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Manny Machado sweepstakes are underway - and Dodgers are favorites to acquire him

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 6/27/2018 Bob Nightengale
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The Los Angeles Dodgers are playing it coy, acting as if they can’t take on money, won’t give up prized prospects, and aren’t hellbent on returning to the World Series again.

Don’t be fooled.

They are poised to land Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado.

This is the one player on the trade market who can singlehandedly change the playoff landscape, and several Major League Baseball executives and scouts told USA TODAY Sports that the Dodgers have emerged as the clear-front favorites to land Machado.

The market is just starting to move now, a high-ranking Orioles executive said, and the Orioles have responded by pulling several of their professional scouts away from major-league coverage to spend time in the minor leagues scouting prospects.

And, yes, they are focusing primarily on the Dodgers’ vaunted system.

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The Dodgers need to make up for last summer’s blunder when they didn’t acquire Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. They didn’t want to give up the prospects, or pick up the remaining $56 million in his contract through 2019, despite Verlander’s desire to play in Los Angeles. The Houston Astros, with the Tigers agreeing to pay $8 million of his contract each season, grabbed him instead on Aug. 31 after Verlander cleared waivers.

The Astros don’t win their first World Series, let alone ever get there, without Verlander.

The Dodgers’ World Series drought doesn’t extend to 30 years if they pass on Verlander, instead picking up Yu Darvish, who became a free agent at the end of last season.

This year, prospects and money be damned, they’ve got no choice but to acquire Machado.

Simply, they’ve come too far, too quickly, not to go for it all now.

The Dodgers (42-36), who opened the season losing 26 of their first 42 games, have gone 26-10 since May 17, the best mark in the major leagues. They trail the Arizona Diamondbacks, who just so happen to be perhaps the Dodgers’ stiffest competition for Machado, by 2 ½ games in the NL West.

The Dodgers, who have All-Star third baseman Justin Turner in the lineup after missing 40 games, and three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw back after his second DL stint, have managed to survive with their fabulous depth.

Still, they have a hole at shortstop with All-Star Corey Seager out for the year with Tommy John elbow surgery.

Sure, Enrique Hernandez has filled in admirably, hitting .234 with 13 homers, 26 RBI, and a .787 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). And Chris Taylor (.256, nine homers, 30 RBI) can play shortstop, center field and virtually anywhere else.

But neither of them are Manny Machado.

Machado, who wants to stay at shortstop not only now, but when he becomes a free agent, is one of the five most talented players in the game of baseball, and one of the greatest impact players ever to hit the mid-season trade market. He’s hitting .301 with 19 homers and 55 RBI for the woeful Orioles while playing capable defense after spending his first five full seasons as a Gold Glove third baseman.

The Dodgers don’t have a need for him after this season, not with Seager under control through 2021. Yet, they sure could use him now. And if they don’t acquire him, they could find themselves watching him lead the Diamondbacks to the playoffs as NL West champions.

The D-backs, who witnessed the impact J.D. Martinez had on their lineup after acquiring him last July from the Detroit Tigers, would love to have Machado. It’s a vital year considering that starter Patrick Corbin and center fielder A.J. Pollock are free agents at the season’s conclusion. They don’t have the surplus of prized prospects like the Dodgers, or the money, but can still handle the roughly $8 million Machado still is owed this year.

The Orioles likely won’t receive nearly the package of prospects they originally envisioned, despite Machado’s talent. They never received an offer they remotely considered last winter when they put him on the market, even with a team able to have him an entire season instead of just three months.

Yet, the Orioles insist they will have a robust market for Machado despite no plans to grant a 72-hour window for any team to negotiate an extension with Machado. No matter. Machado, in line for perhaps the most lucrative contract in baseball history, has no interest in signing an extension before hitting free agency, anyway.

The New York Yankees are the favorites to land Machado once he hits free agency, but one team who plans to spend just as aggressively are the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have five front-office members from the Orioles’ organization, including president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, who are familiar with Machado. Instead of waiting until this winter, they could certainly pursue him now, sitting just 3 ½ games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.

The St. Louis Cardinals, particularly with their primary trade target, Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, sidelined for at least three more weeks with a strained calf, also are keeping close tabs on Machado. They’re not sure whether they’d play him at shortstop or third base, but considering that for the first time in 20 years they are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, they can worry about those details later.

The only other team scouts and executives believe will strongly be in play are the Milwaukee Brewers. They lead the NL Central by 2 ½ games over the Chicago Cubs, and are in desperate need of help at shortstop. Orlando Arcia, who was benched Tuesday night for Brad Miller, is hitting .198 with a .230 on-base percentage and .255 slugging percentage.

The Brewers showed their aggressiveness this winter by signing center fielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract and acquiring outfielder Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins. When you’ve won only one division title since 1982, haven’t reached the postseason in seven years, and have a golden opportunity to bring misery to the rival Chicago Cubs, there’s no reason to let a few prospects stand in the way.

The Machado trade intrigue is starting in earnest now, and despite the dysfunction in the Orioles’ organization, and the chance owner Peter Angelos could always nix any trade, every team involved in the Machado talks believe he will be dealt.

The Orioles aren’t predicting a timetable, but one Orioles executive said the market is starting to move, and it’s possible he'll be gone by the All-Star Game.

He should be wearing a Dodgers uniform the rest of the summer.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale

Related slideshow: 2018 MLB season (Provided by photo services) 


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