For Birdland, the biggest thing to come out of the winter meetings is the report from earlier Tuesday that said the Orioles are shopping Manny Machado. As he addressed the O's media for his typical evening information session, GM Dan Duquette did nothing to dispel those rumors.
The O's may not end up trading Machado, but there's definitely something going on worth talking about it. Duquette himself admitted as much, telling Orioles reporters, "There's a lot of interest in Manny and a couple of clubs requested a meeting, so we met with a couple of clubs on that issue."
If the Orioles were in a place where there is no way and no how that they would trade Machado, there would not have been any meetings and Duquette would have dismissed any talk outright, rather than saying, "We're going to continue to explore the market and see where that takes us," which he also told reporters.
For that matter, if the Orioles were certainly not trading Machado, there would not have been any rumors earlier Tuesday launching all of the speculation.
Of course the Orioles are entertaining offers, because they practically have to. Machado is one of the best players in baseball and he's going to become a free agent after next season and sign a contract that sure seems like it must be for an amount that the Orioles would never, ever commit all at once.
Were things for next year's Orioles team looking like they had a chance at competing for a playoff spot, there would be much more of a tendency to want to say that the Orioles should just plow ahead and take their one last shot with this group of players.
Coming off of a 75-win season and with a shambles of a starting rotation that they're going to have a hard time fixing this offseason, the Orioles might be looking around and seeing that their last, best shot ended in Toronto in 2016 with Zach Britton sitting out in the bullpen and the team's largest, and worst free agent pitching signing on the mound. That will be a bitter pill to swallow.
The only way the Orioles can solve the problem of having one year of Machado remaining is to sign him to a contract extension. Duquette addressed that topic along with the trade speculation:
I’ve talked to Machado’s agent periodically. We have not explored a long-term agreement with Manny since we tried a couple of years ago. ...
That’s obviously a big decision for the Orioles organization and that’s one that, it’s still under consideration.
The fact that the most he can say about it at this late hour in the process is that it's "still under consideration" is not exactly an encouraging sign, just absolutely depressing if it is true. This has surely helped to fan the trade flames from the O's perspective.
Why haven't the Orioles explored a long-term contract with Machado for at least a couple of years? This is one of those things where fans are never going to know. You can project blame on whoever you want.
Maybe Duquette bungled negotiations the last time around. Maybe Peter Angelos shut down promising talks on a deal in the past because he was scared about Machado's two knee surgeries, or he just won't commit the big bucks now, either. Maybe Machado himself has long been looking forward to hitting the market and collecting that big payday with many suitors vying for his services and there's just nothing that the Orioles could ever do about that.
It could be some of all of those or it could be none of them. Whatever the reason, the fact is that there are now fewer than eleven months until Machado is a free agent. That is not the time to start talking about a contract extension for a guy who has now had pundits discussing the possibility of a $400 million contract for multiple seasons.
According to MASN's Roch Kubatko, teams that have showed interest up to this point include the Cardinals, Yankees, Phillies, and White Sox. As the Phillies and White Sox were bad in 2017 and figure to remain so for Machado's last season before free agency, those don't make much sense as destinations, but you never really know.
The Yankees being interested is its own thing to reckon with. The idea of watching Machado don pinstripes is probably the worst case scenario for Orioles fans. Yet if the Orioles can pilfer good prospects from the Yankees farm system, that is potentially a long-term win for the O's over their division rivals.
From the New York side, New York Post columnist Joel Sherman said he doesn't think "this version of NYY would trade big prospects for a player one year from free agency." So maybe it's not worth worrying about that much.
A trade may not happen at these meetings or at all this offseason, but it's mighty interesting that Duquette talked about it so openly with reporters on Tuesday. The standard "I like Manny on our club" answer - which Duquette gave - doesn't wipe away the fact that the O's took meetings about Machado.
Duquette didn't put out the fire and he might have even fanned the flames. The unthinkable is now possible. The Orioles might end up trading Machado.