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If Manny Machado is traded, could the Orioles consider signing Mike Moustakas to replace him?

Since the Orioles don’t plan of filling the rotation with top-tier pitchers, they have money to spend elsewhere. Trading Machado would leave a gaping hole at third. Is Mike Moustakas an answer?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the furrowed brows around Baltimore thanks to the news that our beloved Manny Machado is on the trading block, it does present new options to consider at the hot corner in case Manny does leave the nest. And there is one particular option via free agency that the Orioles could be – or should be – considering.

When thinking about supplanting Machado, it’s quickly evident that one player cannot replace his full production. The future Hall of Famer brings so much to his game, both at the plate and in the field, that whoever plays third for the Birds won’t be able to completely fill Manny’s shiny-gold spikes.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t add significant talent through free agency. Jim Palmer recently tweeted his Mike Moustakas Christmas wish, despite the accepted view that he would seem to be out of the Orioles’ price range.

Moustakas could command at least a five-year contract at greater than $100 million, which is certainly a lot of scratch. But if the team adds two young, high-ceiling, low-salary starting pitchers in a Machado deal, then they would have the motivation and the money to add a player like Moustakas.

Let’s not forget that the Orioles are no longer paying millions of dollars to Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, J.J. Hardy and Welington Castillo. And if they choose to increase their overall roster budget by 10 percent, that would result in a $180 million payroll compared to 2017’s $164,326,172 in opening day salaries, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

That would leave about $45 million to spend on new acquisitions, even without factoring in savings gained by not paying Machado’s projected $17.3 million arbitration contract for ’18 (estimate provided by MLB Trade Rumors).

This, of course, assumes we know how Peter Angelos plans on spending his money – a folly of a pursuit perhaps. But the fact remains that a lot of money has come off the books for the Birds and it will either go back toward team salaries or remain in Angelos’ pocket.

All this hot stove talk should be fun, but when it comes to the Orioles, that fun quickly turns to frustration. Who knows what this team wants to do, let alone what they will do? The recent admission by Dan Duquette that the club hadn’t talked a long-term deal with Machado “since we tried a couple years ago” is more than disheartening. It’s disturbing and again places legitimate doubt in this administration moving forward.

However, let’s talk about Mike Moustakas anyway. He is the premier third baseman available and could be close to as big of an offensive force as Machado. The 29-year-old just posted a 38-homer season where he batted .272/.318/.521. That is a career-high .835 OPS, and it showed a recovery from his injury-marred 2016 season when he played in only 27 games due to a torn ACL in his knee and a fractured thumb.

Last year, Moustakas built upon his 2015 breakout season when he hit .284 with 22 home runs. According to Baseball Reference, his offensive (o)WAR in his last two healthy seasons, ‘15 and ’17, is 6.6. Machado’s oWAR across the past two years is 7.8.

Although he’s no platinum glover, Moustakas does own a 4.5 career UZR/150 games according to Fangraphs. However, his range slumped significantly last year as his overall defense fell to a -3.6 UZR/150. Machado’s career UZR/150 at third base is 14.3. Whoever replaces Manny whenever he leaves the team will have an impossible time matching Machado’s spectacular D , which will be sorely missed on a daily basis.

Going into the off-season, we weren’t sure where the Orioles stood when it came to their approach to improving their horrid rotation. But they’ve shown enough to indicate they aren’t spending what it would take to sign a top-of-the rotation type.

That’s why a Machado trade for one or two potential number ones or twos could make sense, especially since their early plan to focus more on the back end of the rotation through free agency has backfired thus far. Duquette has lost out on as many as four pitchers of interest – Mike Fiers, Miles Mikolas, Tyler Chatwood and C.C. Sabathia – who have signed elsewhere.

Duquette continues to hint that Gabriel Ynoa will be given every opportunity to be a part of the 2018 rotation, and the Miguel Castro option to start is real as well. Recent Rule 5 pick, Nestor Cortes, and last year’s acquisition from the Yankees for international pool money, Yefry Ramirez, may both be options as well for the 2018 rotation.

Alone these names won’t strike fear in the competition, but if combined with a stud starter for Machado, the continued growth of Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, and adding Moustakas at third, the Orioles could do a lot worse than honoring Palmer’s Christmas wish.