Machado the prize, but plenty of 3B intrigue
How intriguing is the trade market for third basemen right now?
Consider this: The Indians have the best production at the position in the Majors this year, thanks to Jose Ramirez's historic season. With 22 home runs, he is on pace to eclipse Adrian Beltre's single-season Major League record (48) among third basemen 25 and younger.
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Yet the Tribe is among the teams considering the acquisition of a third baseman.
How is that possible? Well, if the Indians land Manny Machado, Ramirez can move across the diamond to second base -- his best defensive position, and where Jason Kipnis has a .610 OPS this season.
Machado has a trade market unto himself, because of his power (18 home runs, .925 OPS) and defensive versatility. The Orioles' three-time All-Star is the best player available at both third base and shortstop. If the O's act decisively in their trade conversations, they'll draw multiple compelling offers for Machado; if they wait until shortly before the non-waiver Trade Deadline to establish a clear direction, they could stifle the activity on third basemen around the Majors.
The D-backs' interest in Machado goes back to last offseason, and sources told MLB.com this week the sides have been in contact about a possible trade at least once since Opening Day. The Braves have yet to seriously pursue Machado, but they have the prospects to entice the Orioles. Atlanta also leads the National League East and has shown no sign of fading, giving new general manager Alex Anthopoulos plenty of motivation to make the sort of bold moves for which he was known in Toronto.
Along with Machado, one future Hall of Famer (Beltre) and two recent All-Stars (Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson) are available at third base. All four are free agents after the season, increasing the chances that trades will occur.
Beltre has a full no-trade clause, and it remains unclear if he'd waive it for the chance to play on a contender. Beltre, 39, has yet to win a World Series ring. A trade in the coming weeks could represent his last chance at one.
Crucially, Beltre is playing well enough that teams are interested. He's batting .302 and is revered for his clubhouse influence. At least some within the Indians organization would like to acquire Beltre, particularly given his history playing for Cleveland manager Terry Francona during his one season in Boston.
The Phillies also have interest in Beltre, sources say, as much for his professionalism as his production. The Phils have the youngest group of position players in the Majors, and team officials see long-term value in Beltre's influence on an emerging core. Plus, the recent injury to J.P. Crawford has opened up more at-bats on the infield.
Moustakas isn't on track to equal last year's Royals record-setting home run pace, but his OPS+ is nearly identical to where it was in 2017. Improved health also has allowed Moustakas to return to his high defensive standard, according to Kansas City manager Ned Yost. Moustakas is a 2015 World Series champion who is regarded as an excellent teammate and is on a priced-to-move team-friendly contract. Especially after the Royals traded reliever Kelvin Herrera and outfielder Jonathan Jay, it will be a major surprise if Moustakas isn't dealt.
Donaldson is a different case: His lack of playing time due to multiple injuries (only 36 games this year) is creating uncertainty in the minds of suitors about the 2015 American League MVP Award winner. Teams will want to see Donaldson play every day for multiple weeks before investing prospects and money in acquiring him, and he's running out of time to do so.
In fact, it's possible that Donaldson could clear August trade waivers if he's still on the disabled list then, by virtue of his $23 million salary. As a result, we still could be two months away from a Donaldson trade.
One more name to monitor: Matt Duffy of Tampa Bay. While there hasn't been much national buzz surrounding his season, Duffy is having a career offensive year. He also is in his salary arbitration years. Given the Rays' precedent, they'll be open-minded if a strong offer comes.
This season, though, Tampa Bay may find the supply of third basemen is simply too great to receive the right return for Duffy. At the 2018 Trade Deadline, there's no corner of the market quite like this.