LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The White Sox are reportedly pursuing a trade that would bring Manny Machado to the South Side.
That ground-shaking news coming in the middle of the night after a third straight day of inactivity by the White Sox at this week's Winter Meetings. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal said the White Sox are making the strongest push of any team to land the Baltimore Orioles' star third baseman, with other reports from USA Today's Bob Nightengale and The Score's Bruce Levine adding that the White Sox have made the best of a dozen offers and that they're among the lead teams in this suddenly crowded derby.
The news brought joy to White Sox Twitter but plenty of head-scratching, as well, as general manager Rick Hahn has spent the week talking about how it's time for the team to sit back and let all its minor league talent develop as the carefully crafted rebuild moves forward.
While a deal might still seem to make little sense, even after all these reports, there are arguments to be made that the White Sox should both make and stay away from such a trade. Here's a breakdown.
The case for a Machado trade
It's Manny Machado.
This is one of baseball's best young players, a 25-year-old who in six major league seasons has been named to three All-Star teams, won a pair of Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 in American League MVP voting three times. He hit 105 home runs and missed only 11 regular-season games in the last three years. Last season, he managed to come one run shy of matching his career high in RBIs while playing for a last-place Orioles team that was 12 games under .500.
There's no doubt that Machado is a special talent, and obviously the White Sox would be an improved team with him.
The big hang up is the fact that Machado is slated to become a free agent after the 2018 season, making a trade for him a risky move to say the least. But Hahn talked Wednesday of the possibility of being able to extend someone fitting Machado's description,
"Sometimes you need to be creative. Sometimes you need to perhaps take a risk," Hahn said. "I think it’s probably slightly easier after a player has been part of this organization, understand what we’re about, to extend him as opposed to meeting him cold free agent and trying to sell him on the organization. We’ve had success with both, so we’re not afraid to do either, but perhaps there is a little advantage from time to time to have a guy already be on campus when you’re talking about extending him into the future.
"You guys have heard from a many of players how much they enjoy being with us, how they want to stay here, they want to be part of this rebuild. That’s in part due to the type of guys we’ve brought in and in part due to the culture and direction we’ve created."
Acquiring Machado — and successfully extending him — wouldn't hurt the rebuild. It would strengthen it. Machado would be a proven centerpiece of the White Sox future, and he'd be playing alongside what would still be an immense amount of young talent. While it would take a couple members of the team's stockpile of minor league talent to land Machado in the first place, there'd still be plenty of future stars in the system to join Machado on a championship-contending team of the future. And Machado would be right in the heart of that lineup.
The case against a Machado trade
Trading for Manny Machado is an extremely risky move that could jeopardize the planned future of the franchise.
It's obvious that Machado is a great player, no one is arguing that fact. But the White Sox have spent a year impressively building a minor league system that is the envy of the baseball world. And one of those future stars, Michael Kopech, is being reported as a potential centerpiece of the package that would head back to Baltimore. Kopech is arguably the top pitching prospect in the game after dominating at the Double-A level last season. Legendary writer Peter Gammons said this week on the White Sox Talk Podcast that there are baseball folks out there who believe Kopech will one day win a Cy Young Award.
But the cost for Machado won't stop at Kopech. There would surely be other pieces of a return package that would be difficult to see depart the organization. After months of acquiring talent in franchise-altering trades that sent Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana away from the South Side, for Hahn to reverse course and blow up his rebuilding effort seems completely illogical.
And it's all because there's no guarantee that a Machado trade would mean Machado in a White Sox uniform past the 2018 season. Machado is slated to hit the free-agent market a year from now, and he's expected to be able to earn a massive payday. While the White Sox would potentially have a leg up on the competition if Machado spent a year with the organization, it's no sure thing that they'd be the most appealing bidder or that they'd be able to offer Machado the biggest contract.
With the cost in prospects and the uncertainty about his future with the team, trading for Machado would seem to make little sense, a wild change of direction one year after Hahn so clearly declared which way this team is going.
"We’re not looking at stopgaps, we’re not looking to jump up and contend for one wild card and then regress back," Hahn said Tuesday. "We’re trying to build something that’s going to last, and extended control is part of that."