Top Trade Target: Third Base

Manny Machado, Orioles

Out of all the potential deals discussed in the “Top Trade Target” series, a deal involving the Orioles franchise player would be by far the most impactful. With Machado set to be a free agent at the end of 2018 and the Orioles not looking to contend, it makes sense that the club would be eager to get some kind of return for their third baseman this offseason. Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette has already spoken about his desire to acquire two big league ready starting pitchers in any trade for Machado, which is a high asking price, but fair given the dearth of talent in the Orioles rotation.

The Indians not only have exactly what is on Duquette’s wish list, they also have a hole at third base and a closing title window, checking all the boxes as a logical trade partner. The Indians are currently projected to win 93 games, a full twelve games ahead of the next closest team in their division, so it is pretty much certain that they will again be AL Central champs even without any further additions. Even with the easiest path to the playoffs, they may once again be outmatched by the likes of the New York Yankees (who you might have heard acquired Giancarlo Stanton this offseason) or the defending World Series champion Houston Astros (who just executed a blockbuster deal of their own).

The Indians will also lose Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to free agency next offseason, making 2018 their best chance to win their first World Series title since 1948. The Indians lack both elite prospects and financial resources of the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox, which means that while their American League competition can expect to improve next offseason, they will likely get worse. The time to win is now, and Machado is the perfect addition.

As their roster currently stands, Jose Ramirez will be the opening day third baseman, with Jason Kipnis returning to second after the Indians experimented with him in the outfield last postseason. If the Indians are able to swing a trade for Machado, however, he would become the third baseman, with Ramirez moving over to second base (where he was worth 5 DRS in 71 starts last season compared to his zero DRS in 88 starts at the hot corner).

In this scenario, Kipnis would be the odd man out, but with a declining wRC+ in each of the last four seasons and terrible splits against left-handed pitching, it might be best that he is removed from an everyday role. Kipnis would be best served as a utility man that could play both second base and outfield, with days off against challenging left-handers. This is complicated by the fact that all three of their starting outfielders at present are also left-handed, but I trust Terry Francona to be able to manage through this conundrum.

The Indians had perhaps the best pitching staff of all-time last offseason and if they coupled that with the following lineup, they could make themselves the favorites in the American League.

  1. Francisco Lindor (SS)
  2. Jose Ramirez (2B)
  3. Manny Machado (3B)
  4. Edwin Encarnacion (DH)
  5. Yonder Alonso (1B)
  6. Michael Brantley (LF)
  7. Bradley Zimmer (CF)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall / Jason Kipnis (RF)
  9. Roberto Perez (C)

Suitors: Indians, Yankees, Cardinals, Diamondbacks

Possible Trade:

Indians Receive:
Manny Machado (3B)
International Bonus Money

Orioles Receive:
Danny Salazar (SP) OR Mike Clevinger (SP)
Yu Cheng-Chang (SS) (#4 Prospect)
Aaron Civale (RHP) (#10 Prospect)

The Indians have an extremely rare luxury in having a surplus of starting pitching on their major league roster. As such, they could have Dan Duquette take his pick between Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger and be able to stomach their loss. While Salazar has long possessed the talent of a front-of-the-rotation starter, injuries and inconsistency have hampered his potential. Clevinger, who presents a less risky option, enjoyed a career year in 2017, striking out 10.13 batters per nine innings and posting a 3.13 ERA. Salazar comes with three more years of team control, while Clevinger has five, but either option would be a nice addition to an Orioles rotation that was one of the worst in baseball in 2017.

The Indians could also throw in Yu Cheng-Chang, a well-rounded shortstop prospect who could serve as the long-term replacement for Machado. While Cheng-Chang obviously lacks the pedigree or anywhere near the upside of Machado, he posted a career-high 24 home runs at Double-A Akron in 2017 and showed the athleticism and smooth actions to possibly stick at shortstop.

Rounding out this package is Aaron Civale, who took major strides last season with High-A Lynchburg by posting a 2.59 ERA with 88 strikeouts against just 9 walks in 107.2 innings. Civale has plus command with four pitches and profiles as a mid-rotation starting pitcher with the chance of exceeding that projection if he can add a few mph on his low-90s fastball.

The Orioles could also sweeten any deal with international bonus pool money given their complete lack of participation in the international market in recent years. If the Orioles are able to acquire two solid prospects as well as a cost-controlled, high-ceiling starter, they should jump at the opportunity. Both teams should be motivated to strike while the iron is hot. For the Orioles, this means trying to recoup some value on their biggest trade chip to jumpstart the club’s inevitable rebuild. For the Tribe, this means adding one of the best all-around players in the game before their World Series hopes collapse.

Other Trade Candidates (3B):
Josh Donaldson (TOR)
Nicholas Castellanos (DET)
Martin Prado (MIA)


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