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The Cardinals are absolutely going to trade for Manny Machado, right?

The Cardinals already made a big trade to bolster their lineup during the Winter Meetings. They can still make one more.

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St Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles
Just missed.
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

With the benefit of hindsight, the Baltimore Orioles probably should have traded Manny Machado last offseason. Not only was he coming off a brilliant season with two years of team control left, and not only was he coming off a fifth-place MVP vote, but the Orioles were seemingly disinterested in building a team around him. The master plan to improve their pitching was to sign 40-year-old Tomo Ohka, who was attempting to return as a knuckleballer. By innings pitched, the biggest pitching acquisitions last offseason, were:

  1. Richard Bleier
  2. Gabriel Ynoa
  3. Vidal Nuno

The Orioles started the season with Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley in the rotation, and they ended the season with Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley in the rotation, which is absolutely the saddest possible way to describe the 2017 Orioles. That sentence has everything: poor planning, misguided hope, resounding failure, and a lack of depth that forced the struggling pitchers to keep trudging out there. In retrospect, if they weren’t going to try, they should have traded Machado when his value was high.

The wild card is a designer drug that will rot your brain. Stay away, kids.

But we’re here in the present, and there’s nothing the Orioles can do to fix their lackadaisical mistakes from last year. Now they’re willing to move Machado for prospects instead of spending the next calendar year talking extension. According to some reports, they’re actively shopping him.

Our job is to find him the right fit.

Which team would like to employ Machado? All of them. Which team would like to give up their very best prospects for him, considering that he’ll be gone in a year? Fewer of them. There’s a sweet spot the Orioles are searching for, which is to deal with a win-now team with an acute need in the infield and a deep farm system. I just described the Yankees, and that gives Orioles fans an aggressive rash, so we’ll save that for the end.

Start with the win-now teams, the kind that feel really comfortable with their contending hopes next season. Thanks for your presentation, Reds, but we’re moving in a different direction. Best of luck, Tigers and White Sox. And we’re going to move on from the A’s, Royals, Marlins, Mets, Phillies, and Padres.

The Braves, Giants, Rays, Blue Jays, Mariners, and Pirates really want believe in themselves, and I adore their plucky spirit. But they have far too many holes to consider a hyper-expensive rental player.

Now we’re down to just 14 teams, but we can trim the list even more. Consider the Rockies, who are actively contending. What would they do with Machado? Trade Trevor Story? Move him to left field? There are permutations that make mad-scientist sense, but they’re not going to happen. You can remove the Red Sox (Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers), Dodgers (Corey Seager and Justin Turner), Astros (Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman, Nationals (Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon), and the Cubs (Addison Russell and Kris Bryant) from serious consideration. They might get mad-scientisty, sure, especially the Nationals, who have the ability to put Turner in the outfield. But it doesn’t seem likely. Even though there are ways to make it work, I’ll put the Rangers with Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus on the “likely no” pile, along with the Brewers, who have long-term solutions in place at short and third.

There are ways around these conundrums. Both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez played shortstop, and they coexisted in the same lineup for years. The Brewers might, I don’t know, try Orlando Arcia at second base for a year if the reason is Manny Machado. It seems highly unlikely that any of these teams would dramatically rearrange their current infield for a rental, though.

We have six teams now, but there’s still the matter of what the Orioles would want back. They’re not giving up their chance to sign Machado to an extension (and the minimum return of a compensatory draft pick) for some randos at the top of a widely panned farm system. The Angels technically have the best prospect in baseball, but they’re probably keeping him, so they’re off the list. The remaining six teams could probably build a deal with a combination of major leaguers and prospects.

Those five teams:

  • Yankees
  • Twins
  • Diamondbacks
  • Indians
  • Cardinals

All five of them could be in the market for a one-year rental. There’s a twist, though! Peter Angelos reportedly won’t deal Machado to the Yankees. They have the prospects, but it would be an extremely bad look to trade one of the Orioles’ best players since Cal Ripken to the Yankees, and that’s before you get to the part where Angelos really, really, really hates them.

Four teams, then. The Indians could move Jose Ramirez to second base to make room for Machado, though they wouldn’t be able to accommodate his desire to switch positions. The Twins could probably include one of their low-cost, good-not-great infielders in the trade. The Cardinals could use him at either third or short, depending on how many prospects they have after trading for Marcell Ozuna. The Diamondbacks don’t have a huge need, and they’d probably prefer to either keep their prospects or focus on other areas of the team, but they’ve made it to the final round of my little exercise.

The problem with this, all of this, is that three of these four teams are absolutely counting on their farm system to keep costs down. The Twins might be a win-now team, but they’re also counting on their best prospects to build something sustainable. They might make a huge trade for a player who can help them for two or three years, but just one with a chance to bolt? Seems unlikely. This goes for the Indians, too, as they have the unenviable task of keeping together their own core on a tight budget.

If one of the perks about trading for Machado is the exclusive negotiating window, the Indians would be less interested than other teams. The Diamondbacks have this problem with Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, too, and while they could certainly package someone like Jon Duplantier or Pavin Smith into a deal, you’d have to think they would have to get more than a rental back.

Long story short, I think we’re going to have to get used to this:

Matt Carpenter - 3B
Tommy Pham - LF
Manny Machado - SS
Marcell Ozuna - RF
Jose Martinez - 1B
Yadier Molina - C
Dexter Fowler - CF
Kolten Wong - 2B

Jedd Gyorko, Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Stephen Piscotty, and the 38 different outfielders produced by Cardinals Way INC® last quarter will be on the trading block (or included in a Machado trade), and the ones left over will turn into a horrifying amount of depth for a horrifyingly deep team.

Oh, I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. But I keep going through the different possibilities, and there isn’t a team that makes more sense. The Orioles are likely going to get a decent chunk of prospects for Manny Machado, and he’ll go for a team that would be very much interested in locking a young superstar up for years, like they were with Giancarlo Stanton.

I’d hold off on preordering the jersey, but you can at least put one in the cart and save it for later. The Orioles want to trade Machado, and I can think of just one perfect fit.