BALTIMORE — So this is how the Yankees respond to the indignity of losing a game to the woeful Orioles, eh?
You take a game off us, we take your best player home with us.
We kid, of course. Kind of. Sort of. For now. But it wasn’t lost on anybody that a few minutes after the Orioles eked out a 5-4 win in the opener of Monday’s twi-night doubleheader at Camden Yards, a report surfaced on The Athletic that the Yankees had “increased interest” in trading for Manny Machado, Baltimore’s gifted shortstop.
This may be a surprising development, but hardly a stunning one. From the moment Machado’s free-agent clock began to tick six years ago, it has often seemed plate tectonics was slowly moving them toward each other, toward an inevitable partnership.
Not long after the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton in December there were internal discussions if they could find a team — the White Sox were mentioned — who might be interested in dealing for Machado (thus bypassing what would surely have been a distasteful scenario for O’s owner Peter Angelos, dealing his star directly to the Yankees) and flipping him, although that never materialized.
Now, of course, the Orioles are having one of the worst seasons in team history, playing at a 118-loss pace that is only slightly better than the ’62 Mets. There is little question they are about to auction off Machado, with the Dodgers, Phillies and Brewers most-often mentioned as likely suitors.
But you always suspected the Yankees were never going to sit this out entirely, even if adding Machado would seem like a superfluous acquisition with the left-side of the infield covered by Miguel Andujar at third and Didi Gregorius at short. The thinking is the Yankees would send Andujar to the minors if Machado is indeed available, and there is little argument that Machado is the better player.
(Of course, Machado also said this Monday night, asked if he’d swap positions for a contender: “I’m a shortstop. I play shortstop.” Though other minds have been changed in other years …)
There is this question, though:
While the Yankees farm system is deep and prosperous, is it really deep enough to lure both Machado (who the Orioles certainly aren’t going to just give away, and certainly aren’t going to give away to the Yankees) and a starting pitcher — which is a genuine position of need given the travails of Sonny Gray, the mending hamstrings of Masahiro Tanaka and the ever-tenuous state of CC Sabathia’s tendons and joints?
Maybe it is. Maybe they really can do both. There are an awful lot of good players down in the system after all.
Or is the thinking that, if you plug Machado into an already-cartoonish lineup that includes Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, you can simply overpower all comers once the calendar flips to October?
Adding Machado would certainly lend an extra degree or two of difficulty for the lefty-heavy Red Sox’ rotation should those teams meet then — though it would seem to have the exact opposite effect on the Astros, who would throw Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole at them.
At the end of the day, this is the only question that really matters to the Yankees as they ponder how much they’re willing to part with for Machado, who may turn out to be only a two-month rental (and, as such, would fit in snugly on the team’s payroll without nudging the needle over the luxury-tax threshold):
Does this push them across the finish line?
In a normal year, it might actually be easier to pull this trigger, because in a normal year a 59-30 record would all but assure home-field advantage throughout the postseason, and would all but guarantee a first-place finish in the division.
But this isn’t a normal year. The Sox won again Monday, and seem intent on winning every day, and actually picked up another half-game on the Yankees even after they were done thrashing the O’s in the nightcap Monday, 10-2. The Astros are going to stay stride-for-stride with both East teams all year; even the Mariners have only two fewer wins than the Yankees (though they have four more losses).
(And after all the hand-wringing going on in both New York and New England about how unfair it would be for a 100-plus win to have to endure a one-game gauntlet play-in … how about if one of those teams actually had to FLY 3,000 MILES AND PLAY THAT GAME IN SEATTLE?)
It might seem that a team still on a 107-win pace like the Yankees would only be fine-tuning, not looking to get substantially better. But the Yankees are committed to this deep end of the pool. There’s no telling what else they might be willing to commit to.