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Orioles Need To Make A Decision On Manny Machado's Future In Baltimore

October 17, 2016
I just checked again. Buck Showalter still didn't put Zach Britton into the game. 

Of course you know the Baltimore Orioles' season ended Oct. 4 when they lost the American League Wild Card Game to the Blue Jays. After a nearly week-long attempt at trying to figure out "what just happened," fans eventually moved on to trying to figure out what the Birds will do this offseason. 

Baltimore's starting pitching is probably set for 2016. Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are the top three, while Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley remain under contract. The bullpen is unlikely to undergo significant changes with all the top guys expected to return.

Free-agent catcher Matt Wieters and free-agent slugger Mark Trumbo face uncertain futures. The Birds don't seem to have an immediate option for Opening Day better than Wieters behind the plate. But they would probably like to improve their outfield defense and on-base percentage while Trumbo, who hit 47 home runs in the regular season and one in the Wild Card game, may also price himself out of Charm City. 

And then there's the other thing. Yeah. We have to talk about the other thing. As the Orioles start putting together their 2017 roster, they have to think about who is going to play ... third base. 

DUN DUN DUN. 

Perhaps the Orioles and Manny Machado are fairly close to getting a long-term extension. The sides have talked about their interest in making it happen and have attempted to agree on figures in the past. Maybe when they chatted before the 2016 season the Orioles said they'd be willing to go 10-years, $300 million, but Machado's folks said 10-years, $350 million was what they wanted. While that sounds like a significant gap, $5 million a season could probably be overcome via negotiation -- even if Machado's price only went up after an outstanding season in which he hit .294 with 37 homers and 96 RBIs. 

If the sides have been within shouting distance of each other, the decision is simple. Whether they're able to agree to a new deal, Machado is the Orioles' third baseman. Even being close is enough to warrant the continued pursuit of a long-term extension. 

But what if they aren't close? This is the inconvenient possibility no one wants to discuss. What if the Orioles, who have never handed out a contract richer than the $161 million they gave first baseman Chris Davis before the season, have decided they'll never be willing to pay more than $250 million for a single contract, while Machado's side isn't willing to even talk about avoiding free agency for a number less than $400 million?

We've had such little information about negotiations that I don't have much of a feel about it either way. But that second scenario -- the scenario where the sides just simply aren't close -- that's the potential scenario that could re-shape the Orioles' entire offseason. 

Machado is still two seasons away from reaching free agency (he'll be arbitration eligible in 2017), but his value is not likely to depreciate. So if the Orioles are far away from striking a deal, the time to try to make a trade is now. 

The reasons why are numerous. The most obvious is asset value. We all know Machado, with two full seasons of control remaining, is far more valuable than with less time left. The offseason is also a preferable time to make a deal because it allows the team the opportunity to try to find a new third baseman via trade/free agency if they don't think they have one ready (Jonathan Schoop could end up factoring in). 

This would absolutely not be a case of trying to "dump" Machado. This would be a case of realizing a deal is just never going to happen, and then using this year's MLB Winter Meetings to find whether a team is willing to give up a ransom for one of the game's special young players. It is particularly interesting this offseason because the free-agent market is underwhelming, making the availability of a player like Machado that much more enticing. I mean, the top third base target on the market is former Oriole Justin Turner. 

So it's really as simple as this. Figure out if you're at least in the neighborhood of being able to get an extension done or it's just simply time to find out if you can make the type of trade that re-writes the next decade of your franchise. You just can't keep waiting. 

Issue 226: October 2016