There’s been plenty of buzz about the Orioles’ poor start to the season and the impending free agency of Manny Machado, with seemingly countless reports connecting Machado to various teams throughout the league. The Cubs have been perhaps the most oft-cited match for Machado, but in a radio appearance on the Mully & Hanley show on 670 The Score, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein scoffed at the very notion that there’s any serious market taking shape for Machado at such an early juncture in the season.
“I understand it’s natural for people to connect the dots and there to be this kind of frenzy from time to time, but it’s honestly something we’re looking at and just rolling our eyes at,” said Epstein. “It’s not like July, where every now and then there’s lots of coverage on deals that are actually being discussed or actually might happen. This one is just out there in fantasy land at this point.”
Addison Russell, in particular, has been an oft-suggested component of Machado trade scenarios (FanRag’s Jon Heyman suggested that match last week, for instance). But Epstein noted that when he sees rumors that appear to be “hyper-focused on one player and if there’s essentially nothing to it,” he’ll typically pull the player aside and explain as much in a one-on-one conversation. While he didn’t outright say that he’s done so with Russell, Epstein strongly suggested that to be the case, and Russell himself told The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney over the weekend that he’s paying little heed to the chatter. Elaborating further, Epstein described the amount of trade discussion that’s taken place so far as “essentially nil.”
There’s been no shortage of rumors pertaining to Machado, though the connection with the Cubs has always been a fairly obvious one. Machado was, after all, reported to be a target of the Cubs this offseason, and Russell was said to be a potential component of those talks all the way back in December when Baltimore initially began fielding offers for him.
There’s no recent precedent for a trade of this magnitude taking place in May, and it’s even rare for such transactions to take place in June. The White Sox’ acquisition of James Shields in 2016 is the most recent example of an early-June swap of any real significance. Russell himself was traded from Oakland to Chicago in 2014’s Jeff Samardzija blockbuster, and even that July 4 swap was an uncharacteristically early agreement for a deal of such import.
In a similar vein, recent reports indicating that the Rangers and Royals are preparing to gauge trade interest in their current assets suggest that such processes are only in the nascent stages. It’d be a surprise if the Orioles were drastically further along in the process, if for no other reason than the fact that most teams have not yet plotted their deadline trajectory.
Most clubs, to this point, are focused on the upcoming amateur draft, after which they’ll begin to truly assess whether they’re interested in acquiring assets, selling them, or utilizing players on their current big league roster to address other needs. (Increasingly, there are active teams at each deadline that don’t fall neatly into the traditional “buyer” or “seller” categories.)
There will undoubtedly be teams that don’t make that final determination until even the day of the deadline. Last year’s Twins, for instance, acquired Jaime Garcia from the Braves in late July, only to lose six of their next seven games while the Royals and Indians went on prolonged winning streaks. Minnesota ultimately traded Garcia to the Yankees just six days after acquiring him and also shipped closer Brandon Kintzler off to the Nationals.
All of that is to say, it’s highly improbable that a clearly defined market for Machado will come together at any point the near future. Perhaps a team with an obvious need on the left side of the infield will bowl the Orioles over with an offer earlier than most would expect, but history gives little reason to expect that to happen until the calendar flips to July.
A Machado trade to some team, of course, feels inevitable at this point. But while the Cubs stand out as a plausible on-paper fit — just as they did throughout the offseason — Epstein’s comments bluntly indicate that such speculation won’t come to fruition for quite some time, if at all.