Manny Machado Blockbuster Trade Won't Solve Cubs' Biggest Problem

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2018

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado takes a lead from first base during a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

To state the painfully obvious, Manny Machado would make any MLB team instantly and exponentially better.

Entering play Sunday, Machado was hitting .342 with a 1.084 OPS for the Baltimore Orioles. He's a three-time All-Star and three-time top-10 American League MVP finisher. He won a pair of Gold Gloves at third base before transitioning capably to full-time shortstop duties this season.

Oh, and did we mention he's 25 years old?

By any measure, Machado is a generational player entering the prime of his career.

Now, the question at hand: Is he a fit for the Chicago Cubs? More to the point: Does he address their biggest problem?

We'll answer those questions momentarily. Before we do, here's some background on the Machado situation: On Tuesday, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported "the Cubs expect to talk to the Orioles about Machado again ... in the coming weeks."

The Orioles are 12-28 and buried in last place in the AL East, 15.5 games off the pace. A sell-off is borderline inevitable.

Baltimore has multiple impending free agents who would interest prospective buyers, including center fielder Adam Jones and closer Zach Britton.

No one will draw more attention than Machado. If the Orioles shop him, contenders will at least kick the tires on one of the most enticing rentals in recent memory.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 06:  Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles stands in the dugout before the game against the Oakland Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum on May 6, 2018 in Oakland, California. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Baltimore Orioles 2-1. (
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

So, back to the Cubs. They could use him because everyone could use him.

On Sunday, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune argued the North Siders should try to obtain Machado for shortstop Addison Russell, left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and right-hander Albert Alzolay, the club's top prospect, per MLB.com.

Russell has gotten off to a slow start, with one home run and a .711 OPS through 35 games. He's also 24 years old, was an All-Star in 2016 and is under club control through 2021.

Add Montgomery—a serviceable 28-year-old with experience as a starter and reliever—plus the Cubs' glitziest MiLB chip, and you're talking about a hefty price.

But Chicago is in win-now mode. The team wants to repeat its 2016 drought-busting glory and maximize the window its burgeoning core pried open. Insert Machado into a lineup that already features Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo et al, and opposing pitchers would undoubtedly quake in their cleats.

This brings us back to the query: Does Machado strengthen an area of weakness for the Cubbies?

They're sixth in baseball in runs scored (197) and rank fourth in OPS (.773). Offense isn't a pressing issue.

The starting rotation, meanwhile, may necessitate an upgrade.

Cubs starters are 11th in the game with a 3.83 ERA and 20th in strikeouts with 178. Jon Lester (2.66 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks (3.02 ERA) are a solid top-of-the-rotation tandem, but Jose Quintana (4.42 ERA) and expensive offseason acquisition Yu Darvish (6.00 ERA) have wobbled.

The Cubs don't need to acquire a starter tomorrow. They should exercise patience and hope Quintana and/or Darvish rebound to ace-level form.

Michael Thomas/Associated Press

If they're going to jettison a massive trade package, however, here's how they should do it.

It's too early to say what starters could be available at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but the Tampa Bay Rays' Chris Archer and the San Francisco Giants' Johnny Cueto offer enticing possibilities.

And Cubs executive Theo Epstein virtually nixed the notion of acquiring a superstar on the cusp of free agency.

"As a rule, we will not be paying premiums for rentals," Epstein told WSCR, via Haugh. "We just won't."

Archer and Cueto are merely educated guesses. Neither would be a rental, and both would fill a far more glaring need for the Cubs than Machado.

Archer is inked to an affordable deal that could run through 2021 with a pair of team options. Cueto, who has a sprained right elbow, is a bigger risk since he opted in to a contract worth $89 million over its last five years, including a $5 million 2022 buyout. He could also be out until late June, per FRS Sports Network's Jon Heyman, which would diminish his deadline appeal.

That said, Cueto posted a 0.84 ERA prior to his injury and finished in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting in 2012 and 2014. On top of that, he has extensive experience in the NL Central from his years with the Cincinnati Reds.

Getting back to Machado: The O's won't simply give him away. He'll cost a pretty penny. The package Haugh proposed likely isn't far off the mark and may fall short of the mark.

So, the Cubs need to save their trade chips, monitor their starting pitching in the hope that Darvish and Quintana do an about-face and count on their young offense to do its job. If the starting pitching doesn't improve or takes a dive, they should focus their efforts in that direction.

If they want Machado, they can pursue him in the offseason along with other game-changing stars such as right fielder Bryce Harper.

For now, he's a big fish they shouldn't try to reel in.

   

All statistics and contract information accurate as of Sunday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference.

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