By Matt Citak
With just under three weeks until MLB’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the league has yet to see any major deals go down this season.
While many guys, both pitchers and position players, remain available on the trade market, teams around the league seem to be waiting for the big shoe to drop before pursuing other, smaller deals.
That big shoe, of course, is Orioles superstar shortstop Manny Machado.
Machado has been the biggest name on the trade block since last offseason, when it became clear that the infielder had no interest in signing a contract extension before becoming a free agent following this season.
Since then, the 26-year-old has done nothing but absolutely dominate opposing pitchers.
Machado is in the midst of the best season of his seven-year MLB career. The superstar is hitting .314 with 23 home runs and 63 RBI to go along with a .574 slugging percentage. If the young infielder can keep up this pace, he will easily shatter all of his previous career-highs in those categories.
There is no denying that his performance value could not be higher than it is at the moment. However Machado has publicly stated that he has no intentions of signing a new contract before testing the free agent waters this offseason, thus making the superstar quite possibly the greatest rental player Major League Baseball has ever seen.
This is why contending teams must tread carefully when entering the Machado sweepstakes.
You don’t have to go back far to see the possible value a rental player can bring to a team competing for a playoff spot. It was only two seasons ago that the Yankees dealt closer Aroldis Chapman, who had just a few months remaining on his contract, to the Chicago Cubs at the 2016 trade deadline.
Chapman went on to help the Cubs win the National League and eventually the World Series, so it’s safe to say the Cubs were not left disappointed about the deal.
However, the cost of acquiring Chapman was Chicago’s top prospect Gleyber Torres.
Torres finally made his MLB debut this season and has been outstanding in the 60+ games he’s appeared in, as he is the current favorite to take home the AL’s Rookie of the Year honors.
Had the Cubs not won the World Series, this would have been considered a disastrous trade for Chicago. To make matters worse, once he hit free agency, Chapman resigned a long-term deal with the Yankees. All in all, New York acquired a potential superstar in Torres for just two months of Chapman not being with the club.
Contending team are facing the same dilemma this year with Machado, as the Orioles expect at least one top prospect in exchange for the superstar rental.
Two teams that are being heavily linked to Machado happen to be Baltimore’s division rivals- the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The latest rumblings have had the Orioles asking the Yankees for top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield as the starting point of a package for Machado, which would be an incredibly tough pill to swallow for Brian Cashman and the Bronx Bombers.
Sheffield, acquired in the Andrew Miller trade two years ago, has a 2.44 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) between AA and AAA this season, and is the best pitcher New York has in its farm system. Considering their need of starting pitching, there’s no wonder why Cashman is hesitant to deal Sheffield for just three guaranteed months of Machado.
The Red Sox find themselves in an even worse situation. While the Yankees have one of the strongest farm systems in baseball to fall back on in trade talks, the same cannot be said about Boston. A deal for Machado could possibly require young infielder Rafael Devers to be included in the deal, which is not something the Red Sox would be thrilled to do.
Despite hitting just .241 this season, Devers has shown a lot of potential in his 147 career games, totaling 24 home runs and 78 RBI since making his MLB debut last year.
Is trading one of your best young players to a division rival for a few months of Machado really worth it?
While these two teams would likely have to pay a bit of a premium to Baltimore, as they all reside in the AL East, NL teams are dealing with the same debate. The Brewers would probably have to trade top prospect Corbin Burnes, while the Phillies would have to part with top prospect Sixto Sanchez.
MLB teams understand the risks that come with trading for a rental player, especially one of Machado’s caliber. While he would provide any team in the league with a significant boost to their lineup and infield defense, it would only be for a few months.
After that, Machado is free to sign with whatever team offers him the most money, which at the pace he’s playing at right now could be upwards of $400 million.
So do you roll the dice and trade away one of your top young prospects under team control for the next seven-eight years just for a few months of Manny Machado, in hope that he will help bring you a World Series title come November?
That remains the ($400) million dollar question.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.