The idea of the Orioles thinking about trading Manny Machado apparently began at the winter meetings. Based on what Dan Duquette said yesterday in the aftermath of the Zach Britton injury, today is the day when the team is going to make its decision about what to do. It seems to be a clear message to other teams to offer a little more if they really want Machado.
At this point, if the Orioles keep Machado despite a dwindling number of free agent starting pitcher options, many of whom might not even be any good at all, that feels to me like a foolish decision.
It's easy for me to say that when I don't know what other teams are offering, but it seems like the oft-repeated demand for two young, controllable starting pitchers just isn't happening and the O's may have to sift through the best of the rest.
I’ve heard that the Cubs’ discussions with the Orioles included shortstop Addison Russell, center fielder Albert Almora Jr. and left-hander Mike Montgomery. The Orioles aren’t going to come away from a trade with the only pitcher being Montgomery, though they’d gladly take him as a needed southpaw.
UPDATE: Initially, I read the above to mean that a complete trade the O's and Cubs had discussed was Machado for those three players. As others, including MLB Trade Rumors, read this passage much differently, thinking instead it signals some players that have been discussed as separate possibilities, I've removed a poll from this post and changed some content that was based on my initial assumption. (end update)
From the outside, we don't know what teams are making offers for Machado, or what those teams have offered. Perhaps these players being dangled in some combination by the Cubs, along with a minor leaguer or two, makes up the best offer that the Orioles are going to get. Perhaps there's something better out there.
There are no prospects among that list of three players. That's because all three players have spent multiple seasons in the big leagues already.
All were top 100 prospects at one time, though: Montgomery was a top 25-30 prospect prior to 2012, Almora was a top 25 prospect prior to 2013 who still lurked in the 50-75 range before 2017, and Russell was a top 5 prospect before he debuted in 2015. Almora and Russell are going to be 24 next season. Montgomery, though he's still pre-arbitration eligible, is already 28.
In terms of number of years of control, it's four years of Russell and Montgomery and five years of Almora. Russell has qualified as a "super two" arbitration player, meaning that he will get four years of arbitration salaries.
If you're like me, you don't think of the National League or its players very often, so here's a little more about each:
Not much surprise that a scouting report like this got him up into the top five prospects in the game:
Russell has established himself as one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball, and he's erased any concerns about his long-term future at the position. He has the hands, range and arm strength needed to make stunning plays in the field.
Russell uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact. He has surprising pop, and he could develop above-average power in the future. Russell isn't a speedster, but he gets the most out of his solid speed, and he's aggressive on the basepaths.
At the MLB level, Russell has absolutely lived up to that defensive reputation. By the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric, he's simply been a whiz, racking up +19 runs saved in both 2015 and 2016 and turning in +15 runs in 2017 despite playing only 808.1 innings. That's good shortstopping, particularly where it comes to range, although it's worth noting that his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) dipped to "just" 4.4 in 2017, so the metrics don't totally agree.
The offensive parts of his game are less strong. Russell has been a fairly consistent performer in his career at the plate, but the performance is not great. He's combined over three seasons for a .240/.312/.408 batting line. As home run power exploded across MLB in 2017, Russell hit just 12 in 385 plate appearances. Stolen bases haven't shown up much at the big league level either, with 11 across his three seasons.
That's a good player. He was worth 3-4 wins each in his first two seasons, when he played the whole year. If your shortstop hits like that but is a wizard with the glove, you can live with that.
Albert Almora Jr.
The Cubs selected Almora two picks after Kevin Gausman in the first round of the 2012 draft. From there, it was a slow climb up the minors until he debuted in the 2016 season. Although he played in 132 games, he started just 65, and was used almost exclusively as a center fielder. The vast majority of his minor league time was also in center.
At the apex of his prospect hype, he was getting scouting reports like this from MLB.com:
Almora has a loose easy swing, and he sprays line drives to all fields. He is an aggressive hitter, but he doesn't strike out a ton, thanks to his feel for the bat. Almora has more power than his lithe frame would suggest, and he projects to have average power. He is an excellent center fielder, and he has a strong arm.
Almora has five-tool potential, and his makeup and baseball instincts allow his tools to play up. If he can avoid further injury troubles, he has the skillset to start moving quickly.
That certainly sounds pretty good, but that was three years ago. The last level where he was an above-average hitter was Low-A. The power hasn't materialized yet. A total of 11 home runs in 440 big league plate appearances isn't anything to write home about, though Almora only has about two-thirds of a season worth of batting under his belt. Improvement is possible.
Still, his .298/.338/.445 batting line from 2017 was perfectly acceptable. That would have been among the best on-base percentages on the team.
The "excellent center fielder" who has a strong arm did not show up in DRS or UZR. Almora rated -1 runs in DRS in center field, with a +1 UZR. That's a big step up from 2017 Adam Jones (-12 DRS, -13.3 UZR) but I'm skeptical the O's would shift Jones to right in 2018 for Almora to play center.
Adding an outfielder who can play center field, who has already made it to the MLB level, could possibly free up the O's to explore other trades using some of their own outfield prospects.
When a dude was drafted in 2008 and as of this moment has 320.2 MLB innings under his belt, things have not always gone smoothly. He was regarded as a prospect because he did well in the lower minors, then hit Triple-A in 2011 and was really bad.
Montgomery was bad again in 2012 and 2013, but eventually, after being traded first for James Shields and second for Erasmo Ramirez, made his way into the Mariners rotation for about half of the 2015 season... where he was bad. I don't mean Orioles rotation-bad, just regular bad: A 4.60 ERA in 16 games, averaging just five innings per start.
However, the Cubs saw something they liked, so they picked him up in July of 2016, then made him into a swingman type. Montgomery threw 130.2 innings across 44 games, 14 starts, in the 2017 season, posting a 3.38 ERA with a 1.209 WHIP. He even saved three games, all of which were saves from pitching the final 3+ innings of a game in relief.
That's decent enough, though Montgomery walked more than 10% of the batters he faced on the season and struck out only about one in six batters he faced. He was a ground ball pitcher, with 57.8% of the balls in play on the ground, perhaps contributing to a low .253 BABIP. Or maybe he got really lucky!
Do you have any faith that the Orioles would take whatever is good about Montgomery and preserve it in the AL East as the designated Orioles rotation lefty? I don't - but the Orioles can't think like losers in that way or they would only perpetuate a loser cycle.
Back to the central question: If the best that the Orioles can do for a trade for Machado is something centered around one or two of these players, would you make that deal?