Manny Machado's Already Huge $400M Free-Agent Value May Soon Rise Even Higher

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterNovember 21, 2017

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 24:  Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles plays third base against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 24, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

There may be nearly a whole year in between now and then, but it's a given that Manny Machado will be up for a gigantic payday if and when he hits free agency next winter.

It could be even more of a given if he's able to market himself as a shortstop.

This is assuming that Machado, who's presently known as a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner at third base, doesn't forgo the 2018-19 free-agent market by signing a contract extension with the Baltimore Orioles. It's also assuming that the Orioles make good on an intriguing idea.

As reported by Peter Gammons at Gammons Daily: "There is an ongoing debate in the Orioles organization whether or not Manny Machado should move over to shortstop in 2018, before he becomes a free agent next November."

Orioles shortstops produced a .682 OPS and minus-five defensive runs saved in 2017. While not the reason, it's one of the reasons the club dropped to 75 wins from 89 wins in 2016.

Machado, 25, was originally developed as a shortstop and has spoken about wanting to return even after all his success at the hot corner.

"I'm looking forward to going back to short, if I do go back," he said last spring, per Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. "I hope, I hope."

Machado got a chance to show what he can do as a regular shortstop during the summer of 2016. Playing in place of an injured J.J. Hardy, he logged 380 innings at short and tallied three defensive runs saved.

The catch is that 380 innings is too small a sample size to point to as an obvious indicator that Machado can be an above-average defensive shortstop over a full season. And between his size (6'3", 183 pounds) and, per Statcast, his average speed, there are reasons to doubt he would be.

There is little doubt, though, that Machado has the arm and the hands for shortstop. And while shortstops his size are rare, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa and Didi Gregorius are among those who held down steady jobs at the position despite being even bigger. 

Thus, the circle comes back around: The Orioles are on to something.

For them, moving Machado from third to short could mean a return to the postseason after 2017 ended with them in the AL East cellar for the first time since 2011. For Machado himself, it could mean another pretty feather in a cap that's already worth a pretty penny.

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 24:  Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles bats against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 24, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

In September, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports floated Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million deal with the Miami Marlins as fair precedent for a Machado extension. Shift the conversation to what he might command in free agency, however, and the magic number becomes $400 million.

Said magic number is commonly linked to both Machado and fellow free-agent-to-be 20-something Bryce Harper. Since Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal from 2007 is the high-water mark for free-agent contracts, it may seem like a pie in the sky. But Major League Baseball is past due for a bigger and better 10-year megadeal. 

"A re-setting of the market is coming with Harper and Machado, especially given their ages at free agency," one agent told Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated this year. "So it’s safe to assume the value of free agent years is going to go up, and it’s not crazy to think that number is going to start with a four."

Back in January, I made the case that Machado was the better choice than Harper for MLB's first $400 million contract. Harper had the edge in upside, but Machado had him beat in consistency and durability.

If any part of that equation seemed to change in 2017, it's the notion that Machado is more consistent of the two. Although he topped 30 home runs for a third straight season, his OPS and wins above replacement (Baseball Reference version) took a tumble:

YearOPS WAR
2015.8617.1
2016.8766.7
2017.7823.5

But even after a down season, Machado still projects as a hugely valuable player for the long run.

When I ran him through the same valuation method that I used on the winter's top free agents, his baseline 10-year (spanning 2019 to 2028) value came out to $280 million. When I did the reasonable thing of pushing the start of his decline back to his age-30 season in 2023, his 10-year value skyrocketed to $480 million.  

Even that may be light, as it doesn't account for the possibility that Machado's 2017 wasn't a "down" season.

He finished strongly with an .826 OPS and 15 home runs in the second half after being plagued by an extraordinary amount of bad luck in the first half. Altogether, his expected production—i.e. his xwOBA, based on the quality of his contact—fell in between that of his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

He thus doesn't have to change a thing to make excellent offense a featured part of his 2018 contract push. If he happens to do so while also holding it down at short, he'll have rebranded himself from a slugging third baseman to a slugging shortstop.

The latter are rarer creatures than the former. Machado was one of seven third basemen to top 30 home runs in 2017. Francisco Lindor is the only shortstop who did it.

Throw in the fact that shortstop is inherently more valuable than third base. Then throw in the fact that Machado could remind prospective suitors that he can always go back to third base after aging off shortstop. Suddenly, $400 million doesn't sound so outlandish for his free-agent payday. If anything, it sounds a little light.

For now, it's only a daydream based on a rainy-day idea plucked from a slow-news-day report. But later, it could be the real deal.

           

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

Follow zachrymer on Twitter

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