Like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado has seen his free agency extend into 2019, as the 26-year-old infielder seeks one of the biggest contracts in baseball history.
Like Harper, Machado offers a rare combination of youth, talent and track record that bodes well for his future. But it's still reasonable to wonder how these players might fare over the sort of long-term commitment they are likely to command.
MLB.com sought to shed some more light on this question by using Oliver projections, provided by sabermetrician Brian Cartwright, to forecast these superstars' next seven seasons.
• Projecting Harper's future
Below is a year-by-year examination of the results for Machado. It's worth keeping in mind that, like all projection systems, Oliver is inherently cautious and unlikely to spit out extreme results on either end of the spectrum. To provide a wider view of the potential outcomes, MLB.com's Tom Tango used the results to also create optimistic (90th percentile) and pessimistic (10th percentile) stat lines for each season.
That gives us three projections for Machado for every year from 2019-25, showing his slash line, home run total, weighted on-base average (wOBA) -- a version of OBP that gives credit for extra bases -- and wins above replacement (WAR). That last figure is based on the assumption that Machado is an average shortstop, but one could expect Machado's value to increase or decrease depending on his defensive success and position (for example, if he returns to being a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman). Each projection also comes with a 2018 comp, based on wOBA and WAR.
2019 season (age 26)
Optimistic projection: .301/.372/.537 (.390 wOBA), 39 HR, 6.6 WAR
2018 comp: Alex Bregman
Standard projection: .273/.338/.488 (.355 wOBA), 30 HR, 4.7 WAR
2018 comp: Jose Altuve
Pessimistic projection: .246/.304/.440 (.319 wOBA), 21 HR, 2.9 WAR
2018 comp: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Machado has finished relatively close to that top target in three of the past four seasons, topping a .365 wOBA and 6 WAR. Then again, in 2017, he more or less wound up at the lower end, with a .328 wOBA and 2.6 WAR. That's still a pretty solid floor, however. Grumblings about hustle aside, Machado has played at least 156 games in four consecutive seasons, leading the Majors in total games over that span. Combined with his defense on the left side of the infield, such durability provides a sturdy platform from which to accrue value.
Video: NLCS Gm4: Manny races home in 6.7 sec to win in 13th
2020 season (age 27)
Optimistic projection: .296/.368/.528 (.385 wOBA), 37 HR, 6.0 WAR
2018 comp: Anthony Rendon
Standard projection: .269/.335/.480 (.350 wOBA), 28 HR, 4.3 WAR
2018 comp: Didi Gregorius
Pessimistic projection: .242/.301/.432 (.315 wOBA), 20 HR, 2.5 WAR
2018 comp: Starlin Castro
Machado's projections are not as robust offensively as Harper's, which makes sense, since Harper (.382 career wOBA) has shown a far higher ceiling with the bat than Machado (.349). However, their total value isn't so different, as Machado's ability to play a stellar shortstop (like Gregorius) or third base (like Rendon) gives him a significant advantage over a corner outfielder when it comes to WAR.
2021 season (age 28)
Optimistic projection: .290/.363/.513 (.378 wOBA), 34 HR, 5.4 WAR
2018 comp: Freddie Freeman
Standard projection: .263/.330/.467 (.344 wOBA), 26 HR, 3.7 WAR
2018 comp: Cody Bellinger
Pessimistic projection: .237/.297/.420 (.309 wOBA), 18 HR, 2.1 WAR
2018 comp: Jason Kipnis
If Machado does stay at shortstop, he will offer an unusual amount of offensive production. Last season, he was one of only three primary shortstops to log at least 400 plate appearances with a wOBA over .370. Only six, including Machado, were at .344 or better. Even the worst-case scenario here is not far below the overall MLB average.
Video: SF@LAD: Machado charges in for tough barehanded stop
2022 season (age 29)
Optimistic projection: .282/.356/.495 (.368 wOBA), 30 HR, 4.7 WAR
2018 comp: Xander Bogaerts
Standard projection: .257/.324/.450 (.335 wOBA), 23 HR, 3.2 WAR
2018 comp: Chris Taylor
Pessimistic projection: .231/.291/.405 (.301 wOBA), 16 HR, 1.7 WAR
2018 comp: Nick Ahmed
Both Bogaerts and Ahmed rated well defensively at shortstop in 2018, so the split between top and bottom here basically comes down to the difference between a well-above-average bat and a below-average one. For context, Machado's career-low wOBA was .317, way back in his 51-game MLB debut in 2012.
2023 season (age 30)
Optimistic projection: .275/.349/.478 (.359 wOBA), 27 HR, 4.0 WAR
2018 comp: Tommy Pham
Standard projection: .250/.317/.435 (.327 wOBA), 21 HR, 2.7 WAR
2018 comp: Asdrubal Cabrera
Pessimistic projection: .225/.286/.391 (.294 wOBA), 15 HR, 1.3 WAR
2018 comp: Freddy Galvis
The reality is, if Machado is still able to play an average shortstop as he reaches 30, he would be going against the grain. In 2018, for example, Brandon Crawford, Alcides Escobar, and Jordy Mercer were the only players 30 or older to spend even 50 games at short. Each was 31, and none was above average with the bat.
2024 season (age 31)
Optimistic projection: .268/.342/.462 (.351 wOBA), 25 HR, 3.5 WAR
2018 comp: Travis Shaw
Standard projection: .244/.311/.420 (.319 wOBA), 19 HR, 2.2 WAR
2018 comp: Cesar Hernandez
Pessimistic projection: .220/.280/.378 (.287 wOBA), 13 HR, 0.9 WAR
2018 comp: Mercer
Even if Machado does remain at shortstop for a while -- no sure thing, depending on where he signs -- it's not difficult to imagine a scenario in which he transitions back to being a slugging third baseman somewhere along the way. That could make him similar to Shaw, who batted .241/.345/.480 with 32 homers this past season, mostly at the hot corner.
Video: BAL@TB: Machado flashes the leather vs. the Rays
2025 season (age 32)
Optimistic projection: .261/.336/.444 (.341 wOBA), 22 HR, 3.0 WAR
2018 comp: Jurickson Profar
Standard projection: .238/.305/.404 (.310 wOBA), 17 HR, 1.8 WAR
2018 comp: Yoan Moncada
Pessimistic projection: .214/.275/.363 (.279 wOBA), 12 HR, 0.6 WAR
2018 comp: Cory Spangenberg
Thus far, Machado has lived up to the hype as a No. 3 overall Draft pick, becoming one of the top players in the game. As fellow infielders Profar, Moncada and Spangenberg show, it's not that easy, even for top prospects. While all three had that tag at one time, Profar only just enjoyed his first full season in 2018, after years of injuries. Moncada still has plenty of potential but led the Majors in strikeouts as a 23-year-old this past season. Spangenberg, the 10th overall pick in 2011, has yet to establish himself as a full-time big league starter. Despite a few stumbles here and there, Machado has beaten the odds to this point, producing roughly 30 WAR over his first seven years.
Optimistic projection: 33.0 WAR
2012-18 comp: Robinson Cano
Standard projection: 22.5 WAR
2012-18 comp: Evan Longoria
Pessimistic projection: 12.0 WAR
2012-18 comp: Hanley Ramirez
Some successful young players age well, and others don't, but it can be difficult to guess who will head down which path.
Cano, Longoria and Ramirez all were outstanding infielders early in their careers. Cano remained a superstar all the way through his early 30s and produced about 3 WAR last year at age 35 despite missing half the season due to suspension. Longoria seems to have started a steady decline over the past couple of seasons, posting below-average offensive numbers at ages 31-32. And Ramirez fought injuries, moved from shortstop to third base to left field to first base/DH, and largely struggled after signing with Boston before his age-31 season.
In other words, a long contract for Machado would include significant risk, especially in the latter half. But considering Machado's tremendous ability, it may be a risk worth taking.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.