While the 2018 Major League Baseball season is in its infancy, many around the league are keeping an eye on the winter, which will bring about the much-anticipated free-agency class that includes Baltimore Orioles infielder Manny Machado and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.
Both stars could be looking at contracts of somewhere near $400 million as they are set to become two of the highest paid players in baseball. But one of them might not even finish this season in his current uniform.
Machado had been the subject of trade talks throughout the offseason after he was surprisingly put on the trade market by the Orioles.
It was an early indication that the franchise has narrow hopes of signing the third baseman — who wants to play shortstop next season — to a new contract. It is almost a given that he would test the waters of free agency given the kind of contract offers he’ll receive and the Orioles might not be able to keep up with some of the more big-market teams looking for a big-time bat.
The 25-year-old is among the premier infielders in baseball, averaging 35 home runs and 92 RBI over the past three seasons. He’s off to a great start this year, batting .356 in 99 at-bats with eight home runs and 17 RBI in his first 22 games.
He’s been one of the only positive things to come out of Baltimore this month though as the Orioles are off to a horrid 6-16 start, already 11.5 games behind the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox.
With the team likely going nowhere, the Orioles may feel compelled to deal Machado this summer before the trade deadline in order to spark a rebuild. Because his contract expires at the end of the season, he won’t fetch as large a return, but contending teams looking for a rental would be willing to give up some valuable assets for a chance at glory this fall.
The Yankees could be one of those suitors given their early issues in the infield. Brandon Drury’s trip to the disabled list and Neil Walker’s struggles have forced the Yankees to bring up both their young, promising prospects in Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar to play second and third base respectively. While they are considered the future, the Yankees could bring in Machado on at least a temporary basis to make an imposing lineup look even more threatening.
Granted, they would likely have to part with one of them to even get Baltimore to listen to a possible deal, which would be a dangerous gamble. Didi Gregorius has the shortstop job bolstered down, which is where Machado wants to move. Not to mention another astronomical contract like Giancarlo Stanton’s would put plenty of strain on the Yankees’ salary cap.
The crosstown Mets could also consider kicking the tires on the possibility of renting Machado. Amed Rosario, playing in his first full season, is showing early on that there still is some time needed to develop his eye at the plate along with his defense. Slating him behind Machado for a stretch run would allow the 22-year-old to learn from one of the best in the business while Yoenis Cespedes and the slumping Jay Bruce are provided with some phenomenal offensive support.
Then there are the Arizona Diamondbacks, the somewhat-surprising early leaders of the NL West after winning 15 of their first 21 games. Most of it is because of solid pitching as the D-backs have a pitching staff ranked fourth-best in the majors, allowing just 3.05 runs per game.
But in a division with the defending NL-champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona might have to find a way to up its offensive arsenal. Shortstop Nick Ahmed looks to be a clear weak link, batting just .197 in 18 games this season. Replacing him with Machado in the lineup to help out Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock could make Arizona serious contenders.