Sources: Manny Machado sweepstakes have slowed to a crawl

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

At times, executives involved in the Manny Machado sweepstakes say, they get the impression that the Baltimore Orioles are ready to make a deal, to ship out the best player on baseball’s trade market soon. And then time ticks by, silence fills the air and the next conversation is an exercise in brake-pumping, to the point where the executives wonder if the Orioles want to trade Machado at all.

As the All-Star break approaches and teams jockey to move to the front of the Machado queue, what was expected to play out – the Orioles’ notoriously finicky ways slowing the process to a grind – is hewing to form, multiple executives discussing a Machado deal with Baltimore told Yahoo Sports.

There are no need for alarm bells yet, the executives said, with more than two weeks left to strike a deal. And perhaps one of these times, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette – the point person in Machado discussions, sources said – will speed up talks and send the All-Star shortstop away from the worst team in baseball and to a contender.

What will it take to land Machado?

It’s unclear yet whether push-and-pull tack will juice the market for Machado. Two executives, when asked the price for Machado, landed on nearly an identical package: a top 100-type prospect as the centerpiece and two higher-ceiling sorts surrounding him. Essentially, what the Texas Rangers extracted from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year in the deadline deal for Yu Darvish.

The Baltimore Orioles are likely to deal Manny Machado. The question is, when? (AP)
The Baltimore Orioles are likely to deal Manny Machado. The question is, when? (AP)

Machado, 26, is a superior player to Darvish, and thus Duquette has aimed high in his asking prices, preferring to extract a higher-end centerpiece and more established secondary players, according to sources. Machado is hitting .316/.385/.573 with 23 home runs and 64 RBIs as he prepares to hit free agency this winter. And though teams that deal for him now would control him for 3½ months, Baltimore believes the number interested warrants a higher-than-last-year price for a rent-a-player.

Two executives pegged the Milwaukee Brewers as the favorites, though that was more out of need and available players to trade than any insight into what the Orioles are planning. The opacity of the talks has left teams confused, as Duquette is adept at not tipping his hand, and multiple teams, including the Brewers and Dodgers, have looked into acquiring other hitters as a hedge against the uncertainty, according to sources.

Among those are Cincinnati second baseman Scooter Gennett – though sources familiar with Reds are dubious that the team has any intent of dealing him – Minnesota second baseman Brian Dozier and New York Mets infielder Asdrubal Cabrera. Teams also continue to push the Texas Rangers, who have shown a willingness to discuss all of their position players, even parts of their talented and under-control young core, in an effort to bulk up their starting pitching.

The Yankees are still in the mix

The Machado and pitching markets could collide in interesting ways as the deadline approaches. While multiple executives deemed talks slow and deliberative, the sense is they’ll pick up rapidly after the All-Star break, with starting pitching – or the lack thereof – a distinct driver of market forces. The New York Yankees, for example, clearly have a greater need for a starting pitcher than they do a third baseman, and yet their discussion with Baltimore on a possible Machado deal have continued.

One theory that has gained popularity among rival executives is that the Yankees want to deal rookie third baseman Miguel Andujar for a controllable starting pitcher and slot Machado in at third. They are not the only ones who like him at third, either. The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves have made it clear in talks they would deal for him only if he were willing to shift back to the position at which he spent his first six years in the major leagues, according to sources.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman refuted to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman the notion that the team is down on Andujar’s defense, even though teams’ internal metrics and publicly available defense metrics agree his first half-season has been awful. The idea behind targeting Machado is nevertheless compelling, as MLB’s playoff structure deeply punishes wild-card teams.

The Yankees could win 105 games this season and still be subject to a one-game coin flip against the second wild-card team in the American League. Part of the calculus behind any deal, and particularly one as high-profile and -cost as a Machado trade would be, is how much closer he puts them to separating themselves from the Red Sox in the division. If the Yankees, who currently sit 3½ games back of Boston, believe Machado is worth three or four more wins than Andujar over the final 70 or so games of the season, the impetus to strike a deal grows.

What about the pitching market?

The cratering of an already-bad starting pitching market doesn’t help the Yankees’ prospects. The ostensible best one available, Toronto left-hander J.A. Happ, has allowed 25 runs in his last five starts. Texas’ Cole Hamels yielded seven runs in each of his past two starts. The possibility looms that the Mets could take advantage of the grim state of available starting pitching and shop Jacob deGrom and/or Noah Syndergaard. At very least, Zack Wheeler is on the radar of the Yankees and others, though it would take an ace-type to extract 22-year-old Justus Sheffield, who could join the Yankees down the stretch should they not make a deal.

When Wheeler and Matt Harvey and Mike Minor and perhaps Michael Fulmer constitute the apex of trade-deadline arms, the grimness is obvious. With a wide-open National League and AL teams jockeying for playoff position, there should be a feeding frenzy. Instead, it’s stagnation, waiting, wondering what the first move is going to be.

There’s still a strong belief Machado will be traded and unplug the dam, not just because there are so many teams interested but because Baltimore will get far more value for him via a deal than it would with the draft pick it’d reap by keeping him and tendering him a qualifying offer this winter. The question is when it will happen, when the stop-and-start nature of negotiations will end and the real deal-making will begin.

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