While the rich (the Yankees and Dodgers) recently got much richer, a smaller market team and another flat-out small market team stood pat at a time they can least afford to.
Sure, it isn’t easy to outbid the Yankees and Dodgers, who have two of the best prospect lists in baseball beyond their obvious oodles of cash, but it feels like solid, contending teams like the Brewers and Phillies are playing it a bit on the safe side.
Judging by the alleged offers made by those team for longtime Orioles star Manny Machado (and also their failure to land Zach Britton, though it can be argued the Brewers don’t need Britton), neither the Phillies or Brewers seemed to be close to landing Machado. And it’s fair to say that both those teams needed Machado a lot more than the stacked Dodgers.
While Orioles people praised the efforts of Milwaukee and Philadelphia and wouldn’t confirm the main pieces in their bids for Machado, other sources suggest that Milwaukee based its Machado offer around portly, stalled right-hander Luis Ortiz and all-or-nothing outfielder Brett Phillips, the scrappy but strikeout-prone prospect who’s major-league ready but whose path to the Brewers is blocked five different ways in America's Dairyland.
The word is there were also a couple younger pieces thrown into the mix, but nothing to sway the Orioles from turning down the Dodgers’ generous offer of multi-talented outfielder Yusniel Diaz, whom L.A. spent $31 million to sign (a $15.5 million bonus plus 100 percent tax) and who hit two home runs in the Futures Game, seemingly answering the one remaining question about him (his power). The Dodgers, falsely accused here and elsewhere of being prospect stingy, further sweetened the pot with four minor league players with a chance, including the well-named, hard-throwing reliever Zach Pop, whose fastball registers 96-98 mph with sink. Consider that they made those sacrifices even though they already had two viable replacements for injured shortstop star Corey Seager, and it's clear how badly the Dodgers want to win now.
The Brewers, for all their great strengths, have posted the worst middle-infield production in baseball, an issue that could have been solved if they were willing to part with either of their top two prospects – strong-armed reliever Corbin Burnes or sweet-swinging infielder Keston Hiura, who may eventually be an American League player due to his positional questions. Instead they watched as Machado came with the Dodgers to open the second half with a series win at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
As for the Phillies, who absolutely love Machado (and also Britton) from their execs’ days in Baltimore – president Andy MacPhail, GM Matt Klentak and others were in Baltimore when they picked both players — pitcher Adonis Medina is considered quite a talented prospect, despite unworthy current numbers. That being said, it is hard for a partner like the Orioles to disregard the near-5 ERA Medina has put up at Class-A, especially when you’re shipping out Machado, one of your all-time great stars. The Phillies held out Sixto Sanchez and Enyel De Los Santos, and maybe Zach Eflin as well, keeping their future intact but perhaps endangering their present.
Brewers GM David Stearns and his Phillies counterpart Klentak deserve immense credit for getting their teams to this point, and some would suggest they are still long shots as World Series contenders with or without Machado (or Britton). Under those conditions, they may be correct to hold tight to top prospects. But both teams are currently in playoff position, and as one rival said, “When you have the chance, you need to go for it.”
Some suggest the Phillies and Braves – who may also be constrained one year after the scandal that cost GM John Coppolella his job and place in baseball – may rightly see themselves as a year away from World Series contention. While it’s fair to say they can’t match up with the royalty of the American League, after 100-plus games they aren’t that far off the best of the NL, which right now is the big-market Cubs and Dodgers again.
It’s also fair to say it’s too early to judge their deadline work since there’s still nearly a week to go, and the Brewers and Phillies are still in the middle of a lot of possibilities – some of which are the same targets. Both are looking at productive Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar, who may be the closest thing to Machado left on the market (though he's obviously no Machado) and other infield options. In something of a surprise, the Phillies may also consider an outfield upgrade after beginning the year with a surplus, and respected veteran Adam Jones looms as one possibility.
The Brewers are also looking at a rotation upgrade again, as they did a year ago, and they are one of the teams in on J.A. Happ, a race where they are competing against the Yankees again. In the meantime, their hopes for returns for Zach Davies and Jimmy Nelson may mitigate the urgency in a mostly weak starter market further depleted by disabled list trips for Carlos Martinez, Michael Fulmer and Noah Syndergaard. And both the Brewers and Phillies are considering bullpen upgrades after the Britton went to the biggest team of all.
Whether either franchise comes through on those goals could determine whether they are playing in October, or whether some swings-and-misses at the trade deadline cost them a dearly-sought opportunity to really contend.