Since the Orioles started listening to offers for Manny Machado, people have been trying to find the best trade partner for Baltimore to match up with. Unfortunately for Dan Duquette, the list of teams that have a glaring need at either SS or 3B and are in position to pay what it will take to land a one-year rental is pretty short. Teams like the Astros, Dodgers, Nationals, Red Sox, and Cubs are pretty well set on the left side of the infield. Peter Angelos doesn’t want Machado on the Yankees. The Phillies make sense as a bidder for Machado next year, but not really this year.
That has led to a situation where teams like the White Sox and Diamondbacks are being mentioned as leading suitors, even though they don’t really fit what we’d think a Machado buyer would look like. The Cubs and Red Sox have gotten some mentions, but deals with those teams don’t actually make all that much sense. Especially with the Orioles apparently looking for big-league ready pitching in exchange, finding a team that lines up with Baltimore on a trade for their franchise player isn’t particularly easy.
But there’s one team that has the assets Baltimore is looking for, the incentive to make a substantial upgrade in 2018, and a spot for Machado in their line-up. The team that should land Manny Machado? The Cleveland Indians.
The Indians are already in a strong position for 2018, currently projected for 93 wins, the third-highest total in MLB. They don’t need Machado in the sense that they won’t win without him. But while they’ve got a strong core to sustain contention for a while, if the Indians want to bring a World Series title home, 2018 might be their best shot for a while.
The team has young stars in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, plus Corey Kluber is locked up through 2021, so there’s no big crash coming, but the team’s role players stand to get significantly worse after this season. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, the pillars of the team’s bullpen, are both eligible for free agency at the end of the year, and both will likely be priced out of what Cleveland is comfortable paying. Edwin Encarnacion is 35 this year, and the team probably can’t count on him hitting at his recent levels forever. Jason Kipnis isn’t getting any younger, and they can’t be sure that Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar’s arms will continue to hold together.
The 2019 Indians will likely be worse than the 2018 squad, and at the same time, their AL opponents are likely only to get even stronger. The Astros have elite prospects Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley on the way to offset their potential loss of Dallas Keuchel. The Yankees are clearing room under the luxury tax so they can get in on the bidding for Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw, or Manny Machado next winter. The Red Sox get to clear $40 million in dead money from their books next winter when the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval contracts expire, and they will likely reallocate that towards another premium free agent.
The AL has some strong contenders now, but a year from now, the competition could be even more formidable, and the Indians should probably take their shot to win it all before the big money contenders create an even more difficult path to the title.
And, unlike the other teams in similar situations, the Indians have a pretty easy path to acquiring Machado. Jose Ramirez could easily slide back to second base, opening up third base for Machado, and giving the team likely the best infield in Major League Baseball. Yandy Diaz’s minor league numbers and exit velocity make him an interesting long-term play, but he could still serve as a useful utility infielder and platoon-mate for whatever left-handed first baseman the team signs, so Machado wouldn’t be displacing or replacing a high-quality player, as he would have to in other cities.
And the Indians are one of the few teams with the kind of MLB-ready pitching depth the Orioles are apparently looking for. A package built around Mike Clevinger or Danny Salazar should get Dan Duquette’s attention, and the Indians have enough good arms to spare either one. Toss in some secondary pieces with a bit lesser value — maybe expendable young guys like Erik Gonzalez and Greg Allen — who could make Baltimore’s roster this year, and the Indians have enough pieces that aren’t low-level prospects that should get Baltimore interested.
Of course, one could reasonably argue that the Orioles should just give up on any short-term goals, given today’s news about Zach Britton blowing out his achilles tendon. Even if they decided to pivot towards long-term prospects, the Indians have plenty of talent a bit further away as well. KATOH favorite Yu-Cheng Chang could be a particularly interesting fit as a replacement for Machado, for instance.
Given their revenues, the Indians aren’t going to be players for the top-end free agents still on the market, so trading for Machado is one of the few substantial upgrades the team can realistically make. And given their chance to win now, in the last year that they’ll have Miller and Allen anchoring the back of their bullpen, the Indians shouldn’t just be content to roll into October with a good team and hope for the best.
The Astros are already a behemoth. The Yankees will be one soon. There’s a window here for Cleveland to take advantage of their depth, and 2018 looks like their best shot to bring a championship back to Ohio. It’s not every day a guy like Machado becomes available and you don’t have to bid against the big boys to acquire him. There’s a unique opportunity here for the Indians, and they should seize it while they still can.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.