitcher as recently as 2015. But ever since signing a seven-year, $217 million contract with Boston in December 2015, his career has been sidetracked by injuries and ineffectiveness, as well as behind-the-scenes drama in 2017 that sullied his charismatic aura.
The last thing the Red Sox need in 2018 is more of Price’s problems. Behind him in their rotation is Rick Porcello (who’s a question mark in his own right) and then a supporting cast that’s been wrecked by injuries. Price’s pitching could therefore be the difference between an AL East title and a mere wild card berth.
Beyond helping his team, Price can also help himself with a renaissance year. If he reverts back to the form that won him a Cy Young Award and two ERA titles between 2012 and 2015, he might exercise his opt-out and go seek another monster contract on the open market.
Of course, Price will still have $127 million coming his way if he doesn’t opt out. And because the Red Sox have Chris Sale, they really only need Price to be a solid No. 2 rather than an impenetrable No. 1.
That’s not the case with this next guy.
4 of 10
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
Clayton Kershaw also has an opt-out that he can exercise after the 2018 season. Since he has “only” $70 million to gain by opting back in, chances are he’ll use it if his season lives up to expectations.
But therein lies the tricky part: those expectations are huge.
Kershaw is always expected to be at the front of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ World Series charge. With last year’s near miss in the past and Kershaw’s possible exit in the future, the pressure on him to live up to that role will be higher than ever.
To this end, it’s impossible to ignore the three-time Cy Young Award winner’s warts.
Kershaw, 30, must put his recent injury woes behind him. He must also curtail a home run rate that got out of whack in 2018. And while it’s not yet worth panicking about, he must now also work on getting his fastball velocity up from his 91.0 mph average on Opening Day.
And that’s just for the regular season. Kershaw can certainly help the Dodgers’ cause by finally having a consistently dominant postseason when (it’s not a matter of if) they get to October. That would also erase the big black spot on his personal resume.
Mind you, Kershaw would get paid the big bucks in free agency no matter what happens this year. A list of bigger question marks begins with…
5 of 10
Mark Cunningham/Getty Images
Josh Donaldson’s primary responsibility in 2018 is leading the Toronto Blue Jays back to the postseason.
It won’t be easy.
Nobody is going to equate what the Blue Jays have to what’s in New York and Boston. Toronto is deeper after loading up on role players (Curtis Granderson, Jaime Garcia, et al.) over the offseason, but its roster is marked more by depth than by many stars.
Among the stars the Blue Jays do have, nobody comes close to Donaldson’s importance. As one of the five best hitters in baseball since 2015, he has MVP upside if he can stay healthy. That’s not a small “if” for at least three reasons:
Meanwhile, it’s no secret that Donaldson also has free-agent value to build.
If he has the kind of year he’s capable of, he should get a contract that, while short on years, will be plenty long on dollars. If not, even he may feel the burn of a market that’s getting less and less forgiving of older players’ flaws.
Somewhere in the same boat is our next player.
6 of 10
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
While Donaldson was busy winning the American League MVP in 2015, Dallas Keuchel was busy winning the AL Cy Young Award.
It’s been somewhat of a rocky road for the sinker-balling lefty since then.
Keuchel pitched through 2016 with a sore shoulder and suffered an ERA regression from 2.48 to 4.55. He got his ERA back down to 2.90 in 2017, but in only 23 starts due to further injury trouble.
Of course, that didn’t prevent the Houston Astros from winning their first World Series championship. And with Keuchel set alongside Justin Verlander and new addition Gerrit Cole, their starting rotation is just one reason to believe they can win their second in 2018.
The World Series hangover is tough to shake, however. Should the Astros start dragging their feet because of it, Keuchel will have to do his part to carry the team.
Naturally, any kind of return to his Cy Young form will also help Keuchel’s chances of scoring a massive contract on the 2018-2019 market. If he turns in a third straight season marred by injury and/or ineffectiveness instead, teams may look at him and merely see a 31-year-old former ace.
In New York, there’s another pitcher with even more to prove.
7 of 10
Adam Hunger/Associated Press
Matt Harvey being one of the most coveted pitchers in baseball isn’t ancient history.
Despite losing 2014 to Tommy John surgery, he didn’t miss a beat returning in 2015 with a 2.71 ERA in the regular season and a 3.04 ERA in the New York Mets’ World Series run. After all that, he seemed to be safely back on the track that had made him an All-Star and back in 2013.
Then the last two seasons happened.
A series of health maladies—most notably including surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome—have limited Harvey to 36 appearances since 2016. In those, he’s put up a 5.78 ERA and struggled with his fastball velocity and, well, pretty much everything.
Following a spring season that featured improved velocity and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings, Harvey appears to have turned a corner. Having him back would go a long way toward helping the Mets return to contention. It would also resurrect Harvey’s market value just in time for his free agency.
Or, Harvey’s strong spring could prove a mirage. In that event, the Mets will be down a pitcher and Harvey’s once-mighty value will be basically zilch on the open market.
Even still, he may not want to be in the shoes of our No. 3 man.
8 of 10
Shohei Ohtani came to the States with the goal of doing his native Japan proud by becoming Major League Baseball’s best two-way player since Babe Ruth.
That’s one hell of a tall order. And it only got taller in spring training.
Ohtani didn’t hit the ground running in his first spring with the Los Angeles Angels. He just plain hit the ground. On the mound, he put up a 27.00 ERA in two Cactus League starts and mostly struggled in other assignments. At the plate, he went 4-for-32 with no extra-base hits.
The 23-year-old’s form was about as ugly as those numbers. The good stuff that he flashed as a pitcher was undercut by inconsistent mechanics and poor command. The good eye that he flashed as a hitter was overruled by his lack of answers for the stuff he was seeing.
Nonetheless, the show must go on. Ohtani made the Angels’ Opening Day roster and subsequently provided a small ray of hope for his bat with a single off the first pitch he saw. Up next is his pitching debut on Sunday.
These could be merely the first steps of Ohtani’s quest toward redemption. Or, they’ll be footnotes in a more depressing tale to be written at a later date.
And yet, there are two guys with more pressure on their shoulders.
9 of 10
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
One thing that’s not really a factor for Ohtani is money. Indeed, it may not be until he’s a free agent in six years.
Between now and then, it sure would help if Manny Machado did his part to reset the market this winter.
To be sure, the 25-year-old has enough on his plate on the meantime.
He must prove that he can be as good at shortstop as he was at third base. He must also bounce back at the plate following a “down” year in 2017. In either event, he needs to carry a Baltimore Orioles team that’s an even bigger AL East underdog than Donaldson’s Blue Jays. If the Orioles aren’t up to it, Machado may find himself having to carry an entirely new team on the other side of the July 31 trade deadline.
And yet, his looming free agency will never not be its own narrative this year.
As a player with a to-die-for combination of talent and youth, Machado could hit the open market and chase a deal worth up to $400 million. You can bet that many of his fellow players will be rooting for him, as a contract like that could help force the free-agent market out of its recent stagnation.
Imagine a version of Machado with even more pressure hanging over him, and you get our No. 1 guy.
10 of 10
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
This is it. Bryce Harper’s long-awaited and long-talked-about walk year is finally here.
First things first: He has to help get the Washington Nationals where they’ve been trying to go since drafting Harper at No. 1 overall back in 2010.
Thanks in large part to Harper’s rise as an All-Star and an MVP, the Nationals haven’t had many problems winning games since he joined the team in 2012. The 25-year-old has averaged a .902 OPS and 25 homers, and they’ve averaged 92.5 wins and won four NL East titles.
And yet, the franchise’s first World Series title remains elusive. The only way that’s going to change is if Harper once again realizes his MVP upside and, above all, stays healthy. As good as he’s been, neither of these outcomes has ever been guaranteed throughout his career.
If Harper proves equal to these tasks and, ideally, also helps the Nationals win a World Series on his way out the door to the free-agent market, $400 million may be just the starting point for the bidding on his services.
If not, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up with less than Machado in the end. That would still be a lot of money, but not quite enough to make history or to boost the market for others.