The lukewarm stove heated up a bit on Wednesday afternoon. Rumors circulated that the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox had discussed a deal in the framework of Edwin Encarnacion in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr. WFNY’s own Joe Gerberry took a dive into that topic yesterday. Essentially, the Indians were interested in trading an aging above average hitting DH on a mediocre contract for a plus-plus defensive outfielder with an up and down hitting resume. Though Bradley Jr. has more upside than Encarnacion from a value perspective, the focal point of the trade seemed to be monetary.
We know the Indians are near, and probably exceeding, their budgetary comfort zone, despite the $58 million infusion from BAMtech this winter. This was indicated in previous rumors circulating about unloading the contract of Jason Kipnis, a useful tool in the 2018 season, strictly to extend the team’s financial flexibility. It was hard to make a lot of sense of the Indians desire to unload Edwin’s contract, even though Bradley Jr. would likely be a fantastic return for such. Then a Baltimore Orioles blogger dropped the bomb that the Indians and Orioles had re-engaged in Manny Machado talks this past week.
— DAN CLARK (@DanClarkSports) February 7, 2018
And the Edwin-centric trade rumors made a little bit more sense. Swapping out Edwin’s contract for Bradley’s would save the Indians nearly fourteen million in 2018 and probably around ten million in 2019. In one swoop, the Indians would have exchanged for similar value production on the WAR front and saved $24 million while doing so. Machado’s salary in 2018? Sixteen million. What’s that old cliche? Follow the money?
Sure, the Edwin and Machado rumors could be individual of one another, but the timing is curious, at the very least. So, let’s construct an Indians trade package for Manny Machado, a Gold Glove third baseman playing in his final contract year. Now that there have been multiple reports of the discussions at different points in the MLB offseason, assessing a hypothetical trade package seems merited.
One year of Machado control at sixteen million has the potential to be overflowing with surplus value. Coming off a decidedly down year won’t help matters, either. Machado was only worth 2.8 fWAR but a lot of that is marked with a cloud of poor luck. His BABIP dropped thirty points lower than his previous career low while still finishing in the top twenty of average exit velocity, despite no major launch angle fluctuations. Basically, Machado struck the ball similarly to previous years but in the wrong places. There’s no evidence to suggest this trend will continue, so his value didn’t take a serious hit.
The demographics of the third base market have a much larger impact on Machado’s value in a trade. One of the many reasons this year’s offseason has moved so slowly is non-contenders just aren’t participating in free agency. This would surely eliminate them from pursuing Machado. Of the handful of true “contenders” out there, many are set on the left side of the infield, depressing the market even more. Still, Machado has tangible value in relation to his salary, something that could benefit the apparently cash-strapped Indians greatly.
The Orioles pitching staff was abysmal in 2017 and are lacking premier prospects in that department. You could sell them on Mike Clevinger fairly easily, though the Indians might be hesitant to deal the righty coming off of a breakout year. A 3.11 ERA mirrored by a 3.85 FIP reveals that he was very good, with the help of a little good fortune. While Clevinger kept offenses in check extremely well, piling up quality outings start after start, there are concerns to be had about his command. WFNY’s own Mike Hattery points out that he danced around the bottom ranks in terms of walk percentage.
Of pitchers with 120 innings pitched in 2017, Mike Clevinger had the fourth highest walk percentage in baseball. 12% of batters.
— Mike Hattery (@snarkyhatman) February 8, 2018
Clevinger is just the starting point of a Machado deal, as the Orioles would likely want more. I think a promising minor league chip would be a further ask, such as Willi Castro. A mere twenty years old, and blocked by Francisco Lindor and Yu-Cheng Chang at the shortstop position. Castro should see AA action in 2018 and has a promising hit tool. The Orioles are shortstop-desperate, at both the major and minor league levels.
Clevinger and Castro for one year of Machado would be the right mix of present day and future value Baltimore should be looking for. The Indians deal from positions of strength (starting pitching and shortstop) while the Orioles acquire positions of need. The teams match up well in trade speculations. An important variable, however, will be the Orioles owner, Peter Angelos. There is doubt as to whether he will even deal the face of the franchise, even though the team will not compete in 2018 and Machado would walk for nothing following the season. The Indians have one major selling point in the eyes of Angelos: they’re not the hated division rival Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.
A Machado addition would require some rearranging of deck chairs in a crowded infield, but accommodating a player of his caliber always has a way of working itself out. The likelihood of a deal for Machado still seems remote, though repeated interest insinuates that the Indians are indeed making a play for him.