ANAHEIM, CALIF. — One of the biggest questions regarding the Orioles' 2018 season — and one that moves to the forefront given the team's rocky start as well as a new development Monday — is when and if the club will deal shortstop Manny Machado.
The team shopped Machado during the winter and didn't get an offer it deemed worthwhile, deciding to keep him to start this season and make a run in a stacked American League East.
For all intents and purposes, Machado's days in an Orioles uniform are numbered. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season, so if he chooses free agency, declines a qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the Orioles would receive only a compensatory draft pick after the first round. So trading him to a contender looking to upgrade with one of the best players in the game could bring a haul that would help the Orioles in the immediate future.
The Orioles enter their six-game West Coast trip to Anaheim and Oakland with an 8-20 record. They already trail the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox by 13 games, and they're already 8½ back of the second AL wild-card spot. And even though the first month of the season has already set some haves and have-nots — there are six teams with winning percentages above .600 and five teams under .350 — a market hadn't been set on Machado's potential in-season trade value, and the Orioles figured to have time to let the market play out.
Machado has done his part. His .361 batting average leads the major leagues, and his nine homers and 1.124 OPS put him among the major league leaders.
But with news that Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager will need Tommy John surgery and be out for the remainder of the season, Los Angeles needs a starting shortstop, and it didn't take long to fuel speculation that Machado could be a potential fit.
But are the Orioles willing to trade Machado this early in the season? Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said last season that he works under the premise that you want to give your team until Memorial Day before deciding whether to trade away pieces.
The Dodgers were one of several teams that pursued Machado during the winter — the severity of Seager's lingering injury was unclear throughout the offseason and into spring training — but a deal didn't come together.
That Los Angeles now needs a shortstop definitely benefits the Orioles. The Dodgers have been underwhelming — entering Tuesday four games under .500 and eight games back of the National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Their interest could let the Orioles set a market value on Machado earlier than expected. Machado has made his desire to play shortstop known — saying he has no intent to return to third base — and by doing so, he shrunk the trade market. Before Seager's injury, there were probably three teams that seemed to be a fit at this point in the season — the Diamondbacks, the Chicago Cubs and possibly the New York Mets. But adding a big-market team like the Dodgers to the fray is good for the Orioles.
Still, the Orioles won't give Machado away. He is the team's biggest trade chip to help the immediate future. During the offseason, Duquette was looking for a haul similar to the one the Atlanta Braves received in November 2014 before Jason Heyward's final season prior to free agency. In that trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, the received a young but experienced high-end starting pitcher in Shelby Miller and a top-100 prospect in right-hander Tyrell Jenkins.
The Orioles are still in need of high-impact young arms who could help soon, and with the exception of Double-A right-hander Hunter Harvey, few exist in their farm system. The Dodgers have some, headlined by their top prospect, right-hander Walker Buehler, who has already contributed at the major league level this year. But he seems to be the only Dodgers high-impact pitching prospect close to contributing, and it seems unlikely Los Angeles baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman would deal a top prospect for a five-month rental. Top position-player prospect Alex Verdugo will play an increased role because of Seager's injury, so he doesn't seem to be going anywhere.
Maybe the biggest factor is whether the Orioles are willing to trade Machado yet. At this point, it appears as though they would have to be overwhelmed by an offer to move him now. The Dodgers need immediate help. Could that draw the haul that would tempt the Orioles?
But keep in mind the Orioles have had difficulty executing big deals as recently as last trade deadline, when a deal to trade closer Zach Britton fell apart in the 11th hour. With Seager out, Machado would seem to be the Dodgers' top target, but it takes more than that to execute a major trade.