Manny Machado is on the trade block. And rightfully so, as the Orioles are not very close to the other contenders in the AL East, and are looking at losing Machado, Zach Britton, and Adam Jones to free agency next winter. There is simply too large a divide to justify holding those guys and hoping the team lucks into a Wild Card spot, so moving their best pieces while they have the most value is the rational decision.
That said, as I’ve ready some of the suggested offers various teams could make to bring Machado to their city, it seems there remains a disconnect between the understanding of Machado’s abilities and Machado’s trade value. It’s unquestioned that Machado is one of the best players in the world. He’s a star, and will be paid accordingly in free agency next year. But for anyone acquiring him, he’s a one-year rental, with some fringe benefit of being able to try to get him to give you a discount in free agency next winter. That’s worth something, but it isn’t worth the kinds of packages that people seem to expect.
For instance, let’s just take this Nick Cafardo suggestion.
The Sox would have to give up a significant everyday player (Xander Bogaerts?) and a significant pitcher (Drew Pomeranz or Eduardo Rodriguez). Not even sure that would get a deal done. They’d likely have to throw in a prospect such as Michael Chavis or Sam Travis.
No question, Machado is a better player than Bogaerts. But let’s look at this offer realistically.
Bogaerts is a second-year arbitration guy, so the Red Sox currently control his rights for both 2018 and 2019. Steamer projects him for +3.6 WAR this year, and as a guy who hasn’t racked up big power numbers, his arbitration estimate is only $7.6 million, so he’s looking at something like $20 million in salary over the next two years. Bogaerts’ open market value on a two year deal is probably north of $50 million, and might push $60 million given the lack of need to give a long-term commitment. In other words, Bogaerts is something like a $30 to $40 million value by himself.
Conflating Pomeranz and Rodriguez is a little bit tricky, since they aren’t the same thing in terms of trade chips. Pomeranz is in his walk year and makes $9 million in arbitration, so while he’s a bit of a value relative to market price — I could see him getting around $20-$25 million if he was a free agent who only wanted a one year deal — he probably wouldn’t have that much appeal to Baltimore, who would likely have to turn around and flip him too. Pomeranz has some real trade value, but isn’t a great fit for the Orioles.
Rodriguez, though, has four more years of control before he hits free agency, and while his health for 2018 is a question mark coming off knee surgery, he’s got plenty of long-term value. Even a conservative projection to account for his health issues likely puts him at $60 or $70 million over the next four years, and that might be low; teams are paying $10 million to the likes of Drew Smyly and Michael Pineda with the expectation of getting almost nothing from them in 2018, and then only getting one healthy year as a reward for their patience.
Given his low number of innings thrown, Rodriguez won’t get ridiculous payments through arbitration, even as a Super Two, with MLBTR estimating him for $2.7M this year, and probably not a huge raise next year if he misses a good chunk of the season. If he goes $2.7M/$3.7M/$7M/$11M in his arbitration years, you’re looking at about $25 million in costs, and of course, each of those years would effectively come with a team option, since the Red Sox could always non-tender him if he got too expensive relative to his production.
So Rodriguez may actually be a more valuable asset than Bogaerts, and might be pushing $40 to $50 million in value by himself. If you combine Rodriguez and Bogaerts, you’re looking at north of $70 million in value between them, and maybe as much as $90 million if you’re particularly bullish on the pair. As great as Manny Machado is, there’s just no way any rational calculation should suggest that a team should give up both Bogaerts and Rodriguez for rent-a-Machado. And the idea of that offer not being enough, and requiring a prospect on top of the package? That’s just crazy pants.
And yes, I know, it’s easy to justify offers like this by talking about how wins now matter more than wins in the future, and that there’s more to deciding trades than calculating surplus value. Of course that’s true. There are team-specific circumstances that can and should move the needle enough to rationally make inefficient deals at times. But those on-the-margin factors are basically never large enough to justify this kind of unbalanced transfer of value.
Even if the Red Sox decided that buying 2018 wins was of utmost importance, and that Bogaerts and Rodriguez should be sold off to reach that end, the team could almost certainly do better in upgrading in the short-term than trading those guys in a package for one year of Machado. The impact of star players are easily and often overvalued, and when you look at the actual difference between Bogaerts and Machado, and then account for the loss of value of what Rodriguez could give them this year, the Red Sox might only be buying a win, maybe two. To give up 2019 Bogaerts and 2019-2021 Rodriguez for a one-win present upgrade is kind of nuts.
And this isn’t just the one crazy Boston suggestion. There are also writers in Chicago suggesting Addison Russell and other stuff as a Machado offer from the Cubs. This idea of building an offer around a good-not-great young player with multiple years of control is a popular idea. But it’s not a very good one, in most cases.
Last week, I pondered whether Machado or Marcell Ozuna — a lesser player under control for one additional year — had more trade value. You guys leaned very slightly in Machado’s direction, with the poll coming out 55/45 in favor of giving up more for one year of Machado than two years of Ozuna. But then, a few days later, we actually saw Ozuna’s trade value brought to life, and it was a back-end top 100 prospect, a lottery ticket speedster who can’t hit, a lower-level arm of some note, and a throw-in.
Sure, the Marlins front office isn’t impressing anyone these days, and I’m with those who think that was a bad trade for Miami, mostly because I don’t love the guys they got back. But even if you think Sandy Alcantara and Magneuris Sierra are legitimately 50 FV prospects, we’re still not talking about the kinds of value that good young big leaguers with multiple years of control are worth. And we’re definitely not talking about a team needing to offer several of those guys.
In reality, I think even just one year of Manny Machado is probably worth something like $40 to $50 million to a contender. He’s really good, of course, but he can also provide concentrated value in one roster spot, which is important to already-good teams like the Cardinals who can’t as easily upgrade by spreading the wealth around their roster any more. For the Red Sox, I think you could actually argue that a Bogaerts/Machado deal is kind of interesting, taking some 2019 value and putting it onto their 2018 roster. Or even a Rodriguez/Machado deal could work, if the Red Sox were willing to shift Rafael Devers to first base and avoid giving a mega-contract to J.D. Martinez or Eric Hosmer.
But both of those guys, plus a prospect? No. Or Addisson Russell, who is similar to Bogaerts in production but comes with four years of control instead of two? Again, no. Machado is great. He’s not worth that kind of crazy overpay though.
And while we can talk about the philosophy and utility of star players in their walk years, almost every recent example of a deal suggests that the market is actually valuing guys in this way. Ozuna went for much less than many expected. J.D. Martinez went for almost nothing last summer. Machado will bring back more than either of those guys, but the package will probably look closer to what Miami got than one might expect. As good a talent as he is, it’s still just one year, and teams aren’t going to give up a remarkable amount of future value without also getting a huge present-value upgrade.
And once you start packaging guys like Bogaerts and Rodriguez, you’re not getting a huge upgrade anymore. You’re getting a small upgrade at a huge long-term cost, and those are the kinds of deals MLB teams have figured out just aren’t worth it.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.