The season-ending injury to Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager immediately fueled speculation that Orioles shortstop Manny Machado would be a likely target to replace him. But the Orioles don't appear willing to talk trade quite yet.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Tuesday that the team isn't ready to move parts when asked about the club's willingness to engage in trade talks regarding Machado.
"We're still evaluating our club for 2018," Duquette said by phone. "Basically, we still need to figure out where we're going to be, so I think we need a little bit more time to do that."
The Orioles open their three-game series at the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night with an 8-20 record, second worst in the American League. They entered the night 13 games back of the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox and 8½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
Machado, 25, who is eligible for free agency at the end of this season, is off to the best start of his career. Going into Tuesday, he led the AL in batting average (.361), offensive wins above replacement (2.0) and total bases (73) while ranking in the top six in hits (39, second), homers (nine, fourth), RBIs (22, sixth), on-base percentage (.448, fourth), slugging percentage (.676, fourth) and OPS (1.124, third).
Duquette said that he'd like to wait until Memorial Day before considering selling off pieces.
"I think it's important to find out where our ballclub is going this year," Duquette said. "I think the benchmark is Memorial Day. I think that's the first benchmark, about 60 days [into the season], to see how your ballclub is doing and see where you might want to go."
Before playing in Tuesday's series opener in Anaheim, Machado seemed pleased to hear that the Orioles don't plan on trading pieces until Memorial Day.
"Is that what they said?" Machado said. "Everybody in here, we've sat down and we've talked. Everybody wants to win. We know we are way better than what's been happening and how we played the last month. There's no excuses or anything, we've been playing bad. Injuries have been affecting us at the same time. One day we hit well, one day we don't, one day we pitch well, one day we don't. It's just been off. I think everyone wants to keep playing together, we've been together for the last seven years, so we want to at least make one more push for it and do everything together that we can to get back to the playoffs with the team that we have. I'm confident in the team we have here, that we can do that.
"I would like to stay here the whole year. This is a team we've been together the last seven years and playing together. I want to win with this team. Come July, come August, come tomorrow, I can't control that destiny. I just got to go out there and do whatever I can today. … Obviously, it's out of my control. The offense has to get better. Hopefully it doesn't come to that, we clean it up and start winning games.. I'm positive that when we get the 25 guys in here that are healthy and back in the lineup, we are going to surprise a lot of people. We had a bad April, but it's time to turn it around and hopefully make a push for this year."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter shrugged off the rumors before Tuesday's game, saying Machado's focus is on helping the Orioles out of their horrid start.
"It's not a subject matter in our locker room really," Showalter said. "It's something for everybody else, I suppose. Everybody here, including Manny as much as anyone is focused on trying to get back in this thing. They talk about good players, and Manny is a good player. We'll take it as a compliment. I know Manny, he's completely focused on [the field]. All those things have a way of taking care of themselves."
The Dodgers, who were one win away from a World Series title last season, have also underachieved. As Seager became their latest player to go on the disabled list, Los Angeles entered Tuesday four games under .500 at 12-16 and already trailing the National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks by eight games.
While the Dodgers have an immediate need for a shortstop — and know that there are few if any potentially available players at that position with a higher impact than Machado — his market value is just conjecture if the Orioles aren't yet willing to talk trade.
The Dodgers were one of several teams that engaged the Orioles in trade discussions for Machado during the offseason, but a deal never came together, and the Dodgers weren't ever considered among the front-runners for the three-time All-Star.
Machado and the Orioles spent Monday's day off in Southern California, but he said he didn't pay much attention to his name being circulated.
"Obviously it is [there], there is no going around it," Machado said Tuesday. "I don't want to get caught up in all that nonsense and things that I can't control. I want to keep playing, keep playing well and hopefully win some games on this road trip that we need. Just do the little things that count."
Machado's start would seem to help his value if the Orioles are willing to discuss a trade, but there could be more serious suitors — and a spike in market value — closer to the nonwaiver trade deadline when the playoff picture becomes clearer.
Any discussion with the Dodgers regarding Machado would seem to start with Los Angeles' top pitching prospect, Walker Buehler, who has already been a major league contributor this season. The Dodgers parting with their top pitching prospect for a five-month rental — even a talent such as Machado — would appear unlikely.
Trade or not, Machado seems ready to test free agency, but when asked whether he would consider an extension with a team he's traded to, he sounded more open-minded than it's been perceived.
"Everyone's waiting for the time to become a free agent, so you want to explore your options," Machado said. "But things change. Just like tomorrow, you could be traded or you could be here the whole year. I just play it by ear. … There's a price for everything. At the end of the day, we want to be treated fairly and get what we deserve. Other than that, we just go out there and play baseball."
But the reason Machado was quickly mentioned as a potential fit is that he's the only All-Star-caliber shortstop who could be made available sooner than later. Machado is perhaps the only player who would replace Seager's contributions. Since the beginning of 2016, Seager's rookie season, Machado has a 12.1 WAR, just above Seager's 12.0.
That's not to say something couldn't come together quickly after Memorial Day if the Orioles remain in the AL East cellar. The Dodgers appear willing to, at least for now, fill Seager's spot internally by moving Chris Taylor to shortstop. After Memorial Day, the Orioles front office might be more willing to talk trade.