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Is Manny Machado Enough To Bring A Title To L.A.?

After months of speculation (and an entire day of “a deal in place” with an unnamed team), Baltimore is finally pulling the trigger on a trade of star shortstop Manny Machado. In the midst of Tuesday’s All-Star Game festivities, the Orioles reportedly agreed to send him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a collection of prospects.

For the Dodgers, the move bolsters an infield that was diminished when shortstop Corey Seager went down with a season-ending elbow injury in April. Chris Taylor has done an admirable job filling in at short, with a .786 on-base plus slugging this season, and Max Muncy has been a revelation (1.013 OPS) in the infield as well, but Machado’s presence will free those two up to move around the diamond as necessary. It will be a juggling act for manager Dave Roberts to sort out everyone’s playing time, but that’s a good problem to have — as we’ve written about the trade deadline before, there are no diminishing returns to acquiring more talent in baseball because the postseason is such a crapshoot.

L.A.’s acquisition does, however, signal that Machado is probably an old-fashioned deadline rental — presumably, he won’t be back next season, with Seager returning to reclaim his familiar spot at shortstop and third baseman Justin Turner also under contract through 2020. If that’s the case, Machado is having one of the best rental seasons of all-time, at least as a hitter. He currently ranks fifth in the majors in adjusted OPS1 and is tied for sixth in home runs with 24, both very impressive numbers for a shortstop.2

Deadline rentals of this caliber are fun — there’s something cool about seeing a star player in a strange uniform for a brief spell, where you can look back years later and say, “Remember when that happened?” On the other hand, it’s worth noting that these kinds of stints don’t usually result in championships. In terms of wins above replacement3 over the previous three seasons, here are the best players to be moved midseason — and then not stay with their new team the following season — since 1901:

Rentals like Machado sometimes win — but usually don’t

Most WAR in previous three seasons for players who changed teams midseason and didn’t return to that team the next season, 1901-2018

traded WAR* World Series
Player Year from To 3-YR. Pre-trade Post- trade Made Won TEAM Year AFTER
Cliff Lee 2010 SEA TEX 16.3 2.4 PHI
Rickey Henderson 1993 OAK TOR 14.3 0.5 OAK
David Cone 1992 NYM TOR 13.9 1.3 KCR
CC Sabathia 2008 CLE MIL 13.6 5.1 NYY
Carlos Beltran 2004 KCR HOU 13.6 4.2 NYM
Manny Machado 2018 BAL LAD 12.8 ? ?
Mark Langston 1989 SEA MON 12.8 3.8 CAL
Cliff Floyd 2002 MON BOS 12.4 0.9 NYM
David Price 2015 DET TOR 12.3 2.6 BOS
Bartolo Colon 2002 CLE MON 12.2 2.2 CHW
Mark Teixeira 2008 ATL LAA 12.1 3.6 NYY
Lance Berkman 2010 HOU NYY 12.1 -0.2 STL
Randy Johnson 1998 SEA HOU 11.8 3.5 ARI
Shane Victorino 2012 PHI LAD 10.7 0.9 BOS
Ben Zobrist 2015 OAK KCR 10.7 1.3 CHC

* Three-year WAR includes the season in which the player changed teams, through his stint with the trading team. Post-trade WAR is for the season in question, from the moment the player changed teams onward.

Source: FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.com

Each of the top three players on this list did end up boosting his new club into the World Series — in fact, Toronto’s big deadline moves helped it win championships in back-to-back seasons, when the Blue Jays picked up David Cone in 1992 and Rickey Henderson in 1993. But those are more the exceptions than the rule. Most big in-season pickups do fine with their new clubs, but the nature of these deals usually means that the player is helping a team on the edge of contention make a big push to solidify its playoff chances, rather than tacking talent onto a team that was already a World Series favorite.

The Dodgers might be a little different, though. For one thing, they’re the defending National League champs, and although they suffered a horrendous start to the season, they’ve mostly righted the ship, going an NL-best 37-17 since May 17 and taking the NL West lead for the first time all season just last week. The FiveThirtyEight model gives Los Angeles an 11 percent chance of winning the World Series, which is second only to the Cubs among NL teams. (Forget for a moment how stacked the AL is in terms of World Series odds, with the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees and Indians claiming a combined 59 percent chance of winning it all.) Our research suggests that the Dodgers are exactly the type of team that should be going for it at the trade deadline, to maximize their odds of winning a championship with the opportunity in front of them.

And if not, we’ll still have fleeting memories of Machado in a Dodgers uniform to think about when he potentially ponders which hat to wear on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Footnotes

  1. Which measures a player’s OPS relative to the league and ballpark in which he played.

  2. Machado’s once-stellar defense at short has been shaky this year, but that’s another discussion.

  3. Averaging together the WAR values found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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