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How the Arizona Diamondbacks could afford Manny Machado

In an unexpected twist, the D-backs are reported to be among the front-runners for the Orioles’ infielder.

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Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

The Diamondbacks’ pursuit of Machado

Buster Olney of ESPN writes today, “As of Saturday morning, the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks had demonstrated the most interest in Manny Machado, according to AL sources.” This is a surprising turn of events, mostly because the D-backs’ payroll does not obviously include room for Machado. He is in his final year of arbitration, before hitting the mega-class of 2018 free agents after next season, and it is estimated by MLB Trade Rumors that he’ll get $17.3 million there. What are the odds the D-backs will be able to afford it? Because team president Derrick Hall said last month the team’s payroll will be “close to where we’ve been the last couple of years.”

Depending on how you account for things like Zack Greinke’s deferred salary, Arizona ended last year somewhere in the range of $105-115 million. With existing contracts and arbitration raises, the D-backs are already projected to be on the hook for about $117 million in 2018, which hints more at cuts than any additions. They could trade some existing players back to the Orioles to reduce the commitment. Baltimore is looking for pitching help, so Patrick Corbin would seem obvious. If he and Jake Lamb (potentially surplus to requirements if we get Manny) were traded, that would free up about $13 million: still short of balancing out Machado’s cost.

Finding the money

But there is an additional item on the books next year which COULD be used to finance this acquisition. There’s been a lot in the news lately about Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox. However, that’s not the only property they bought this year. In August 2017, they bought an additional 42% stake in MLB Advanced Media, which handles the Internet and interactive activities for major-league baseball. This adds on to the 33% share Disney had already acquired 12 months earlier, giving them a majority holding in the company. The latest tranche of shares cost the House of Mouse a little north of $1.5 billion dollars.

And two days ago, SiriusXM’s Jim Bowden reported this:

Teams may need an even larger suitcase. NBC’s Craig Calcaterra says, “Some people I’ve spoken to who are familiar with the acquisition say the figure is more like $68 million in Q1 of 2018.” This is basically free money for the owners, because there was no significant investment required in MLBAM. It won’t help any free-agent negotiations, because the rising tide will float all boats there: every team gets the money. But it can be used to take on additional one-year obligations, exactly like Machado would be for the Diamondbacks. His 2018 cost would represent only about one-third of the money received by the team in a couple of months.

Of course, the key word in all the above is “could.” Ken Kendrick and the other owners might, just as well, pocket the entire amount and tell Mike Hazen to go stand on a freeway exit in downtown Phoenix with a sign. Indeed, history suggests that may be the more likely scenario. Fans of the Diamondbacks are still waiting for the payroll increase they expected would happen, as a result of the long-term, billion-plus dollar contract the team signed with Fox Sports Arizona for television rights coverage, back in February 2015. Since then, the team’s salary bill had increased very little, if at all. So there is no guarantee this windfall will be used for the team. But it could be, if the will exists among those writing the checks.

Arizona with Machado

Even with a down season in 2017, Machado was still worth 3.3 bWAR and has been worth 17.2 bWAR over the past three years. He has mostly been a third-baseman, though can also play a bit of shortstop. Even though he’s approaching free agency, he is still only 25 years old, and last season batted .259 for Baltimore, with 33 home-runs. His career line with the Orioles is .279/329/.476, for an OPS+ of 116. Machado’s defense is excellent: Manny has been worth at least one dWAR each of the last five campaigns, averaging more than two per year over that time, and winning a pair of Gold Gloves.

If he plays at the hot corner, he would likely take over from Lamb, who would then become trade bait - perhaps for a long-term solution in center? However, there were discussions in Baltimore as to whether Machado would move to shortstop, which he apparently prefers. That may be especially the case in his walk year: a third-baseman who hits 30+ bombs is one thing in free-agency, but a shortstop would be on quite another level. However, such a move would complication things considerably for Arizona, with the team already apparently over-stocked at that position, between Nick Ahmed, Ketel Marte and Chris Owings.

What would the D-backs have to give up? There’s no shortage of competition, with Baltimore apparently having received ten legitimate offers, despite limiting teams’ abilities to negotiate an extension. It’s something I presume would not be an issue in Arizona. Machado would likely be a one-year rental, intended to help take advantage of the current window of opportunity, before A.J. Pollock hits free-agency at the end of next season. Corbin and Lamb would both upgrade the Orioles’ rotation and give them a replacement for Machado, though the former is, like Machado, only under contract for one more year. But it could well be a starting point for the discussion.

At this point, it still feels like a long-shot for Arizona, especially if there are a double-digit number of teams in on the discussion. Getting Machado might require a significant haul, something which would damage the often-expressed desire for longer-term contention. So far, Hazen and the front-office have been very cautious on this front, keeping most of the prospects which can be used to build from within. If it is sustained, it may be hard to compete with teams less concerned about the future. However, news of the MLBAM windfall does provide a potential solution to the financial aspects which were previously an even larger block on such a trade.