Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 17: Manny Machado traded before he was traded

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

It was clear from very early on that the Baltimore Orioles were going to trade Manny Machado during the course of the 2018 season. He was in his free agency walk year and, once they dropped five of their first six games, any pretense of a decent Orioles year meant that their big star was going to be on the block.

And, as is always the case when a big star is on the block, there were rumors all late spring and early summer about which teams were interested, who was talking to the Orioles and all of the usual stuff that comes in the runup to the trade deadline. By the time the All-Star Game rolled around in mid-July it was widely assumed that the number of days Machado had left in orange and black could be counted on one hand. And, as a matter of fact, news of his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers broke on July 18, the day after the Midsummer Classic.

Except, as it turns out, he had already, more or less, had been traded. A deal was in place between the O’s and Dodgers several days earlier. Even before the All-Star Game.

We learned after the trade that the Orioles pulled him out of their final game before the All-Star break in the fourth inning because the deal was struck and the Dodgers didn’t want their new shortstop’s health risked in an actual game. The Orioles lied to reporters about it afterward, telling them that it was because the field was wet. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported later, however, the O’s told Machado what the real deal was:

“That’s when they had told me I had been traded,’’ Machado said. “They said they pretty much had a deal done. They just wanted to wait until after the break to get all of the medical stuff done.

It’s hard to escape the inference that part of the delay in announcing it was also to protect the Orioles from looking kinda pathetic during the All-Star break, as Machado was their only All-Star representative and if the trade was announced they’d have no one there.

All of which is rather silly, of course, but maybe the silliest part of it was what reporters were saying in between the time the deal was actually struck on Sunday and when it was announced on Wednesday. During that time there was all of the usual rumor-mongering, complete with tweets about this or that team “being in the race” or “taking the lead” or three or four teams in the “debry” or “sweepstakes” as it entered “the home stretch.” As it turns out, it was like a bunch of track announcers calling a race that wasn’t even being run. Were they being fed bogus rumors or are all trade rumors a lot of vague bunk about which we never find out? No matter which of those it is, it says a lot about how the trade rumor business works.

Ultimately, the manner in which Machado was traded to the Dodgers didn’t matter anywhere near as much as the fact that he was traded. Machado didn’t have anywhere near as good a second half in Los Angeles as he did a first half in Baltimore, but he filled a void for the Dodgers and was part of their September surge which helped them win the National League West and the NL pennant once again.

Now he’s a free agent and the rumors about him swirl anew. Which ones should we believe? Heck, should we believe any of ’em?

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.