This is not a drill. The Orioles are shopping Manny Machado to other teams, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. We've heard before that the team might be listening about Machado, but the shift coming to soliciting offers for him is new, and a very big deal.
There are all kinds of rumors that fly around when the baseball world gets into rumor mode. Not all are created equal. But when a big name like Rosenthal is reporting on something as big as the Orioles shopping Machado, you have to sit up and pay attention. This isn't some random person trying to make hay out of some vague, overheard piece of information.
Rosenthal adds context on both the Orioles' aim in shopping Machado as well as their reason for doing so. The team wants to get two young, controllable starting pitchers in return, he says. No harm in aiming high to start out negotiations, but if that's where they stay, there will only be so many possible trade partners. It's hard to get young, controllable starters who are good.
And why shop him? The O's now believe, per Rosenthal, they can't keep Machado long-term, and they want to get value for him now rather than wait for a July trade or just the sad draft pick for losing him as a free agent.
The idea that the Orioles might be able to hold on to Machado has grown more farfetched as his free agency approaches. We'll never know for sure how hard they may have tried to give him a contract extension earlier in his career, when they might have been able to get another year or two at reasonable prices.
Now, Machado seems to be heading towards a contract that will almost certainly top the $325 given to Giancarlo Stanton. Although "I like our guys!" re-signings have been in vogue lately, what with Chris Davis, Darren O'Day, and Mark Trumbo all being brought back (and all now proving to be bad ideas,) Machado's contract would be on an entirely different level from that.
That the 2018 season might be a lost cause for the Orioles is not an unreasonable conclusion for a team to draw as it stares at its own starting rotation consisting only of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.
With the constraints facing the Orioles, including their apparent unwillingness to offer more than three years to any pitcher, and the fact that some of their preferred lower-priced targets signed before they really got their offseason moving, the idea that they can fill these holes and have a competitive team next year requires more and more dreaming.
If fixing the rotation is unlikely, with a coming free agent exodus that could include not only Machado but also Zach Britton, Adam Jones, and even Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, the idea of giving up on 2018 almost becomes an imperative. Machado can't save the 2018 Orioles, but his trade return might be able to help save the 2019 Orioles. That's really what it comes down to.
One further angle to the possible Machado trade market is the idea that he may prefer to be a shortstop and may be shopped as one:
The Orioles are looking for a 2018 shortstop, and Manny Machado wants to be there if he returns to the O’s. My guess is he would be open-minded to 3b or SS if another team dealt for him.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 12, 2017
There's also the whole new can of worms opened if the team does not see Tim Beckham already as its 2018 shortstop. Machado wanting to be there is an interesting thing they are going to have to deal with, too, whether they trade him or not.
Appearing on a live MASN-produced Facebook show at the winter meetings, Showalter didn't exactly do much to put out the fire:
Buck asked about Manny to SS on "MASN All Access: “Obviously I’ve had some conversations with Manny about it. I’ve got a feeling with what direction we’ll head but I’m not going to broadcast it. It impacts a lot of things.”— Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) December 12, 2017
There are, of course, a number of possible ways to read the vague mystery there. One of those plausible readings is, "Buck knows that Machado is going to get traded and he's trying to avoid talking about it."
It's not the only explanation, but it's an explanation. Another is that Showalter likes Beckham a lot less than Duquette likes Beckham. As far as whether Machado will stick around, this isn't exactly projecting confidence:
Buck on Machado's future on "MASN All Access": “He loves Baltimore. He would like to play there the rest of his career. We’ll see if that works or if its best for everybody to do something else. I’ll leave that up to other people.”— Steve Melewski (@masnSteve) December 12, 2017
The idea that Machado should and possibly will get traded is not a fun realization for any Orioles fan. I'm sad just thinking about the idea of it actually happening, even if I know, on a rational level, it may be for the best for the franchise in the long term.
These guys should be together forever and good forever. But that's not the way that baseball works. Contracts run out. Players get older. Teams have to make tough choices on how to keep the party going with the resources that are made available to them.
Sometimes, the tough choice is realizing that the party's over and it's time to clean up the house and plan for the next party. If the Orioles are shopping Machado as Rosenthal says, they seem to have realized this. And if that's what's going on, it's time to strap ourselves in, because the rest of this offseason could be a wild ride.