Gauging the value of stars on the trade block makes for popular sport among MLBTR readers. Quite often, we’re asked whether a given player could command, say, a “top 100 pitching prospect.” Now, we seem to have a clear test case, as the Orioles are reportedly trying to land just such a player — a top-end pitching prospect, that is — in talks involving star infielder Manny Machado.
It’s nothing new to suggest that the Baltimore organization would like to convert Machado into a talented young hurler, of course. The reported aim over the winter was to get two such arms in exchange for a single season of Machado. When that failed to materialize, the O’s instead held him in hopes of contending. Now, as the team pursues its fallback plan of a mid-season sell-off, it has continued to try to pry loose pitching talent as the headlining element of a return for Machado.
The most recent reports indicate that the O’s are still shooting for the moon. With several weeks left until the trade deadline, of course, that’s arguably just what they ought to be doing. Still, the odds seem long that the club’s most optimistic wishes will be fulfilled.
Baltimore will no doubt drive a particularly hard bargain with the Yankees, who stand as recent entrants to the Machado derby. The Orioles are willing to deal their best player to their division rivals, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com (via Twitter), but only if they score pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. He’s an unsurprising target, but that appears to be rather a steep ask given the 22-year-old’s pedigree and performance this year. The southpaw entered the year rated as one of the game’s fifty or so best prospects and has mowed down hitters at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels, turning in 85 innings of 2.44 ERA ball with 10.1 K/9 against 4.0 BB/9.
Given the Yanks’ slate of needs, both now and in the near future, sending Sheffield out for Machado wouldn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Morosi does add on Twitter that the club’s “need for Machado increases greatly if they trade Miguel Andujar for a controllable pitcher,” but that concept seems to fold in quite a notable bit of speculation — namely, that the team is considering parting with the talented Andujar, who is already a useful (albeit still-raw) MLB player. Perhaps there are some low-likelihood scenarios where Yankees GM Brian Cashman manages such a multi-part balancing act, but that doesn’t make the concept of Sheffield-for-Machado any more facially reasonable as a value proposition.
It doesn’t seem that the Orioles are holding only the Yanks’ feet to the fire, however. Baltimore is also trying to secure a top young arm from the Indians, Morosi also tweets. The ask, in that case, is for either Triston McKenzie or Shane Bieber. Neither pitcher figures to be parted with lightly, particularly for a rental piece.
McKenzie graded as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball entering the year and has spun 38 1/3 innings of 3.05 ERA ball in his first attempt at the Double-A level. He’s not getting quite as many strikeouts as in prior years, with 7.5 per nine, but is allowing less than a batter per inning to get aboard. As for Bieber, he has never enjoyed the hype of McKenzie (to say nothing of the pop star who shares his last name). But he’s turning plenty of heads now. The 23-year-old owns a 3.47 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 through his first 36 1/3 MLB frames.
Needless to say, it’s particularly difficult to imagine the Cleveland organization giving up a player who is currently making a significant contribution in the majors. The same holds for the Brewers, who face a tight divisional race and have long been cited as a potential buyer of pitching.
In talks with Milwaukee, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported recently (subscription link), the O’s have tried with little success to get the Brewers to offer up Corbin Burnes. He, too, is a top-100 prospect. Despite middling results at Triple-A, he sported solid K/BB numbers there and just turned in a memorable MLB debut in a multi-inning relief capacity.
It came as some surprise, then, when Rosenthal’s colleague Jim Bowden tweeted today that the Brewers “have discussed [a] package” of not only Burnes, but also Keon Broxton and Orlando Arcia, as a potential means of landing Machado. Perhaps there’s more to this concept than is evident from that single tweet, but it seems questionable that the Milwaukee organization would even contemplate such an arrangement. Indeed, Jon Heyman of Fancred reports on Twitter that there’s “no way” of the O’s landing that particular haul for Machado.
Certainly, it’s understandable that the O’s are pushing to get a foundational arm as they bid adieu to a franchise cornerstone. And with so many contending clubs showing serious interest — the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Phillies are among the others tied to Machado in recent weeks — it’s still possible that there’ll be a surprising return. While plenty of other teams figure to function as sellers, after all, none have anything close to a rental player of Machado’s caliber on offer.
That said, the odds are decidedly against the Orioles convincing a contender to give up a quality, near-to-the-majors starter. Such players are not only prized for their long-term value — the tantalizing possibility of quality output at a bargain price for multiple seasons — but also their potential near-term impact. Some of the hurlers noted above have already or could soon reach the majors. And most of the top-rated pre-MLB hurlers could at least be significant staff members at some point in the 2019 season. Perhaps there’s some room for creativity, potentially including package arrangements and/or a willingness to pay down salary, to facilitate the acquisition of the type of asset the Orioles seek. But getting something done is going to require the exploration of quite a few possibilities and plenty of negotiation, which perhaps more than anything explains the volume of reporting we’ve seen of late on conceivable Machado trade permutations.