Cheap Seats

Shouldn’t the St. Louis Cardinals at least consider a run at Manny Machado?

Although we’re not hearing his name much so far this winter, I hope the St. Louis Cardinals have at least checked in on Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado.

The slugging third baseman is one of the best all-around players in the game. Even though some casual fans may not recognize his name as readily as the do those of superstars on major-market teams, dedicated MLB watchers see him as a player of a similar caliber to pending Washington Nationals free agent Bryce Harper.

I’d give Machado an edge because he plays a premium defensive position extremely well, adding considerably to his overall value. Like Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson, a player with whom the Redbirds have been linked since the middle of last summer, Machado is set to be a free agent next year. Unlike Donaldson, a veteran on the wrong side of 30, Machado is only 25 years old.

A three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time All-Star in his five full major-league seasons, Machado is a .279 career hitter who has averaged 35 home runs and 92 RBIs over the last three years. He could be the face of the St. Louis franchise for the next decade if he wore the Birds on the Bat.

The Orioles aren’t going to ante up the massive pile of cash it would take to sign Machado to a contract extension. If Baltimore’s front office was smart, it would try to deal the star for a whole pile of young talent. And the Redbirds have that kind of talent.

I mentioned last year that Machado was one of two players in baseball I would trade Alex Reyes to land if I was the St. Louis general manager. The other is Mike Trout. (I was shouted down for that one. A couple of months later, Reyes was under the knife for Tommy John surgery. How I wish that deal would have gone down.)

The problem with Machado is his pending free agency. I would hate to see the Cardinals trade Reyes — and probably a package of other top prospects led by Carson Kelly and Dakota Hudson — for Machado only to see him walk away after one season. There would have to be some sort of contract extension as part of the negotiations.

Would Machado accept an extension a year away from being able to auction himself off to the highest bidder? Maybe. But only if it was an offer that made the $295 million owed to National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton seem like chump change.

Because of his age and the fact that Stanton got a deal that long, Machado would probably want a contract that spanned at least 12 or 13 years, not including opt-outs. Thirty-two million dollars a year is about what the top players in the game have been commanding lately. Clayton Kershaw is making better than $35.5 million a year, Trout is getting a little more than $34 million a year and Zack Greinke is getting right at $34 million.

Several other players, including Miguel Cabrera and David Price, are right at $30 million. So we’re talking about a contract that would cost in between $384 million and $416 million. Ridiculous money. But that’s what it’s going to cost thanks to ever-increasing revenues. Some people think Harper could get half-a-billion dollars when he hits the market.

Will St. Louis spend that sort of money? I doubt it as much as I have ever doubted anything. It would be more than triple the largest contract the Redbirds have ever lavished on a player. Team ownership would balk not only at the numbers, but also in the concept of driving up salaries by awarding what would be the largest contract in MLB history — at least until Harper signs with the Chicago Cubs.

But are the Cardinals going to be content to be a second-rate club, refusing to pursue top talent for the rest of their existence? THAT is something I believe they truly can’t afford.

Still, you have to look beyond the total value of these contracts because the advent of the opt-out has made baseball contracts as misleading as the deals the NFL passes out. The only difference is that football contracts aren’t guaranteed for the most part, so you can sign your star to a $250-million pact that runs 20 years and then cancel it after season three. In baseball, it’s the players who can weasel out of the deals, not the teams.

Regardless, if you gave Machado a $400-million deal with an opt-out after season four, there is a very good chance that contracts will continue to escalate and he’ll bail for an even richer deal at first opportunity.

Anyway, I really thought that if the Cardinals were going to get Stanton, it was going to happen right away. After all, these teams could have been discussing a trade for months if they were intent on doing it as soon as the offseason got underway in earnest.

The fact that things have gone ice-cold over the last 48 hours seems to indicate that the Miami Marlins aren’t content with the offer from St. Louis. They could very well end up dealing him elsewhere or holding on to him for another season. If that’s the case, St. Louis leadership ought to give Machado a long look.

The Birds can choose to continue to be mediocre by adding the likes of Logan Morrison as a stopgap power source — or they could add a superstar (along with some pitching) to instantly make themselves relevant once again. Imagine the effect on the St. Louis/Chicago rivalry to have Machado and Harper battling it out like supercharged versions of Ozzie Smith and Ryne Sandberg.

It would be some left side of the Birds infield to have both a shortstop in Paul DeJong and a third baseman in Machado smacking 35 home runs each.