Cubs ‘Spirited Attempt’ for Machado Could Have Several Huge Implications

I know I told you I’d sent this particular nag off to the glue factory, but I had to chase it down and give it one more solid thwack after reading Jon Heyman’s latest notes. We’ve already covered the carbon-copy reports from Roch Kubatko and Nick Cafardo, neither of which really offered much depth or context to the situation, that had the Cubs discussing some combination of Addison Russell, Mike Montgomery, and Albert Almora Jr. for Manny Machado. Though brief, Heyman provides salient info that fills in some gaps.

They are said to have made a spirited attempt to trade for Machado – though it couldn’t be confirmed that all of Russell, Almora and Montgomery were offered. Montgomery was in the mix, and it is apparent Machado would have taken Russell’s shortstop spot, so he may well have been, too. Russell had a rough year last year. [all emphasis mine]

See what I mean? Like one of those magic tents in Harry Potter, there’s a great deal more inside that what initial appearances dictate. Most of what follows is inference, which can make for slippery footing, though this particular patch of ice at least seems thick enough to support the weight of my suppositions.

I had previously concluded that there’s no way the Cubs would ever offer or agree to a deal with a price as steep as giving up three controllable players — and very good ones at that — for a single year of Machado (which would cost more than all three Cubs combined and then multiplied several times). And the crazy thing is that it doesn’t even make much sense for the Orioles, who would really only create redundancy in a couple spots and wouldn’t address their greatest needs.

Montgomery, though, he seems like a solid piece. The O’s need starters, he wants to be a starter, the Cubs won’t guarantee him a spot in the rotation. Then again, he’s penciled into a starting role as things currently stand. So the Cubs being willing to move him in a deal for Machado means they’d have to be pretty sure they could go out and get a better pitcher for the vacated spot. That could be Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb or even Jake Arrieta, though none of them are coming cheap.

Now that we can safely assume the Cubs are serious about bringing Machado into the fold, it’s very evident that they’ve thought about where he would play. I mean, you don’t just throw something like this out there and then let things sort themselves out. Machado wants to play short and Heyman wrote that it’s apparent he’d assume Russell’s spot, so we can deduce that Russell was part of the offer.

It’s also possible that Russell would be moved in a subsequent deal, but that seems unlikely. His name has been mentioned at every step along the way, so we can reasonably assume that he’s legitimately a part of this whole thing. He alone would be too high a price to pay for a year of Machado, at least on paper, which tells us that there might be more at play.

I’m speaking about the off-field issues as well as matters of health and offensive development, all of which the Cubs are much more well aware of than any of us on the outside. That isn’t to say that they are indeed looking to move him because of those things, only that moving him as part of a package would be a very strong indicator that Russell’s got a riskier future than his peripherals otherwise suggest.

There’s also something much bigger at play, and I’m admittedly digging deep and connecting dots that may not actually be meant to married. When I initially wrote about a Russell-for-Machado swap, the primary validation I used for it was that it could potentially improve the Cubs’ chances at landing Bryce Harper. Crazy, right? Probably, but Heyman’s notes seem to lend some credence to my theory.

It starts with the idea that Machado would supplant Russell, rather than pushing Kris Bryant to the outfield. Jason Heyward is not about to become a $23 million AAV bench glove and the Cubs have remained steadfast in their faith in Kyle Schwarber (not that you needed further confirmation, but Heyman has this as a bullet as well). Heyward could shift to center and have Bryant assume right, but that’s too many moving parts. Occam’s razor, folks.

So you’ve got Machado at short for a single season, after which he’d get a qualifying offer that would net the Cubs a draft pick when he signs elsewhere for a huge contract. That’s not because the Cubs are cheap, it’s because Machado has had two knee surgeries and may not be able to maintain a high defensive value over the life of a new deal. His money is off the books, as is the escalating salary Russell would be earning as a Super-2 player. And Jason Heyward’s full no-trade clause expires, possibly allowing the Cubs to open a spot in right.

Which brings us to another of Heyman’s bullets:

One rival exec speculated that the Cubs are probably the favorite for Bryce Harper in a year, noting that he and Kris Bryant are great friends, and also that “their wives are great friends.” That certainly would give the Cubs quite a righty-lefty combo for years.

Boom, there it is. This is admittedly a very big gamble, one that would require so many different things to fall into place that the likelihood of it coming to fruition are incredibly low. But when you’re talking about putting together a team that has the best chance to win another World Series inside the competitive window Theo Epstein and Co. have established, it may be necessary to put it all on one roll of the dice.

Even as risky as this all appears, the Cubs have developed enough depth that they can withstand some misses here and there. So landing Machado and then watching him walk as Harper signs elsewhere wouldn’t cripple the team. It would leave a mark, sure, just not a fatal one.

This whole series of events is so crazy that even thinking about it, let alone putting it out for public consumption, is borderline irresponsible. I can’t believe I’ve convinced myself to reason through it twice now. Still, the longer these rumors linger, the more tangible their consequences become.

What do you think, dear reader, have I lost what little of my mind I’ve managed to cling to? Could the Cubs really be setting up a series of dominoes that would need to fall just the right way in order to make the whole thing work?

Boy, that’d be something. Or it could be nothing.

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