A bottle of orange Gatorade rested in front of Manny Machado. He wore the black and orange of the Baltimore Orioles, the organization that drafted him third overall in 2010, as he sat on a dais the day before the All-Star Game. Machado has known no other team in his professional career. That will change in the next two weeks — if not sooner.
As the July 31 trade deadline approaches, Machado is the most eye-popping asset on the market. He can play third base and shortstop. He has hit 24 home runs with a .957 on-base plus slugging percentage this season. This is his fourth All-Star Game. It will be his last as an Oriole.
“I’m excited to, wherever it is, try to help someone win,” Machado said a few hours before the Home Run Derby at Nationals Park. “And hopefully wherever I go, try to bring that team a ring.”
One of the possibilities is Los Angeles. The Dodgers have remained engaged in talks with Baltimore about Machado, and are considered a serious contender to acquire him, according to people familiar with the situation. They are not alone in their pursuit: Philadelphia, Milwaukee and the Yankees have all been connected to Machado.
The Dodgers have the prospect surplus necessary to acquire Machado, but there are a variety of complicating factors: The team’s need for additional arms for the pitching staff, a lack of financial flexibility as they attempt to avoid luxury-tax penalties and the difficulty of making a trade with Baltimore.
The Dodgers have been tied to Machado since two-time All-Star shortstop Corey Seager underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in May. At the time, the Dodgers insisted they would replace Seager with internal candidates. Chris Taylor shifted from center field to shortstop, and has been a useful contributor, with 11 home runs and a .786 OPS.
Machado would still represent a significant improvement for their offense. He is in the midst of his best offensive season, with a career-high OPS combined with a career-high walk rate and a career-low strikeout rate. His defense at shortstop has been less than stellar, but the Dodgers have had success hiding a defender’s deficiencies through their positioning.
“Any hitter of his caliber can help the team in a big way,” outfielder Matt Kemp said. “Of course I think the Dodgers always find ways to help improve the team and make it better. We’ll see what happens. I think these upcoming weeks are going to be exciting.”
The potential arrival of Machado would topple a series of dominoes within the team’s lineup. Machado would likely replace Taylor at shortstop. Taylor could shift back into the outfield, which would add to a logjam of players. Even with Yasiel Puig on the disabled list, manager Dave Roberts must juggle playing time between Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles and Enrique Hernandez, with Cody Bellinger playing some center field against left-handed pitchers.
The Dodgers could solve this dilemma by moving a big-league player like Puig to clear space. The team has not found a robust market for Puig’s services in recent years, but they could re-open the discussions. The team also could clear some space on the luxury-tax payroll, which can afford only about a $10 million increase before hovering dangerously close to the $197-million threshold.
If the Dodgers add Machado, they would be improving a strength, rather than fixing a weakness. The bullpen remains an area of concern. “We need arms,” one team official lamented earlier this month, as a raft of relievers landed on the disabled list, with Josh Fields, Tony Cingrani, Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia all on the shelf.
The Dodgers are capable of multitasking. They made headlines by acquiring Yu Darvish last summer, but executed trades for relievers Cingrani and Tony Watson on the same day. They landed Fields on the same day in 2016 they reeled in Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from Oakland.
As he spoke Monday, Machado sounded ready for a resolution. The Orioles have the second-worst record in baseball, on pace for 115 losses. Baltimore trails Boston in the American League East by 39 1/2 games. Machado expressed excitement about getting another chance at the playoffs.
He had caused a stir in New York last week when he liked on Instagram a Photoshopped picture of himself wearing a Yankees jersey. He indicated that happened by accident, and added he had also seen himself Photoshopped in the uniforms of the Dodgers, Brewers and Phillies.
Machado declined to reveal a preference for his destination. He knew he had only precious few opportunities to dress in Orioles colors. A new team awaited him.