Orioles beat writer Eduardo A. Encina talks about the start of baseball's winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — While the Orioles front office continues to declare that it has no plans to trade third baseman Manny Machado this offseason, this week’s winter meetings will begin to give the team more clarity whether the franchise has any chance — or willingness — to keep its top all-around player long term.
Machado is scheduled for free agency at the end of the 2018 season, and there is no sign of movement in retaining the three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner before he could hit the open market at the age of 26. At this point, it seems unlikely the Orioles will be able to retain the superstar third baseman, but the team hasn’t written off that possibility quite yet..
At the winter meetings, which will take place at the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World from Monday through early Thursday, there’s no question other teams will inquire about Machado’s availability in a trade.
The Orioles have not yet reached out to Machado’s representatives from MVP Sports Group this offseason regarding an extension, according to an industry source, but it would be customary for the team to meet with them this week to discuss Machado’s future with the club.
No potential discussion figures to go very far. The Orioles aren’t aiming to start a rebuild in 2018 even though there are many reasons they should, including the division-rival New York Yankees’ pending acquisition of reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton.
Besides Machado, closer Zach Britton, center fielder Adam Jones and setup man Brad Brach also are scheduled to become free agents after next season, and the trade value of each player declines the longer he remains under team control. The team’s long-term leadership is also uncertain, as both executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter enter the final year of their contracts in 2018.
Oh, and the Orioles still need to massively retool the major leagues’ worst starting rotation this offseason.
But when talking about the Orioles’ future, it truly all centers on Machado. If the Orioles intend to keep him as the team’s cornerstone player for years to come, they will have to pay handsomely, and because of that any other major move they make — whether it be this week or in the years to come — plays into the investment needed to keep Machado. And Duquette said this past week that it will be an offseason priority whether the club can retain Machado beyond next season.
“That’s an important question for the club,” Duquette said. “Well it’s an important decision for the team. That’s going to demand the attention of the club and the ownership.
“Manny’s been a great player for the Orioles,” Duquette said. “He’s done a good job here for a number years. So he carries significant value to the 2018 club. Anything beyond that, I’m sure will become clear, what the organization chooses to do and what Manny chooses to do. That will demand a close look at all the factors.”
In some ways, it’s discouraging that the Orioles don’t already have that clarity. The lack of traction in extension talks over the past few years have all parties — the team, his representatives and even Machado — unpersuaded that the home-grown talent will ultimately remain in Baltimore.
The worst-case scenario would be letting Machado walk without making him an offer to stay. And if Machado remains with the Orioles through 2018, the club would have to be content with allowing one of the game’s best players to leave with only a compensation draft pick.
“We like Manny Machado,” Duquette said. “There’s a provision in place where if free agents leave your club you get a draft pick, so it’s not like the club is without compensation. Like I said, Manny’s been an excellent player for the Orioles and he adds a lot of value to the 2018 ballclub. Beyond that, that’s another decision.”
Duquette will listen to trade offers for Machado, but at this point, he has no intention to deal him because, to the front office, his value is greater in an Orioles uniform than out of it, no matter the haul he could bring.
Even though Machado is coming off a down season — he had a 2.8 WAR (wins above replacement) after recording a 6.6 and 6.9 in 2016 and 2015, respectively — Machado and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will be the crown jewels of next year’s free-agent class. And because of their youth and upside, they could command deals that could supplant Stanton’s record 13-year, $325 million deal.
The Orioles’ seven-year, $161 million deal with Chris Davis, signed before the 2016 season, is the largest contract in club history, so any extension with Machado would be unprecedented for the club ownership.
Stanton’s move to the Yankees could affect Machado’s market because the New York appeared to be one of the front-runners to chase Machado and Harper next year. The Yankees worked to shed payroll to get under the luxury tax to position themselves for a big signing next year, but with at least $295 million committed to Stanton through 2028 (he can opt out after 2020), the Yankees took on an incredible amount of salary. However, that might affect Harper more than Machado because the Yankees will still need a third baseman next year.
As for the Orioles, any major extension negotiations regarding Machado likely wouldn’t occur until the Orioles and Machado’s reps approach the arbitration process in a few weeks. That’s when Duquette often entertains the prospect of long-term deals, but the Orioles still must leave Florida having some grasp of what it will take to keep Machado in orange in black. Only then can they decide whether that price is ultimately worth it.