Orioles' Machado draws crowd, but will Cubs join the hype?
There were so many Chicago media members waiting to talk with Orioles star Manny Machado on Monday that a Baltimore beat writer stopped and took a photo of the receiving line.
When a member of the Orioles popped his head outside the clubhouse, he let out a mild expletive.
About the only guy who didn't seem to be surprised by the fuss was Machado himself.
Machado, the Orioles' otherworldly shortstop, won't be 26 until July, but he seems savvy beyond years and comfortable dealing with a big-market media. He admitted with a sheepish smile that he was expecting a crowd of curious reporters.
"Yeah, probably," he said outside of the Orioles clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field. "It was in the back of my mind for sure."
Machado has been front and center of news reports and rumors from coast to coast. He is eligible for free agency this coming fall, and with the numbers he's putting up and his youth, he could rival Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper for the type of contract he gets.
First things first. The Orioles may not be able to re-sign their first-round pick from the 2010 draft, so they'll entertain all offers for a trade.
Teams sure to pursue Machado will be the Cubs and perhaps the White Sox.
"That's out of my hands," Machado said. "I can't control that. Got to go out there and win some games and do as much as I can for my ballclub."
A deal with the Cubs seems a long shot, but it's wise never to count out team president Theo Epstein even if he did say on WSCR radio that: "As a rule, we will not be paying premiums for rentals. We just won't. It's hard to build an organization that way."
Epstein left himself enough wiggle room with the phrase, "as a rule." If Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer feel on or before the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline that the Cubs have a legitimate chance to win the Cubs' second World Series title in three years, they may go for broke and take their chances on signing Machado after the season.
The Orioles will want a boatload of talent in return as they embark on what looks to be a rebuilding program. The problem for the Cubs is that they don't have the minor-league talent they did when they obtained rental reliever Aroldis Chapman in July 2016 or when they got starting pitcher Jose Quintana (a player the Cubs still control) last summer from the White Sox.
The cream of the Cubs' minor league system has graduated to the big-league club, and that means the Orioles would no doubt ask for some of that big-league talent, including shortstop Addison Russell, second baseman Javier Baez, catcher Willson Contreras, left fielder Kyle Schwarber or outfielder-infielder Ian Happ -- most likely some combination of such players.
The Cubs have had trouble developing young pitching in recent years, but they do have Adbert Alzolay at Class AAA Iowa, where he is 2-3 with a 4.70 ERA this season. For his minor-league career, Alzolay is 31-21 with a 3.40 ERA.
Machado is doing his part on the field to drive up his own value. His line coming into Monday night's game against the White Sox was .343/.419/.652 with 14 homers and 42 RBI. That contributed to a career line of .283/.334/.486 with 152 homers.
One thing Cubs management has to like about him are his unflappability and focus, on baseball and the ability to block out the distractions.
"When your name is being talked about, it's always good," he said. "I've heard nothing but great things from everyone. It's always appreciated. I've got to go out there, keep playing baseball, keep doing the things that I love, and everything will take care of itself."
The focus is such that Machado said he doesn't even have a read on the city of Chicago despite being in the big leagues since 2012.
"To be honest, nothing," he said. "I go from my (hotel) room to the ballpark and play baseball. I try to keep it simple, my life simple. I don't really do too much. I come here and play."
Machado does have one connection to the Cubs. He and Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. aren't related, but Machado refers to Almora as his cousin from their days together in South Florida.
"We played together as kids to begin with," Machado said. "We were playing in his backyard growing up. We've always dreamed about playing together someday in the big leagues and putting on the same big-league uniform, being on the same field, winning a World Series together. That's every kid's dream."
As for how he deals with the speculation while trying to play baseball, he articulated it well.
"I've got one mindset, which is play baseball," he said. "Go out there and leave it all on the field. After that, I can't control any of that stuff. I'm going to try to be the best player I can possibly be when I step out on that field.
"We try to keep it as simple as possible. I've got to answer the questions I need to answer, try to keep it away from my playing, not distract us out there. But obviously, everybody knows the situation and knows everything that's going on in the back of our minds. Like I tell everybody, forget about the future and live in the moment."