Schmuck: Orioles might be testing the law of diminishing returns with Machado

The Orioles hold the most valuable trade chip heading into the eye of this year’s midseason trading period, and they had better be careful not to hang on to superstar shortstop Manny Machado too long.

Every day they wait to make a deal is another day that a prospective trade partner doesn’t get the benefit of one of baseball’s most productive all-around players, which — if there is any logic to all this — subtly decreases Machado’s value.

That’s why there is some buzz in Philadelphia, where the Orioles open a two-game interleague series Tuesday night. The Phillies are very much alive in the playoff hunt and Machado would certainly improve their prospects, so it’s logical to be on trade alert this week.

Well, actually, acquiring Machado would decrease their prospects if we’re talking about the minor league talent that would be required to pry him away. The Orioles are hoping to get a lot younger as they deal away some of their potential free agents, which might be why they have been slow to get on with it.

It probably seems like it would be easy to shop a player of Machado’s caliber. There are a bunch of teams interested and his value is unquestioned. Who wouldn’t want to add a potential Most Valuable Player at this point in the season?

The problem isn’t the suitors. It’s evaluating the market.

The Orioles need to get as much as they possibly can for Machado, but what exactly does that mean? The fact that he is headed for free agency in November puts a limit on the level of organizational talent a contending team might be willing to give up to rent a dynamic player for three months (plus possible playoffs).

Executive vice president Dan Duquette originally hoped to get several top prospects when he put Machado out for bid at last December’s winter meetings, but the offers obviously weren’t good enough to get a deal done.

Though there has been chatter that interest in Machado is more intense now than it was then, Duquette and his staff still face the very difficult task of figuring out exactly when the right moment — and the right deal — has arrived.

The Orioles need to act sooner rather than later, but that decision is a lot tougher now than it will be in three weeks.

The July 31 deadline for making trades without passing players through waivers will force the issue, which is why it’s actually more comfortable to wait until the last week of July and see which teams are most desperate to improve for the stretch run.

That would make sense here if the Orioles were a marginal team that still had a long-shot chance to grab the last wild-card berth. In that situation, a lot can happen in three weeks that might prompt them to keep the team together. In the situation the Orioles find themselves, nothing is likely to change except the number of Machado game days available to the team who eventually snares him.

The Kansas City Royals, who are engaged in a tight battle with the O’s for next year’s first draft choice, figured that out in mid-June and traded closer Kelvin Herrera to the Nationals for three minor league players. They got only one player, however, who is ranked among their top 10 prospects.

Machado figures to bring the Orioles more than that no matter when they deal him, but they aren’t likely to get a slam-dunk offer this week or next that is going to make their decision easier. They’ll have to trust their evaluation system and be decisive.

Both Duquette and predecessor Andy MacPhail had success building the Orioles playoff teams by holding out for the best possible deal. MacPhail got a surprisingly large return for pitcher Eric Bedard that helped lay the foundation for the club’s 2012 turnaround and Duquette made several late deals and signings that led to three playoff appearances.

The stakes now are the same, but the situation is not. The Orioles have to deal Machado and several other veteran players before the deadline, so they need to act quickly if they want there to be as many decent young players out there as possible.

The longer they wait, the more contenders are going to shift to other priorities and the more also-rans are going to be ahead of the Orioles in line to harvest the best available talent.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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