Does Manny Machado Make the Los Angeles Dodgers World Series Favorites?
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers officially made the first big splash of Major League Baseball’s trade season. With the deadline still over 10 days away, the Dodgers wasted no time in firing the first salvo. L.A. acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in a deal that sent 5 minor league prospects to the American League East. None of the players heading to Baltimore is what you’d call a top-tier prospect. Among the 5, only outfielder Yusniel Diaz (No. 84) ranks among the top 100 prospects in the game, according to MLB pipeline.
The Orioles backed themselves into a corner, which is why the return for their franchise cornerstone looks underwhelming. Machado’s contract is set to expire after this season. Baltimore could have commanded more in a deal had they put him on the market sooner, perhaps last winter. With only 2 guaranteed months of Machado left, however, the O’s did what they could in order to avoid losing the player for nothing as a free agent. Baltimore was never going to shell out the hefty dough required to keep him in town.
So, the Orioles will now begin what will likely be a long and painful teardown and rebuilding project. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are clearly shooting for the stars this season. It’s World Series or bust for Los Angeles in 2018. Does this deal make them the favorites?
How Does This Shake Up the Dodger Lineup?
It’s pretty clear that Machado will slide into the Dodgers’ starting shortstop spot. The team was dealt a serious blow early in the season when all-world shortstop Corey Seager was lost for the season with an elbow injury. The former Rookie of the Year opted to undergo Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out of the lineup until spring training of 2019.
In the interim, the likes of Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez have been splitting the duties at short for L.A. Both have done an admirable job at the position, but neither brings the thunder that Machado does. This year’s starting shortstop for the American League at the All-Star Game enters his Dodger tenure with a slash line of .315/.387/.575 with 24 home runs and 65 runs batted in. Taylor and Hernandez have combined to hit 27 dingers on the season.
An addition like this is where the Dodgers’ incredible versatility comes in hand. Rather than being relegated to bench duty, both Taylor and Hernandez still figure to feature regularly in Dave Roberts’ lineups. Taylor has shown that he is plenty capable of holding down the fort at second base or in center or left field. Hernandez is even more versatile, as he has started a game at 7 different positions already this season. The lone positions at which Hernandez has not drawn a start are catcher and pitcher. So, Roberts can essentially plug him in wherever he wants.
The team has also utilized newcomer Max Muncy at 3 different infield spots. Muncy has filled in admirable at third base whenever incumbent starter Justin Turner is unable to play. Turner has been battling a lingering wrist injury all year long, which has resulted in plenty of chances for Muncy to slide in at the hot corner. The former Oakland A has also played some second base and first base.
If Turner is healthy coming out of the break, he’ll slide into his usual spot at third. With Taylor and Hernandez likely seeing the bulk of the playing time at second base, Muncy’s only other viable position is first. Cody Bellinger has spent most of the year as the team’s starting first sacker, but he has also shown enough chops to play a strong center field. With so many infielders now in the fold, Bellinger is likely to see most of his action in the middle of the outfield, flanked by Matt Kemp in left and Yasiel Puig in right.
Logan Forsythe, who was acquired to be the team’s starting second baseman prior to last year, will now likely get most of his work coming off the bench. Ditto for Chase Utley, who announced last week that he plans to hang up his cleats at the end of the season.
Roberts can really plug in just about anybody at any position, which has to be a fun way to manage. Machado came into the majors as a shortstop, but he spent the first several years of his career over at third with J.J. Hardy installed at short. Machado played a stellar third base, but he has struggled defensively so far this year in his first full big league campaign at short. Regardless, the Dodgers have said that Machado will remain at short.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Machado this winter, but one would imagine the Dodgers made this deal with the hopes that they will be able to ink the player to a new long-term deal once he hits the free agent market. If that’s the case, what will happen with Seager? Seager is clearly a better defensive shortstop than Machado at this point. Will Machado willingly move over to third? And, if so, will Turner be forced to shift to second base? There are all sorts of factors in play here.
Regardless, this is a good problem to have if you’re Los Angeles. When you literally have a glut of talent at just about every position, you’re probably going to be a pretty good ball club.
Favorites in the National League?
There appears to be a pretty substantial gap between the quality in the American League compared to the . In fact, BetOnline has a trio of AL clubs (Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox) as the most likely to win it all this year. The defending champion Astros are the favorites at +450, followed closely by the Yanks and Red Sox at +475 apiece.
After the trade, the Dodgers moved up to fourth at +650, inching ahead of the Chicago Cubs at +700. The Cubs and Dodgers are the only 2 NL representatives checking in with championship odds better than +1600 (Philadelphia). As of now, Vegas clearly sees the National League as a 2-horse race.
The Cubs got the better of the Dodgers in the 2016 NLCS on their way to their first championship in over a century. Last year, it was the Dodgers that came out on top when the teams met in the NLCS once again. Per the odds, Chicago and L.A. would appear to be on a collision course for a third year running.
The Cubs used a recent slump by the Milwaukee Brewers to establish a 2.5-game lead in the NL Central coming out of the All-Star break. While most of the roster remains unchanged from the team that stormed its way to a title 2 years ago, there are still some weaknesses with the Cubs. First and foremost, they will likely have to address the starting rotation in some capacity.
2 big-name starters the team acquired within the last year, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish, have struggled with consistency this season. Another newcomer, Tyler Chatwood, has a disgusting walk rate hovering around 20 percent. Jon Lester, who managed to sneak his way onto the All-Star team, has been about as lucky as you can get as a pitcher. His 2.58 ERA is over 2 full runs lower than his 4.64 SIERA. His hard contact rate is up while his ground ball and strikeout numbers have dipped. At some point, Lester is going to regress, and it’s not going to be pretty.
The Dodgers don’t have as intimidating a rotation as they had a few years ago when a peak Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke went 1-2, but they still have a pretty evident advantage in that department over the Cubbies. While Kershaw does look diminished so far this season, his underlying numbers are still strong. While they’re not quite up to the high standard at which we’ve held Kershaw over the last decade or so, he has still been fairly effective.
After that, Roberts can mix-and-match with some combination of Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Rich Hill and Ross Stripling. Stripling, who has come out of nowhere to become one of the best pitchers in the NL this season, will likely be relegated to bullpen duty once the innings start to pile up for him. If L.A. wants to use him sparingly out of the bullpen down the stretch of the regular season, perhaps he can return to start once the playoffs begin.
I would be surprised if both the Cubs and Dodgers failed to add some reinforcements to their respective pitching staffs prior to the upcoming trade deadline. The Cubs could use another starter to fortify things, while the Dodgers may be in the market for another high-end reliever to help Kenley Jansen. Brandon Morrow, who was arguably the best reliever on the Dodger staff for much of last year, is now in the Cubs’ bullpen.
Both lineups have plenty of pop, but the Dodgers’ looks downright ridiculous with the addition of Machado. L.A. has been vulnerable against left-handed pitching with so many lefties in the lineup, so a powerful right-handed bat like Machado is just what the doctor ordered. With so much talent on the roster, Roberts can afford to shuffle his lineup and play matchups accordingly.
I think the NL is pretty clearly the Dodgers’ to lose at this point. They’re listed at +250 to win the pennant, which I think is still outstanding value. I’d much rather take Los Angeles at +250 than Chicago at +300. Things can change if the 2 teams upgrade heading into the trade deadline, but L.A. is pretty clearly in the driver’s seat.
Can They Topple the American League Powers?
In addition to the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox, we can’t overlook the Cleveland Indians at +1000. The Tribe just upgraded their bullpen by trading for San Diego All-Star Brad Hand as well as another reliever in Adam Cimber. The pen has been an area of weakness for Cleveland this season, but they’re clearly working to alleviate those concerns.
Frankly, the AL playoffs are shaping up to be an absolute bloodbath. The Indians fell at the hands of the Yankees in the ALDS last year, while the Astros got past both New York and Boston before beating L.A. in the Fall Classic. With all 4 teams pretty clearly on a path to the playoffs again in 2018, it looks as though they’ll beat each other up again before one of them will go on to represent the American League in the World Series.
The lopsided leagues reminds me a bit of the NBA. The Western Conference has been loaded with contenders for years, while the Eastern Conference has largely consisted of LeBron James’ team and a bunch of also-rans. The Western teams typically fight tooth-and-nail just to get their way into the NBA Finals, while the Cavs and Heat have essentially breezed their way through in most years.
If something similar happens this year in baseball, does that mean the NL representative may be able to pull off the upset? It’s certainly possible. The Dodgers were actually favored to win it all last year, and they even held home field advantage in the World Series. However, Houston managed to take 2 of the 4 games at Dodger Stadium, including the clincher in Game 7.
Missing Seager hurts, but you could pretty easily argue that Machado is clearly a more imposing bat in the lineup. The resurgent Matt Kemp also gives L.A. another right-handed presence they were missing a season ago.
The problem here is that I am having a hard time imagining anybody beating the Astros again. Houston is another team that appears to have actually improved upon last season’s roster. With the addition of fireballing starter Gerrit Cole, Houston now boasts in the starting rotation. Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton would each be potential No. 1 starters on any other staff. Opposing teams are going to have to go up against a legitimate ace-caliber pitcher in every single postseason game.
The Dodgers present excellent value to win it all at +650. Just about anything can happen in baseball. Just because the Astros’ roster looks better on paper doesn’t mean a title is a lock. The Dodgers will be as hungry as ever after coming to within a game of winning it all last fall. With a shiny new toy in Machado coming to join the party, this may be the last time you can get such favorable odds on L.A. as a bettor. They may only dwindle from here, so I like the idea of a punt at +650 while you still can.
The Dodgers are very much in the mix once again.