The two biggest sports stories in Baltimore right now would not appear to be related in any way other than their geographical proximity, and yet they share a common thread.
Manny Machado seems to be headed out of town and so does the Preakness.
They even share a common number. It has been widely speculated that Machado will command a contract in excess of $300 million when he becomes a free agent after this season. It has been suggested that the only way the Preakness stays at Pimlico Race Course is if the local and state government comes up with a dramatic renovation plan that might cost about that same amount.
Pardon the well-worn play on words, but in Machado’s case, the horse may already be out of the barn.
The Orioles have dug such a deep hole during the first two months of the season that the time will soon arrive when it will make no sense to keep Machado around as a happy diversion wrapped around a lost season.
Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette tried to trade him in December and the consensus apparently was the team could do better. Absent that, the Orioles would keep Machado and hope he might lead them to one more playoff appearance before he skipped town.
Well, the playoffs are pretty much out of the question and now the choice is to deal him or end up with a compensatory draft choice. They could also sign him, but the fact that the club shopped him four months before the start of the season would indicate there is no real organizational will to do that.
It wouldn’t make sense anyway at this point. If the Orioles suddenly dug deep and came up with that kind of money, it would almost certainly preclude them re-signing Jonathan Schoop or Adam Jones or any of their other potential free agents over the next few years.
They would have to do a partial rebuild anyway, so why not start now?
Clearly Machado wants to test the market and he seems to be enjoying both the challenge of excelling during his walk year and the attention he is receiving as the Orioles pass through baseball’s large-market cities.
The only question is when to trade him and the answer should be obvious: as soon as somebody comes forth with a reasonable offer. He will never be more valuable than he is right now. He’s having an MVP-caliber season and he’s fully healthy. There is no guarantee that state of grace will prevail during the week leading up to the nonwaiver trading deadline at the end of July.
Right now, the Orioles are in Chicago and there is Machado buzz on both sides of town. The Cubs make more sense because they could afford to re-sign him and could send back a major league replacement — Addison Russell or Javier Báez — who would be under club control for several more years. Right now, Russell and prospects would seem more likely, since Báez has been too productive to give up for a short-term rental.
The Preakness isn’t going anywhere this year, of course, and shouldn’t be going anywhere ever. It is the signature Baltimore sporting event and has been since the 19th century, but its long-term future at Pimlico seems very much in doubt.
Listening to Stronach Group chief operating officer Tim Ritvo on Saturday, a move to Laurel Park within the next few years is a foregone conclusion unless the Maryland Stadium Authority and local government cobble together hundreds of millions of dollars to perform a complete renovation of Old Hilltop.
That’s going to be a tough sell if Ritvo was serious when he said the Stronach Group will not spend any more of its own money on sprucing up Pimlico, but his comments have to be viewed as part of the ongoing conversation with the MSA and the other local stakes holders.
While Ritvo envisions a Preakness at Laurel that draws fewer fans to a more gentrified environment, he might want to consider the fact that 134,000 fans showed up Saturday despite a dismal weather forecast to see Justify take the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. If the Stronach Group thinks the Washington area will embrace the Preakness in a way that makes up for the loss of interest of an abandoned Baltimore fan base, it doesn’t know Washington or Baltimore.