Among qualified hitters, Manny Machado currently ranks eighth in baseball in wRC+. He ranks 12th in baseball in WAR, despite some ugly defensive numbers that might not reflect his actual talent. This isn’t just a flash in the pan, either; the projections the rest of the way have Machado as a top-ten value. Which is all to say, Manny Machado is all kinds of good. He’s an incredible player months away from becoming a free agent, and it’s been clear he’d be traded since shortly after the season began. It was only a question of where, and for how much. Today we have our answers.
Machado plays for the Dodgers now. The Dodgers had been thought of as a favorite from the moment they lost Corey Seager. They held off for a while — maybe the Orioles couldn’t pull the trigger, or maybe the Dodgers thought they might clever their way in another direction. We are, though, where many people assumed we would eventually be. The Dodgers have rented a new superstar, and the Orioles’ rebuild is finally underway. It will never hurt worse than it hurts at this instant.
- Manny Machado
With the trade, we learn more about the price of a star-level rental. Let it not be suggested the Dodgers got Machado for cheap. You could see all five of the players going the other way reaching the majors. In rumors, Machado had been linked to teams like the Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks. That’s undoubtedly part of the whole idea.
I don’t want to overstate how much this matters, down the stretch and in the playoffs, but this market has had exactly one Manny Machado. Now, in fairness, it’s different if the Mets become actually serious about moving Jacob deGrom. deGrom would represent his own major splash. But should he stay put, there’s just not that much of significance available, and what’s there doesn’t compare to Machado. Brad Hand is a great reliever, sure. But he’s a reliever. The prominent starters include Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Nathan Eovaldi. On the position-player side, there’s Brian Dozier, and Mike Moustakas, and maybe Whit Merrifield. Maybe Scooter Gennett, and maybe Nicholas Castellanos. There are ways for other teams to improve, and other teams certainly will improve, but the Dodgers got the biggest get. In so doing, they also kept that get away from their competition.
We should talk about that competition. I know the Dodgers have finished in first in the NL West five years in a row, and I know it’s easy to assume they’ll shortly make it six. Our playoff odds are big fans of theirs. But if you reflect on, say, the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Cubs, the Cubs at that point were in first by a margin of seven games. Right now the Dodgers are just a half-game up on the Diamondbacks. They’re two up on the Rockies and four up on the Giants, and the wild-card picture is close and crowded. The likelihood was already that the Dodgers would finish first and reach the NLDS, but this is an improvement for more than just October. Machado improves the Dodgers’ projection by multiple wins, and those multiple wins could make an enormous difference. It’s that much less likely the Dodgers end up on the outside looking in. It’s that much less likely they’re faced with a one-game playoff. The Dodgers have gotten better, while their rivals haven’t. If you want to talk about win curves, the Dodgers are right where a big move can make the greatest impact.
It’s not like I really need to sell you on Machado, or on how he makes the Dodgers stronger. I do want to say, to Machado’s credit, he’s having what could be the best year of his career, with what was a terrible Orioles team that was out of it from the start. Machado seldom took a play off anyhow, and he’s never made more frequent contact. He’s never been more selective. Machado the hitter is ascending, and now, let’s think about his 156 wRC+. Out of the eight Dodgers who have batted at least 250 times, the worst wRC+ belongs to Enrique Hernandez, at 112. Out of the ten Dodgers who have batted the most often, only Logan Forsythe has swung a below-average bat, and he’s precisely the guy who’s about to lose the most playing time. This is going to be a juggernaut lineup. Even if you assume some regression for, say, Max Muncy and Matt Kemp, this is going to be terrifying. Some players will just need to be shuffled around.
Machado goes to short. Chris Taylor, presumably, goes to second. Muncy should get a lot of time at first, but then that somewhat displaces Cody Bellinger to the outfield. It’s a crowded outfield! Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson. Andrew Toles. Kemp. Bellinger. Hernandez. The Dodgers have never been afraid of their depth, but this could become their next resource. An outfielder might get moved in order to land a reliever or two. Machado checked off the most important box, but upgrades remain, should the Dodgers want to be greedy. They clearly intend to go for it, having now become the NL’s best team, and there’s flexibility to make more tweaks. Given how close the Dodgers are to the luxury-tax threshold, and given their reluctance to exceed it, they’ll have to be creative, but I suspect they prefer it that way. A move like getting Machado is almost too obvious.
The Dodgers’ side of this is easy. In the short-term, I mean. Good Team Gets Better. That’s the whole point. The cost is five young players. Valera, admittedly, is older than Machado is, and in our recent top 131 midseason prospect update, none of the players made an appearance. That shouldn’t be taken to mean the Orioles got hosed. Diaz is thought of as the headliner, but I’ve got fun facts for everybody.
DIAZ (21, OF): Out of the players in Double-A with at least 200 plate appearances, Diaz is one of just four with more walks than strikeouts.
KREMER (22, SP): Out of the players in High-A with at least 50 innings, Kremer is second in K-BB%.
POP (21, RP): Out of everyone in the minors with at least 40 innings, Pop is ninth in ground-ball rate.
BANNON (22, 2B/3B): Out of the players in High-A with at least 200 plate appearances, Bannon is sixth in wRC+.
VALERA (26, 2B/SS/3B): Out of the players in Triple-A with at least 200 plate appearances, Valera is one of just seven with more walks than strikeouts.
All of that is just statistics, and some people argue that the utility of minor-league statistics is limited, but you see upside in all five players. At least, you can see a brighter future for all five players. It’s not just about Diaz, although Diaz is already one of the better prospects the Orioles possess.
He’s a likely corner outfielder, and if his career to this point is any indication, he won’t become a threat on the basepaths. He doesn’t have eye-popping power, but Eric Longenhagen says he’s got a little extra now he can tap into. Impressively, since last year, Diaz has added substantially onto his walk rate while dramatically trimming his strikeouts. Between levels in 2017, Diaz had 45 walks and 102 whiffs. In 2018, he’s at 41 and 39, respectively. His approach has matured, which means a power boost could be around the corner. There’s not much keeping Diaz now from the majors. I will say it’s not great that, since 2016, he’s already had several stints on the disabled list.
Compared to the general consensus, I might be one of the low guys on Diaz. But I like some things I see from the others. Pop is just a reliever, but with his dynamite sinker, he could move very fast. I’m impressed by what Kremer was able to do in the hitter-friendly Cal League, and he’s become one of the Orioles’ higher-upside arms. Bannon has proven he knows how to lift the ball with authority. And Valera can handle shortstop while making constant contact. He’s been an above-average hitter with a single-digit strikeout rate over nearly 1,000 plate appearances in Triple-A. The Orioles would be wise to now give him an extended shot, because he should be ready to help right now.
From the Dodgers’ standpoint, they kept most of their most valuable prospects, but they gave up five potential major leaguers. That’s why the Orioles should feel okay about this. I expected them to get three interesting players, not five, and while there are varying degrees of “interesting,” I don’t think a better package was out there. I doubt one would’ve become available. The Dodgers might even admit they overpaid. Which raises a fascinating idea.
The Dodgers signed Diaz by throwing money at him. Nothing too complicated. Pop, though, was taken in last year’s seventh round. Bannon was taken in last year’s eighth round. Kremer was taken in the previous year’s 14th round. Valera came over in a minor trade for a low-tier prospect. All of these players have been good in 2018. They reflect very well on the Dodgers’ player-development system.
We don’t have good public evaluations of player-development systems. It’s something that’s virtually impossible to study. But it also makes all the sense in the world that some teams would be well ahead of others, and from things I’ve heard from people in the game, the Dodgers are outstanding in this regard. They’re not alone — I’ve heard similarly flattering things about the Astros and Yankees — but let’s accept, for now, the Dodgers are at least better than average. That means they’d be more able to turn raw talent into results. That means they’d be more able to find the next Kremer, or Pop, or Bannon, or whoever. If the Dodgers believe they’re better than most everyone else at creating interesting prospects, then it doesn’t hurt so much to trade interesting prospects, because the reinforcements are coming. It would allow the Dodgers to have a different idea of what it is to overpay. They wouldn’t have to sweat the smallest margins, if there’s an improvement to be acquired.
Doesn’t mean the Dodgers aren’t stingy. Doesn’t mean the Dodgers don’t still love the prospects they have. But the player-development hierarchy is real to some extent, and it has real effects on the entire landscape. It’s something for the Orioles to consider, as well — how successful are these players now likely to be moving forward, given that they’re entering a different system with different methods? I don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully the players at least haven’t forgotten the things that have allowed them to have success so far.
Moves like this are always brutal for one of the teams involved. The Orioles have had to say goodbye to Manny Machado, just as the White Sox had to say goodbye to Chris Sale (and others), or as the Marlins had to say goodbye to Christian Yelich (and others). It’s particularly disappointing for the Orioles to have to say goodbye just as Machado is approaching his ceiling, but at least they know they did have a window. From 2012 – 2016, the Orioles won more games than any other team in the American League. The Orioles, with Machado, had a chance. The chances simply evaporated. At this point, there was no other path. It’s going to be a long rebuild, for an organization in need of an overhaul. With luck, some or all of these five new players can take some of the edge off.
For Machado, he was already looking ahead to free agency. Now he also gets to look ahead to an energizing and competitive second half, a stretch of baseball that might see him and the Dodgers end up in the World Series. That’s the big idea, as obvious as it is. The Dodgers traded for Manny Machado because they want to win it all, and he was the best player out there. Odds are, they’re still going to fall short. That doesn’t mean there’s no sense in changing the odds when you can. Another chance like this is never guaranteed.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.