Congratulations to the Dodgers; condolences to every other team that thought adding a 26-year-old All-Star shortstop in the middle of his best offensive season might improve its chances in the stretch run and playoffs. With Manny Machado’s reported imminent move to Los Angeles, the Dodgers will cement a lineup with top-to-bottom depth and elite talent clustered in the middle, but they aren’t the only contender affected by the Baltimore–L.A. swap.
That the most prized player available is changing teams two weeks before the July 31 trade deadline opens up a host of alternate possibilities for his spurned suitors, who now have time to pivot to backup plans while still making meaningful improvements to their prospective playoff rosters. Here’s a rundown of what’s next for five teams that missed out on Machado but still hope to make noise this October.
The Dodgers won’t just benefit from adding Machado to their own lineup; they also prevent him from joining their closest competitor in the NL West. The Diamondbacks could use an offensive boost, with three regular infielders—Jake Lamb, Nick Ahmed, and Ketel Marte—struggling to various degrees and depth players like Chris Owings and Jarrod Dyson scuffling at the plate. Arizona added Jon Jay last month, but the veteran outfielder is hitting .223/.318/.323 since his trade.
Arizona hasn’t produced many rumors this month other than its pursuit of Machado, and the Diamondbacks will surely swivel elsewhere in an effort to recreate last season’s J.D. Martinez magic. Maybe a deal with Detroit for a defensively challenged corner outfielder would work again, this time for Nick Castellanos, who is midway through a career-best season at the plate (137 wRC+) but also rates as perhaps the worst defensive outfielder in the majors. That sounds like a lesser version of Martinez. Elsewhere, Arizona is reportedly interested in Mets starter Zack Wheeler, who isn’t an ace but could help stabilize a rotation back end that has shuffled through uninspiring options for months.
Those players could be difference makers as Arizona, which trails L.A. by half a game, attempts to keep pace in the division. They’re just less likely to succeed, particularly with Machado now taking an active role in pushing L.A. over the top. Trades aren’t always a zero-sum affair, but in this case, it’s hard to quibble otherwise: If the Dodgers are the deadline’s early winners, Arizona is the first loser, albeit with time for that designation to change.
The Phillies appear to have been the closest runner-up for Machado, though plenty of lesser options are still available if Phillies GM Matt Klentak is convinced he needs a new shortstop for the stretch run. The issue is that most of those options are of the bad-bat, good-glove variety, rendering them somewhat redundant alongside the Phillies’ current situation. Neither Tampa Bay’s Adeiny Hechavarria nor Detroit’s José Iglesias inspires much enthusiasm, and while a reunion with 2017 shortstop Freddy Galvis is possible, the distance between Machado (156 wRC+) and Galvis (70 wRC+) at the plate is about as far as a typical Machado home run. In any case, it’s unclear whether any of those options would be an upgrade over J.P. Crawford, who fits a similarly defensive-oriented profile and is a few weeks away from returning from a broken hand.
Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar is the one possible exception to that uniformity; the career utility man has never before qualified for a batting title, but playing on the left side of the Twins’ infield in the absences of Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sanó this season, he has been a surprising force at the plate. Among qualified hitters, only Mookie Betts and Javier Báez have more frequently bashed extra-base hits (Cleveland’s José Ramírez is in fourth place, and Boston’s J.D. Martinez is in fifth). Escobar is a free agent after this season as well, meaning he shouldn’t be too expensive as a plan B.
It seems more probable that Philadelphia will focus on pitching help in the coming weeks. Manager Gabe Kapler’s bullpen has been successful in spurts but inconsistent overall, and with so many high-caliber relievers available, the Phillies should be able to firm up their relief corps without sacrificing too much from the prospect ranks.
There might not have been a team that needed Machado more than Milwaukee, which ranks 27th in FanGraphs’ rest-of-season shortstop projections, ahead of only the Padres, Marlins, and Royals. Among 258 hitters with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Brewers Opening Day shortstop Orlando Arcia ranks 258th in wRC+, with a mark about as far from average as José Ramírez’s—just in the opposite direction. White Sox castoff Tyler Saladino has been manning short of late for Milwaukee and done so quite ably, but anyone familiar with the 28-year-old’s career batting line (.231/.281/.329 before this year) shouldn’t expect his current .303/.361/.487 trifecta in Milwaukee to last.
Within the past few weeks, the Brewers have been linked to Escobar and Marlins rover Derek Dietrich—though the latter has never played an MLB inning at shortstop—and they have reportedly scouted Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi, but those are relatively unambitious dreams. Milwaukee has the opportunity to aim higher, and if the Mets decide to make either Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard available, the Brewers might be the optimal trading partner, with touted prospects Keston Hiura (a second baseman who ranked 21st on FanGraphs’ midseason prospect ranking) and Corbin Burnes (right-handed pitcher, 27th) as trade centerpieces.
The Brewers finished one game behind the Rockies in the wild-card race last year, and after holding the NL Central lead every day except one from May 13 to July 13 this season, they’ve fallen 2.5 games back of the Cubs. Entering the All-Star break with series losses in Miami—where they lost on two walk-offs in three days—and Pittsburgh—where they lost five in a row—should increase Milwaukee’s desperation. The Brewers still have a strong chance at reaching their first postseason since 2011, and an extra dose of aggression ahead of the deadline would go a long way toward completing that goal.
As an in-season acquisition, Machado never made quite as much sense for the Yankees as he did for the other teams on this list, as New York is already solidly staffed on the left side of the infield, with another reliable option in Brandon Drury waiting for an opportunity in Triple-A. (In free agency this winter, of course, that’s a different proposition, as New York would be parting with only money to add Machado rather than a collection of prized youngsters.) Still, the upgrade from incumbent third baseman Miguel Andújar to Machado—who probably would have been displaced back to third in New York due to Didi Gregorius’s play at short—would have been something, and the Yankees seem to need something right now. The Red Sox just won’t lose, as manager Aaron Boone said recently, and the Yankees’ rapid tumble from a divisional deadlock to 4.5 games back of Boston has increased the clamor for Yankees GM Brian Cashman to do, well, something.
Unfortunately for Cashman, this market doesn’t seem amenable. The rental starting-pitcher scene is grim, and growing grimmer each week: In three July starts apiece, Toronto’s J.A. Happ, San Diego’s Tyson Ross, and Texas’s Cole Hamels have all tallied more runs allowed than innings pitched. And one tangible effect of the Yankees missing out on Machado is that it removes the slim possibility that New York would follow a Machado deal by flipping Andújar as part of a package for a cost-controlled ace. Of course, teams with cost-controlled aces would need to agree to part with those pitchers, and outside the Mets’ arms, it’s uncertain who those pitchers would be.
So if the Mets are unwilling to move deGrom or Syndergaard across town, the peripherally contending Giants won’t listen to Madison Bumgarner offers, and the actually available pitchers continue to make Sonny Gray’s ERA seem attractive by comparison, what is New York to do? Maybe A.J. Cole, who’s allowed one run in 18 2/3 innings in New York’s bullpen in mostly two-inning stints, deserves a look in the rotation, but he doesn’t profile as a no. 2 starter, which is the Yankees’ greatest need at the moment. Perhaps Cashman pivots to a roster strength and adds yet another bullpen arm to give Boone a full allotment of indomitable relievers for October.
Regardless, it’s unlikely Cashman will remain completely quiet this month. Boston has already addressed one weakness by trading for lefty-masher Steve Pearce, and it looks poised to bolster its roster further with a bullpen addition this month; for appearance’s sake, if nothing else, the Yankees GM would probably prefer to make some move of substance to keep pace.
Unlike every other team on this list, Cleveland is not hoping to adjust its roster this month because it needs a boost to make the playoffs, nor is it at all concerned about a potential wild-card game appearance. With the rest of the historically abysmal AL Central in its rearview mirror, Cleveland can concentrate on optimizing its roster for a succession of playoff series against 100-win teams.
It’s unclear how competitive Cleveland actually was in the Machado sweepstakes, anyway, but it’s hard to blame folks for fantasizing about what the team’s infield with Machado would have looked like. Hypothetically, Terry Francona could have shifted Machado back to third base and shuffled Ramírez to second, both to flank Francisco Lindor and place three of FanGraphs’ top-12 position players in first-half WAR next to each other. (Plus, the fourth member of that infield would have been first baseman Yonder Alonso, a fine hitter and defender in his own right, who also happens to be Machado’s brother-in-law.)
Still, Cleveland might not be done talking to Baltimore. Outfielder Adam Jones, also an impending free agent, could sate Cleveland’s thirst for another bat to lengthen a top-heavy lineup, and Zach Britton could help return Cleveland’s currently calamitous bullpen to greatness. Cleveland not adding a reliever or three would be the greatest surprise of the deadline, so as fun as a Machado-infused infield might have been, Cleveland might not miss him at all if it can instead turn those prospects into, say, Britton or San Diego’s Brad Hand, or a combination of Cincinnati’s Raisel Iglesias and Scooter Gennett. Machado is just the first real domino to fall, after all—there are trades galore to come over the next couple weeks.