Do the Dodgers NEED Manny Machado?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles
Machado kindly demonstrates the lateral movement a deal would provide for L.A.

 

July 16, 2018

The Manny Machado trade rumors have reached their final throes (not that they’ve ever died down) as the All-Star Game looms tomorrow evening. Speculation, proposed packages, handshake deals and everything in between have been posted and tweeted everywhere you look, and just about all of them will be completely wrong when this is all wrapped up. The Dodgers have been part of most speculation from the beginning, with Corey Seager going down for the year and the Orioles emerging as an awful baseball team about as early in the season as was possible. When trying to filter out the noise one common thing about the “reporting” being done on Machado is that the Phillies, Brewers and the Dodgers seem to be the most likely destinations for the All-Star shortstop/third baseman. Machado is certainly a premium player, young, and would be an exciting addition to any squad, but in all of this there’s one huge question about Machado heading to L.A.:

Do the Dodgers really need Manny Machado?

Now I’m running out of time to look at that question before it becomes hindsight, as common sense says that Machado will represent Baltimore in tomorrow’s game but will be on another team when regular season play resumes later in the week. And yes, I mean common sense, not intrepid reporting, because anyone with a passing knowledge of the game could come to this conclusion, so any reporter taking credit for this little nugget of information is trying way too hard.

There are a lot of ways to look at this question, and I’ll try to do my best to cover the angles. How would the trade make sense in both the short term and long term of things? How would it fill a need for the Dodgers? How much would they really improve by adding Machado? I’m going to explore the potential Machado addition without delving too deep into stats, as at least as far as he’s concerned, the numbers are good and would likely continue to be. But I will use some for perspective if needed.

The Short Term: Focused on 2018

The perspective in which a deal for Manny Machado makes the most sense for the Dodgers would arguably be squarely in a short term frame of mind; going all-in to try and win a World Series this year. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that support this:

The Dodgers lost Corey Seager, a young, All-Star run producer who plays shortstop, for the year due to injury. Manny Machado is himself a young, All-Star run producer who (for the time being) plays shortstop. It’s practically a straight one for one replacement, the easiest of moves for an armchair GM to rationalize in their mind. Take what you’re missing and plug in the next best thing. Baseball is rarely ever that straightforward, but you can see how rumors get started.

Machado has stated he considers himself a shortstop and would like to continue playing that position. If acquired by the Dodgers, that would almost certainly be the case, due to the aforementioned Seager injury and the presence of Justin Turner (remember him?) at third for L.A. A deal for Machado would help the Dodgers fill in for Seager as they chase that elusive championship.

Is it really that simple? Does acquiring Machado make sense as a Seager fill in? To answer that question, let’s take a look at how L.A. has covered his absence so far in 2018.

With Seager out, the Dodgers have primarily relied on the combination of Chris Taylor (257 plate appearances as a SS) and Kike Hernandez (60) to cover short. Remember, going into the season it was made quite clear that Taylor was considered an outfielder, specifically the guy in center field. Of course baseball happens and so Taylor has primarily been an infielder thus far. To look at things from a fairly simple perspective, the Dodgers have generated a WAR of 2.2 from the shortstop slot (this includes Corey Seager’s 113 plate appearances prior to having surgery). This puts them 13th in MLB in terms of wins from the shortstop position, just a few ranks below Baltimore, which checks in with 2.8 WAR. Machado himself has a WAR of 2.9 thus far this season.

So, having Machado as the primary shortstop in L.A. to this point would have amounted to an extra 0.7 WAR, which projected out for the entire season would in the end put him somewhere above 1 extra win compared to Taylor & Hernandez. That’s not insignificant, nor is it a massive upgrade either. But from that perspective, Machado does technically constitute an upgrade for the team at the position, which in turn technically points to an improved chance of winning games.

Considering Taylor’s move arguably unintentionally helped the team by opening up more at-bats for guys like Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson, both heading for career years, in the outfield, I don’t know that a Machado addition alone swings the pendulum that far in L.A.’s favor. However, with Machado at short, Taylor would likely slide over to 2B more often than not, and possibly give the team some added help at their weakest position. Taylor has produced a WAR of 2.3 this year, while the Dodgers 2B platoon of Logan Forsythe, Chase Utley, Hernandez and recently Max Muncy have accounted for a 0.3. So the biggest improvement Machado might provide for the 2018 Dodgers is actually at second base. It would create a lineup similar to the one I envisioned if Max Muncy became the primary starter at 2B with a formidable 1-8 that doesn’t have any glaring holes. So there’s a perspective where a Machado deal might be most appealing.

The Long Term: Beyond 2018

Let’s get back to some facts. Like above, Corey Seager is a young, All-Star run producer who plays shortstop. He is under team control through 2021 with his first shot at arbitration upcoming. Manny Machado is a young, All-Star run producer who (for the time being) plays shortstop. Manny Machado will be a free agent this winter. He has stated a desire to continue playing shortstop, as has Corey Seager.

I think to answer the question of whether a Manny Machado deal makes sense for the Dodgers in the long term, you have to ask another one; would Machado have been on the team’s free agent radar this offseason if Seager doesn’t go down and the trade didn’t become a likelihood this year?

As a premier bat on the market at a young age, you have to think the Dodgers would have at least taken a look in this theoretical future. These kinds of players don’t become available all that often. And with the luxury tax juggling, its widely speculated the Dodgers are gearing up to be big players in the upcoming free agent period. So from that perspective, you can argue Machado would at the very least be considered.

Dealing for a rental player is sometimes purely that; but when giving up assets in most cases you’re hoping for a head start of sorts on getting the guy signed long term. The biggest question is of course, would Machado even re-sign in L.A. if they deal for him this year? Assuming he did, who plays where?

Seager will be back, and is a staple of the lineup and this roster. As mentioned, both he and Machado would prefer to play short. The alternative for both would seem to be third base, however, the Dodgers have Justin Turner signed through 2020. Turner is still working his way back from the wrist injury he sustained in spring training, so right now Machado and Seager look like the better players, but let’s not forget just how damn good Turner has been in L.A., not to mention how big of a clubhouse guy he is and how insanely clutch he has been as a playoff performer. Maybe the Dodgers entertain a trade for Turner to field a lineup with both of these guys, but I find that scenario pretty hard to envision.

With these factors in mind, for me its clear a Machado deal would be more about 2018 than anything.

Other Factors: Trying to Make Sense of Things

So if we are subscribing to the idea that a deal for Machado would be primarily in the interest of the Dodgers winning in 2018, does it make sense for L.A. to go for it?

Let’s start with the talent cost. I’m not going to spend a ton of time on this, because I don’t feel the cost of getting Machado is going to be anything that will have Dodger fans groaning a few years down the road. Yes, it is going to take some very good prospects to get a deal done. However, the Dodgers have built such a strong system that anyone they send in the deal is going to have another talented guy waiting in the wings to take his spot on the prospect rankings. The two names I’ve seen mentioned the most have been Dustin May and Gavin Lux. Both are guys you love to have in your pipeline, but this isn’t like past years where you’re sweating giving up a Cody Bellinger or Walker Buehler to get a deal done. I even saw one report claiming Lux had reached “untouchable” status for the Dodgers’ front office, and though he has had a huge year, I found that laughable. The Dodgers can survive the cost of acquiring Machado without setting back the farm too much.

The biggest question in my mind here is how much a Manny Machado addition really makes the Dodgers that much better. Early in the year when the offense, and the team in general, was struggling, getting Machado in here to stabilize the lineup made a lot more sense. But if anything has become apparent as the Dodgers have righted the ship, it’s that offense is not a major concern for this team.

As mentioned above, Taylor’s move to short has opened up at bats for Kike Hernandez and Joc Pederson, who are gunning for career years. Matt Kemp has revitalized his career while performing at near M.V.P. levels. Max Muncy came out of nowhere to help me re-launch this blog and miraculously has not yet cooled off. Cody Bellinger can still slug it, Yasiel Puig continues to improve his approach and had gotten back on track after a slow power output to start the year, and if you love dingers, this team hit a franchise record 55 bombs in June. Long story short, this team can put up runs with the best of them, whether you look at their 129 homers (tops in the NL), 453 runs scored (5th), .753 OPS (3rd) or 1391 total bases (3rd), and so on. This is a team with a +82 run differential. Is another bat that pressing a need?

Also, I have to mention briefly because I have not seen this angle discussed much in the Machado rumors, but the luxury tax is a consideration. A Machado deal can get done without putting L.A. back over, but it would leave less room remaining to improve the team elsewhere, in arguably more important areas. Getting Machado would essentially be the major tweak to this roster if the Dodgers are intent on re-setting that tax number (and there’s no reason to believe they would suddenly abandon that goal).

EDIT: Machado is owed somewhere around 7 million the rest of the season which would leave the Dodgers with roughly 10 mil of flexibility to add elsewhere/pay out potential bonuses, depending on the numbers you trust.

Answer the Question Already!

So, taking everything I’ve written into account, let’s get back to the question at hand. Do the Dodgers need Manny Machado?

In short, no. As mentioned above, acquiring Machado would be a play for the 2018 Dodgers to get over the top. However, this is already an elite offensive team. There is some appeal in the potential boost to 2B the deal could give the team, but that could arguably be achieved to lesser results by playing Max Muncy more there. I think one logical argument for it was made by Dustin Nosler over at Dodgers Digest, in that acquiring Machado could serve as a means to protect from inevitable regression from Max Muncy and Matt Kemp. I can understand that. But it certainly doesn’t make the move a necessity.

In the end, I don’t think there’s any argument that adding a player of Manny Machado’s caliber would make the Dodgers a better team. He can help anyone win ballgames. But with the offense in a good spot, he’s more of a luxury than a need. I think the Dodger’s can best improve their chances of winning this year by searching for bullpen upgrades and possibly rotation depth. The money owed to Machado would limit the types of guys they could target in those areas. So if it comes down to adding a big name like Manny, or a few solid arms to shore up the pen, I’m going with pitching. Bringing in Machado, while exciting, in my opinion would be more of a lateral move than a needle pusher.

Of course by the time I post this, the news will probably break that the Dodgers have swung for the fences and acquired Machado. If it does happen, I’ll be behind it. It will be a ton of fun to watch. Just don’t expect to see me upset if Machado goes elsewhere in the upcoming days.

 

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