It’s been all quiet on the southern front with the Indians at the winter meetings in Orlando.
No big free agent signings.
No big trades.
Maybe they just need a little nudge. We’re always here to help, so let’s nudge away:
Consider pursuing a trade for Manny Machado.
That’s nuts, right? The price tag, one or two top prospects, would be exorbitant. It would only be a one-year rental because Machado can be a free agent after the 2018 season. It would add Machado’s $11.5 million salary to the Indians’ payroll in 2018, and they’d have no chance of keeping him beyond that because as a free agent he could reel in a $100 million contract, and the Indians don’t swim in those waters.
But let’s look closer.
Adding Machado at third base would, for one year anyway, give the Indians the best infield in the majors, with elite, All-Star hitters and Gold Glove caliber defenders at second, short and third. Over the last three years Machado has hit .280, averaged 35 home runs and 92 RBIs per year with a 17.2 WAR.
Imagine a 2018 lineup whose first five hitters would be Francisco Lindor, Machado, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley. The Indians are built on pitching, especially starting pitching, and an infield with Ramirez, Lindor and Machado would be where groundballs go to die.
What would it take to get the Orioles to trade Machado to Cleveland? Probably a package built around one of the Indians’ top prospects, perhaps catcher Francisco Mejia, pitcher Triston McKenzie or shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang.
The Orioles are limited in what they can reasonably ask because the buyer would be buying Machado as a one-year rental.
On the other hand, the Orioles should be motivated to get what they can for Machado now, because Baltimore WITH Machado, still finished last in the muscular AL East in 2017, and with the Yankees and Red Sox in another payroll arms race, the chance for any upward mobility within the division seems remote for the Birds.
Meanwhile, the Indians would be the perfect Machado shopper, even if it is for only one year. In fact, the Indians are a perfect match BECAUSE it may be for only one year.
Why is that? Because 2018 needs to be an all-in year for the Tribe, more so than any in their recent history. Consider the following. They have already lost two of their top relievers. The indefatigable Bryan Shaw signed with Colorado as a free agent. And free agent Joe Smith signed with Houston.
After the 2018 season, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen both become free agents, as does Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister. So there’s a scenario in which, after the 2018 season, the Indians are going to have to rebuild their entire bullpen.
It’s possible that the Indians could lose both Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce, two big middle-of-the-order bats, to free agency this winter. Should that happen, they would undoubtedly add a bat or two, but that’s all those additions would be — bats.
Adding Machado would be adding a bat AND a glove.
Even if for only one year.
Two? If the Indians acquired Machado, they could make him a qualifying offer for 2019, and who’s to say he wouldn’t accept it? Maybe he comes to Cleveland, the Indians win it all, or come close, and he decides he likes it here enough to stay around for one more year.
Even if he doesn’t, by giving Machado a qualifying offer, the Indians would get a first-round draft pick for losing him to free agency.
All of which is not to say the Indians are, or should be in any way desperate to add Machado. They still have the guts of the best starting rotation in the majors under control for the next three (Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer) or four (Corey Kluber) years.
So the Indians aren’t going anywhere as AL Central kingpins.
But pursuing a trade for Machado is worth a thought. It may not even be that pricey. Assuming they gave up one of their top minor league prospects, and perhaps a second-tier prospect or two, the Indians would be adding a player of Machado’s stature without giving up a player who figures to be in their Opening Day lineup.
Payroll-wise, trading Jason Kipnis would remove from the club’s balance sheet the $30.8 million and two years left on his contract (which includes a $2.5 million buyout for 2020). After 2019, Encarnacion’s $60 million deal goes away.
Who knows? Maybe the Indians could find room to sign Machado long term after all.
I know, let’s not get carried away.
There’s plenty of time for that with my next suggestion:
Danny Salazar to the Yankees for Clint Frazier.