On its face, the idea of adding Manny Machado to the Philadelphia Phillies makes eminent sense.
Here is a 26-year-old superstar who would fit perfectly in the middle of the batting order. Machado seems to be exactly the talent infusion to push this surprising franchise not just into October – but perhaps deep into the playoffs.
But what if the obviously brilliant idea is not so brilliant?
There is a virtual certainty Machado gets dealt this month, and the Phillies had been among a half-dozen teams lining up to allow the Orioles to poach the best of their prospects. Last week, Phillies fans made their feelings known by chanting, “We want Manny,” when the O’s and their all-star shortstop passed through Citizens Bank Park for a two-game set.
Reports on Monday say Machado could be traded during the All-star break, most likely to the Los Angeles Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers. The Phils, by most accounts, have cooled their pursuit.
And I’m okay with that. Because as much as adding “The Baby Faced Assassin” seems a quick ticket to the postseason, there are long-term implications that could have us cursing the deal by Thanksgiving. Here’s why:
First, Machado is your classic two-month rental – with no guaranteed option to buy. He becomes a free agent at the end of 2018, and has emphatically repeated he wants to explore free agency before committing to any team.
It’s a pipe dream to believe that he’s going to take up a locker at Citizens Bank now and become so enthralled with the ballpark, the fans and the town that he’ll give up his right to find a franchise willing to pay him $400 million for the next decade.
Could that team become the Phils? Sure. But recent history shows that putting him in red pinstripes for 60 games presents no real advantage for the long term.
My bigger concern actually is this: Machado has made it clear to all that he plans to play shortstop wherever he winds up. And while he is now enjoying the best offensive season of his career (with a .310/.380/.557 slash line), his defense at shortstop appears to be horrible – as in, “What-would-happen-if-you-tried-Juan-Samuel-or-Lonnie-Smith-at-short” horrible.
Baseball’s defensive numbers are tough to quantify and most aren’t official. The best work is probably done by FanGraphs, an independent stat-collecting agency that uses several metrics to rank defensive performance.
Consider this: According to FanGraphs, Machado ranks 25th and last among all shortstops who’ve played at least 250 innings this season in both zone rating (he’s at negative-15.6) and runs saved (negative-19). His glove and arm don’t appear to be the problem (just eight errors so far), but Machado appears to have all the fielding mobility at shortstop of a file cabinet.
Now, I can’t tell you I’ve seen enough from youngsters J.P Crawford or Scott Kingery to be certain either is the long-term answer at SS. But unless Machado can be persuaded to return to third base, I’d worry about manning the game’s most important position for the next decade with a guy seemingly wearing concrete cleats – no matter how brilliantly Gabe Kapler employs the shift.
Would inserting Machado in the batting order right between Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana make things fun this season? Sure they would.
But would giving up the top prospects in the organization for a short-term jolt carrying long-term defensive questions make sense? Not here, it wouldn’t.