It took a week for the Los Angeles Dodgers to trade for Orioles shortstop Manny Machado. Details of the trade emerged slowly over the course of several days, and the trade wasn’t completed until after Machado represented Baltimore in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Machado could’ve driven from Baltimore to Los Angeles in the time it took the details to leak out. It’s the delayed steal of the trade deadline.
But after the slow bleed, Machado’s going to become a Dodger for real, heading to Los Angeles for a large package of prospects. The headliner is Yusniel Diaz, a 21-year-old outfielder who homered twice in the Futures Game, just days before he was traded. Diaz was the no. 31 prospect on the Baseball Prospectus midseason top 50
The other prospects headed to the Orioles system in the deal are third baseman Rylan Bannon, right-handers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, and second baseman Breyvic Valera.
But what have the Dodgers bought for that price? What does Machado do for the Dodgers in their bid to not only return to the World Series, but to win it?
On one hand, Machado instantly becomes the best position player on the Dodgers. His .315 batting average and 24 home runs lead his new team, and his .387 OBP and .575 slugging percentage are both second to Max Muncy. (“Second to Max Muncy” still feels like a weird thing to say, but we live in weird times.) Unlike Muncy, a four-corners type who can play second in a pinch, Machado can play a passable shortstop and a spectacular third base. And even though he just turned 26, Machado has a long track record of performance—since 2012, his debut season, Machado is tied for 26th in baseball (among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances) with a 121 OPS+, 12th in bWAR (30.9), and 13th in wins above average (18.3). He’s a superstar, one of the best all-around position players in the game.
Any team could use a player like Machado, but the Dodgers happen to have a Corey Seager–shaped hole in their lineup after the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year went down with a sprained UCL earlier this spring. There aren’t many like-for-like replacements for Seager, a shortstop who’s also an elite power hitter. Machado’s one of them. With Machado in the fold, the Dodgers, who have won 37 of their past 54 games and took over first place in the NL West last week, become heavy favorites to win their division.
On the other hand, given the way the Dodgers have played over the past two months, they were probably division favorites anyway. At the break, FanGraphs gave the Dodgers a 92.3 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 77.8 percent chance to win the NL West. (BP was a little more bearish, putting them at 79 percent to make the playoffs and 59.6 percent to win the division.)
So this trade is not about merely making the playoffs, but what happens after the Dodgers get to the NLDS. The Dodgers have coped with injuries up and down the lineup—not just to Seager but Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig—thanks to certain players’ positional flexibility. Austin Barnes can catch and play second base. Cody Bellinger can play first base and all three outfield positions. Chris Taylor’s played three positions this year, Muncy four, Enrique Hernández seven. Slotting Machado in at shortstop allows Dodger manager Dave Roberts to shuffle the deck to get Logan Forsythe’s .208/.270/.301 slash line out of the lineup. That would give the Dodgers a lineup that truly goes eight deep, a lineup rivaled in the National League by only the Cubs.
With two and a half months to go in the season, the Cubs are probably still slight favorites to win the National League, but only because of their position in the standings. While the Dodgers are very likely to make the playoffs, the Cubs are a near-lock, and that’s a small but important distinction. Chicago’s lead in the division is larger (2.5 games compared to half a game) and the Cubs are 3.5 games ahead of the Dodgers in the standings, which means that they have an extra weekend series’s worth of breathing room if they fall back into the cacophonous Xibalba of the National League wild-card race.
But assuming that both teams make it to October, the Dodgers would be, at the very worst, Chicago’s equal on talent. And given the depth of the Dodgers’ pitching staff, I’d make them favorites in a hypothetical NLCS rematch.
The Machado trade also gives the Dodgers two advantages that won’t show up in their games this season. First, the trade boxes the Phillies and Brewers out of the running for the best player on the market at the deadline, and Machado could’ve been a game-changer for either team since the shortstop situations in both Milwaukee and Philadelphia are even more dire than the one Los Angeles faced. That means an easier road to the wild card if the Diamondbacks pass the Dodgers for the NL West lead or an easier road to the pennant if they don’t. Or both.
Second, the Dodgers can now roll out the red carpet for one of the best players on this coming winter’s free-agent market. Machado’s extremely unlikely to sign an extension without at least testing the waters, but the Dodgers will have almost four extra months to talk numbers now, and life in Los Angeles will become a known quantity rather than a leap into terra incognita.
While Diaz is the only top-100 prospect heading to Baltimore, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan said that evaluators he’s spoke with said “Baltimore did well in Manny Machado trade.” This is the quintessential rental trade: The price looks steep up front, but the Dodgers have much to gain, and the deal looks even better for them the harder you look.
This piece was updated after publication to reflect that the deal is now official.