No team in Major League Baseball is sitting prettier at the All-Star break than the Boston Red Sox. Their 68-30 record leads everyone, and it gives them an outside shot at a record 117-win season.
Challenges remain, however. The New York Yankees have been and will continue to be hot on the Red Sox's heels in the American League East. The Sox may also have to get past the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros in October.
So despite its pretty sitting, Boston can't say no to potential upgrades ahead of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Especially if one is Manny Machado.
According to Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun and Rich Dubroff of BaltimoreBaseball.com, the Red Sox have checked in with the Baltimore Orioles about their slugging shortstop. It's rare for a superstar to get traded to a division rival, but Machado's pending free agency makes it a possibility.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it's an extreme long shot of a possibility.
According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Orioles already have a trade agreement in place with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even if that falls apart, Jon Heyman of Fancred recently claimed that the Red Sox aren't among the five finalists for the four-time All-Star:
Those five teams have strong farm systems they can pull from in a trade for Machado. That's something the Red Sox don't have.
To wit, third baseman Michael Chavis and left-hander Jay Groome are their only prospects in MLB.com's top 100. The former is coming off a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. The latter is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Still, never say never.
According to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, the Philadelphia Phillies are a top contender for Machado simply because they're willing to give up right-hander Adonis Medina. He's a good, yet far from elite prospect whose stock is actually down in 2018.
Although Machado is expected to be traded before the regular season resumes, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, that could indicate that the bidding for him isn't spiraling out of control. While it's not likely, that could be the window the Red Sox need to swoop in with a winning offer for the 26-year-old.
If it were to happen, the Red Sox will have found a missing link.
Boston doesn't have many holes in a lineup that's cranked out MLB highs in OPS (.801) and runs (530), but there's a big one at third base. According to Baseball Reference, the Red Sox rank 29th in wins above replacement at the position.
Rafael Devers, 21, is a special talent, but he owns just a .241/.292/.424 slash line, and his minus-nine defensive runs saved place him among the worst defenders at the hot corner. Plus, there's now a question of whether his left shoulder inflammation will linger.
Third base is where Machado averaged 5.3 WAR per year from 2013 to 2017 before he moved to shortstop for his walk year. He indicated to Marc Carig of The Athletic that he's not interested in moving back:
If Machado were to land in Boston, however, the Red Sox might not have much trouble convincing him to do what's good for him.
He may fancy himself a shortstop, but his minus-20 DRS suggest he's not nearly as good there as he was at third base, where he won two Gold Gloves. Xander Bogaerts is no prize in his own right at shortstop, but he's a better defender than Machado has been. Besides, Bogaerts' experience at third base is limited and not encouraging.
Meanwhile, Machado certainly has the bat for the hot corner. Despite a lull in June, he's working on a career year highlighted by a .315/.387/.575 slash line and 24 home runs. His strikeout rate is down, and his walk rate and power are up.
Granted, Machado has done the bulk of his mashing at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. But when looking at all the line drives and fly balls he's hit this season overlaid at Fenway Park, there's little reason to think his game wouldn't translate to Boston:
The Red Sox would also stand to benefit from Machado's years of experience within the AL East. Specifically, his experience against the Yankees. He's hit 22 career home runs against them, including six in 2018 alone.
Boston could therefore be thrilled to have Machado for a second-half schedule that features 10 games against New York. For that matter, also on the Red Sox's slate are seven games against the Cleveland Indians, four games against the Philadelphia Phillies and three apiece against the Astros and Atlanta Braves.
With Machado on their side, the Red Sox could tear right through the second half and blow away the franchise's high-water mark of 105 wins, set all the way back in 1912. They're on pace for 112 wins as is. The leap from there to 117 may only be Machado-sized.
In all likelihood, this is merely an extremely unlikely hypothetical. There's a far greater probability of Machado landing with the Phillies, Indians, Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, or—gasp!—the Yankees. Those five teams have the incentive and, above all, the assets to deal for him.
And yet, it seems the door is being left open for the Red Sox. And if ever there were an executive to take advantage of such an opportunity, it's Dave Dombrowski. Among the superstars the Red Sox president of baseball operations has traded for over the years are Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale. Machado would be a suitable addition to the collection.
And in this case, the potential prize is nothing short of a historic finish to an already spectacular year.