By Dayn Perry

(CBS Sports)- Orioles infielder Manny Machado endured a bit of a disappointing 2017 season, but thus far in 2018 he’s producing in line with expectations. Through 19 games, Machado in this, his age-25 campaign owns a slash line of .338/.414/.623 (189 OPS+) with five home runs and seven doubles. Those are excellent numbers, to say the least.

Machado of course is bound for a big payday next winter. He’s very young as pending free agents go, he’s a difference-maker at the plate, and this season he’s resumed his role as a primary shortstop, which will only expand his pool of potential suitors. At the same time, Machado’s Orioles are terrible. For evidence of this stirring claim, this scribe would point you to the current AL East standings

Yes, Baltimore is already 11 1/2 games out of first place. In related matters, they’re percentage points behind even the similarly miserable Rays, and they’re on pace for 119 losses. No, the O’s aren’t going to lose 119 games this season, but they’re far more likely to finish last than they are to contend for a playoff spot. Throw in the fact that the Orioles engaged in Machado trade talks this past offseason, and it seems highly likely that Machado will be moved prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

As long as the Orioles had fever dreams of contention in 2018, they also had the rationale they needed to keep Machado. Even though we’re still in April, they’ve reduced themselves from “not likely to contend” to “legitimate designs on the top overall draft pick.” There’s no chance that Machado will sign an extension in Baltimore, which presents the club with a choice: Let Machado walk next winter in exchange for compensatory draft picks and finish far out of contention in 2018 … or trade Machado for a more bankable package of prospects before July 31 and finish far out of contention in 2018. Add it all up — Machado’s impressive start, the Orioles’ awfulness, and the recent willingness of the team to engage in trade talks — and it becomes clear that Machado will be dealt during the season.

Machado’s under contract for $16 million this season, and as mentioned he’s almost certainly a rental. That said, he’s a true needle-mover. Potential fits? Much depends on Machado’s willingness to go back to third base, which would broaden the trade market. Machado, to state the obvious, is under no obligation to make it easier for the Orioles to trade him, and he justifiably may prefer to establish himself as a full-time shortstop headed into free agency.

Assuming he’s a shortstop, then perhaps the Mets would be interested. Machado would upgrade the position significantly, and Amed Rosario would get a bit more time to develop his bat without being blocked long-term. The Diamondbacks may see the need for an improvement over Nick Ahmed at short. The Twins? The Rockies (Trevor Story has an 87 OPS+ since his breakout 2016 campaign)? If Machado’s willing to go back to third base, and then maybe teams like the Braves and Cardinals get into the mix.

However things play out, events have conspired to make it highly likely that Machado will be traded during the season, provided rational thought prevails in Baltimore. In turn, that means Machado may be the biggest name dealt leading up to the non-waiver deadline — assuming, of course, he isn’t shipped off well in advance of that date.

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