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Minnesota Twins Offseason What-If: Manny Machado

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What if we had been able to steal Machado from the Padres?

San Diego Padres Introduce Manny Machado Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

This is what I assumed happened last week: Having read my previous installment on the Minnesota Twins Offeason What if: Bryce Harper, the Padres decided to pull the trigger before I could write this article and persuade the Twins front office, who obviously also read my articles, to sign Manny Machado.

If you somehow avoided both my previous article and the generously provided link above, let me introduce the What-If series. I am taking a look during spring training at what could have been, if the Twins had just decided to pony up the cash for the winter’s biggest free agents, who still didn’t have jobs into February.

As with my piece on Harper, I will avoid unrealistic secondary signings or trades. I can’t sign Harper and Machado. I can’t sign Machado and then trade Lamont Wade and Kohl Stewart for JT Realmuto.

I will, however, look at both what would have happened if Machado signed right at the beginning of free agency as well as what would have happened if the Twins snuck in a deal right before the pesky Padres.

November 3rd, 2018: Twins Sign Manny Machado to 10-year, $310 million contract

The signing of Manny Machado last week actually said quite a bit about the state of his market. As far as many media members know, the Chicago White Sox had an offer on the table for Machado for some time, probably being offered in January. Initial rumors said the offer was a low ball offer of something like 7 years and $175 million dollars, far below the $300 million he was expected to sign for at the beginning of the offseason and the insane $400 million figure the media was throwing around a few years ago.

As we got closer to and into Spring Training, it was rumored that Machado would sign with whatever team gave him the most money, trying to get to that initial $300 million number that is so perfectly rounded and historical.

The White Sox had reportedly upped their offer to 8 years and $250, still a bit nervous of that $300 number. But the Padres weren’t, overshooting the White Sox by a cool $50 million. Machado took that nice round offer even though the White Sox offered a higher AAV. It is pretty obvious that Machado was waiting for a $300 million offer and that there wasn’t going to be one until the Padres decided to shock the baseball world.

Even though we know he was waiting for that $300 million deal, it is impossible to estimate what sort of offer would have gotten the deal done for the Twins at the beginning of the offseason. If the Twins offer that deal on November 3rd, does Machado take it, or does he wait for another offer? Do the Padres match the Twins offer or go slightly above? Does a true bidding war occur, bringing in big market teams? Do the Phillies throw more money around if they know other teams are? Do the White Sox decide to go all-in to keep Machado away from their divisional rivals? We have little to no idea if Machado’s market, or lack thereof, was due to genuine doubt, collusion, honestly contagious spending habits (which I think is most likely), or some combination of all the above.

So for the sake of simplicity I’m going with a 10-year, $310 million contract at the start of the offseason, assuming that the Padres would still offer their $300 million contract but not get into a bidding war, and that the White Sox were honest in saying they couldn’t go above $250 million (like the peasants they are). The extra ten million I’m offering fulfills Machado’s desire to go with whoever offers the most money, while not being a trivial amount like a simple million or two extra.

If the Twins simply offer Machado the same amount as the Padres, I’m not sure they win the tie, and it's not because of the weather or market size. Machado makes Miami his home in the winter so he wouldn’t be here to freeze his tail off. Depending on whos’ numbers you go by, the Twins actually have a legitimately larger market than the Padres. Maybe the California connection would lead to more advertisement deals, but I think the reason Machado would go with the Padres if offered two identical deals is because the Padres have a more robust farm system, as currently ranked.

The Padres have one of the best, if not the best farm system in baseball led by Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias, and Francisco Mejia. The Padres’ also have a robust list of starting pitching prospects at various levels (the Padres have 6 starting pitching prospects on the MLBPipeline top 100 list, along with the three position players listed— the Twins have 3 players on the list total). Machado can hang out with Eric Hosmer for a year or two as the kids figure it out, with the team then forced into a win-now mode to buy and trade for Major League pitching to make them competitive. This real life scenario is likely a more attractive option than playing with the Twins current bounce back candidates and the combination of Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, and a host of other players that are a year or two away from establishing legitimate prospect status. As much as I like our farm system (and the media generally agrees it is very good) it simply does not match what the Padres have.

But let's be honest, it isn’t about the prospects, it’s about the money. So we go just a tad higher and get Machado’s services for the next decade.

Additional Moves Made

The Twins sign Nelson Cruz to 1 year deal with team option.

The Twins sign Blake Parker and Martin Perez to add to the pitching staff.

The Twins sign Jorge Polanco and Max Kepler to 5 year extensions.

The Twins sign Marwin Gonzalez to 2 year deal.

The Twins sign Lucas Duda to a minor league deal.

Real Moves that change

The Twins do not sign Jonathan Schoop to a one year deal

The Twins do not pick CJ Cron off waivers or offer him a 1 year contract.

Twins Opening Day Lineup

  1. Jorge Polanco - (S) - SS
  2. Manny Machado - (R) - 3B
  3. Nelson Cruz - (R) - DH
  4. Eddie Rosario - (L) - LF
  5. Miguel Sano - (R) - 1B
  6. Marwin Gonzalez - (S) - 2B
  7. Max Kepler - (L) - RF
  8. Byron Buxton - (R) - CF
  9. Jason Castro - (L) - C

Twins Opening Day Bench

Mitch Garver - (R) - C/1B
Ehire Adrianza - (S) - SS/INF
Jake Cave - (L) - OF
Willians Astudillo - (R) - C/3B

When I first wrote up this section I had a very different and far more simple lineup. I had one scenario where the Twins sign Machado to play short and then sign Cron but not Schoop or Gonzalez. I had a different scenario where they sign Machado to play third and they sign Schoop but not Cron or Gonzalez. But then I realized that the bench listed above offers the Twins a ton of situational flexibility and the money makes the Gonzalez signing far too good to pass up.

According to Fangraphs advanced fielding metrics, Gonzalez is realistically only a good fielder in left field while being average at first base and below average at the rest of the infield positions. I also don’t expect him to repeat his 2017 season, but for $10.5 million over two years I like him as a platoon-proof switch hitter that can play across the diamond and at different spots in the batting order.

By having Machado play 3B, his best position, you are getting defense at third base that ranges from above average to god-tier Gold Glove defense, while getting slightly below average to hopefully average defense from Sano at first. The middle infield would be below average at best defensively, assuming Polanco is able to improve on his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Gonzalez has only ever played 661 total innings at second base in the majors, with a below average UZR/150 of -6.7 but a decent Rtot (baseballreference.com) of 8.

Machado’s defense at short isn’t great, but according to Fangraphs it was better than Polanco’s 2018 and disastrous but brief 2016 while only fairing about a run worse (using UZR/150) than Polanco’s 2017 season. Sano’s defense at third is still a question mark, but Polanco would likely be a league average defensive second baseman (at least) and Gonzalez has been slightly above average as a first basemen, especially when he played there more often like in 2016.

But in reality I don’t think there would be a true every-day lineup, thanks to the versatility of, well, the entire infield and bench. I think Machado at third, Gonzalez at second, and Sano at first is the best overall infield defense, but there are so many options. You could rest Sano by having Garver play first since there would be another catcher on the bench, or put Astudillo at third with the rest of the infield shifting one position to their left. There are so many options with Gonzalez alone, but with Garver, Astudillo, Machado, Polanco, and Sano being able to play two positions each the total number of infield possibilities is far too high for me to do the math on. Even giving Polanco a day off when a ground ball pitcher like Martin Perez or Kohl Stewart pitch would be a solid defensive option, with Adrianza providing solid D at short alongside Machado at third.

The next question is where in the order does Machado fit. Obviously this is a fluid lineup that will probably have 120 different iterations, but you still have to have a base to go off of. Personally, I see Machado more as a traditional number 3 hitter. Even if he has batted leadoff or in the two hole for much of his career, he doesn’t have the elite OBP numbers Harper does, so I’d rather see the ducks on the pond for Machado instead of using him as a duck for Cruz and Sano.

With that said I think it would be most beneficial for the team to bat Machado second to as it maximizes the amount of at bats for Machado and Cruz as well as to surrounding Sano with left handed batters to prioritize his positive platoon splits late in the game. The Polanco-Machado-Cruz trio is incredibly strong in its own right, and any lineup that rightfully bats Miguel Sano fifth is insane. With this lineup Kepler probably bats further down than he will in real life, but it takes the pressure off his bat while also having the flexibility of moving his bat up and deepening the lineup when he is hot, and the same goes for Rosario.

In real life, the Twin’s salary cap is currently at $116 million. By dropping Schoop’s $7.5 million and Cron’s roughly $5 million, the Machado + Gonzalez signings would have the Twins around $135 million, not much more than last year’s reported salary and the benchmark that many Twins’ bloggers have been calling for.

February 16th, 2019: Twins Sign Manny Machado to 10-year, $310 million contract.

I’m keeping the contract the same here, using the same principle that the Padres’ won’t get into a bidding war (even though they could probably win it) and that Machado goes for the biggest offer.

With Schoop and Cron already signed, I don’t think the Twins would be able to find trade partners for both or be willing to eat that much money. This means the Twins would be out on Gonzalez and would have to eat the contract of Cron, who passed through waivers to get to the Twins in the first place.

Twins Opening Day Lineup

  1. Jorge Polanco - (S) - SS
  2. Eddie Rosario - (L) - LF
  3. Manny Machado - (R) - 3B
  4. Nelson Cruz - (R) - DH
  5. Miguel Sano - (R) - 1B
  6. Max Kepler - (L) - RF
  7. Jonathan Schoop - (R) - 2B
  8. Byron Buxton - (R) - CF
  9. Jason Castro - (L) - C

Twins Opening Day Bench

Mitch Garver - (R) - C/1B
Ehire Adrianza - (S) - SS/INF
Jake Cave - (L) - OF
Willians Astudillo - (R) - C/3B

You lose the versatility of Gonzalez but have a higher overall power potential, as Schoop still hits 20 home runs in a bad year and in my opinion is more likely to get back to the 30 homer mark than Gonzalez is to get back to the 20 homer mark.

You can still sub in Garver and Astudillo to give the starting infielders a day off with a variety of different looks, but you do lose the versatility of Gonzalez — who is probably a better defensive outfielder than either of the catching duo.

Thoughts

When I started this series I thought signing Harper made the most sense, as adding another impact lefty would take pressure of Kepler’s bat while also providing balance around the Cruz-Sano-Schoop trio.

But after working through this exercise and looking at the financials, Signing Machado + Gonzalez is far better than signing Harper + Schoop. Not only does it keep your stellar outfield defense intact, but it also gives you a Gold Glove third baseman most days while still signing Polanco long term, and leaving room for Royce Lewis to take over the shortstop role in due time.

So again, the question becomes: if the move made so much sense, why didn’t the Twins pull the trigger? In the Harper scenario I argued that Harper was never going to come to a small midwest market, primarily because of advertising opportunities. Machado, on the other hand, did go to a small market team, so what gives?

I think timing is everything with Machado and signing him early has significant butterfly effects on the rest of the market that render the November 3rd lineup listed above to be an impossibility. If the Twins or anybody else had offered Machado 10 years and $300 million on day one of free agency, there likely would have been a legitimate bidding war, up to maybe $350 million. I don’t think the Twins could go that high for Machado, and even if they could Machado would then have had his choice of historical contracts instead of being forced to take the first one that came to him.

The other big thing to consider is that the first lineup looks amazing because in this magical Christmas-land we are able to get Machado and Marwin Gonzalez on a deal that frankly robs Scott Boras of a European sports car (or whatever he does with his money). If we find a way to win that early bidding war for Machado, do we have the cash to sign Gonzalez? Probably not. Does an early bidding war over one of the superstars coax teams into spending big all offseason, and thus render the real life Gonzalez deal impossible? Probably. Or do the Twins skimp on that second signing and bring back Logan Forsythe (or any other bargain stand-in) to play second while keeping the salary below $130 million? I don’t know.

While Machado + Schoop is still better than Schoop + Cron + Gonzalez, I think it's safe to say that the front office didn’t think it was possible from a logistical or financial point of view. A 10 year contract, money aside, is too long a contract in today’s up and down baseball world.

It was never going to happen, but man, what if.

Check back in next week as we take a crack at Minnesota Twins Offseason What If: Dallas Keuchel