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NBA Playoff Picture: Outlook, concerns for Warriors, Bucks and league’s other title contenders

NBA Playoff Picture: Outlook, concerns for Warriors, Bucks and league’s other title contenders

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There is still a certain inevitability to the Golden State Warriors, despite the defending champions dropping games at home, failing to sustain defensive intensity and knowing that the team could look significantly different next season. At their best and healthiest, the Warriors remain a problem that hasn’t been solved since Kevin Durant arrived. In the upcoming playoffs, though, they will face a bunch of teams that have built their rosters with them in mind. No one else has a duo like Durant and Stephen Curry, but the whole league has watched them win titles on the strength of their like-sized wing defenders, spacing and unselfish style.

The Milwaukee Bucks, remodeled by coach Mike Budenholzer, have drawn comparisons to Golden State in Steve Kerr’s first season. The Houston Rockets almost won last year’s Western Conference finals by deploying a small unit of their own against the Warriors’ Death Lineup. As the playoffs approach, let’s take a look at those two teams and three more in each conference that are aiming high.

The beasts of the East

Milwaukee Bucks

The outlook: Before recent injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic, it was difficult to imagine the Mike Budenholzer era getting off to a better start. There is a strong argument that the Bucks should be considered the favorites to come out of the East based on their statistical profile, their roster balance and their superstar. Milwaukee’s ascension is a feel-good story for a team that had been frustrating in recent years despite Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brilliance. Everybody around the league knew that Budenholzer would prioritize spacing on offense, but this has been a wholesale transformation on both ends. He should win Coach of the Year.

Adversity, however, is hitting the Bucks at an inconvenient time. In the playoffs, we will find out whether Budenholzer’s system — and an increase in Antetokounmpo’s minutes — can keep them rolling. In many ways, the season is already a massive success, but, given that Milwaukee could finish the season with 60 wins, there is some pressure to validate all of this with a long playoff run. It would be silly to say the Bucks have failed if they don’t make the Finals, but a second-round loss to the Celtics would feel like a disappointment, which is kind of wild when you think about how the teams were talked about in the preseason.

Fun stat: Brook Lopez, now universally beloved, leads the team in 3-point attempts, averaging 6.4 per game. The last Buck to average that many was Ray Allen in 2002-2003. Allen, however, played 35.8 minutes a night that season, compared to Lopez’s 28.6 minutes.

Biggest concern: At full strength, this is not a team that has many weaknesses, but there is some skepticism about Milwaukee staying this dominant. I anticipate opponents trying to shut down its secondary playmakers, closing off passing lanes and daring Antetokounmpo to do everything himself. If the Bucks get bogged down, we don’t know how they will respond.

Further reading: Antetokounmpo has a real shot at winning both MVP and DPOY, writes Danny Chau of The Ringer.

Games remaining: vs. Rockets, vs. Clippers, @ Hawks, @ Nets, @ 76ers, vs. Nets, vs. Hawks, vs. Thunder

Toronto Raptors

The outlook: While they can’t claim to be the best team in the East, as they were in last year’s regular season, the Raptors have approached this whole deal with a big-picture mindset. Kawhi Leonard, such a fun guy, said weeks ago that he sees regular-season games as practices, which reflects a team-wide attitude that success outside of April, May and June means next to nothing. Considering Toronto’s recent history, this makes sense.

The Raptors have more high-end talent than ever, so old questions about past playoff demons and rarely having the best player in a series have been replaced by new ones: Are they at a disadvantage because of what Leonard and Danny Green’s former coach, Gregg Popovich, calls “institutional knowledge?” Are they cohesive enough? Will the reserves be reliable? Toronto optimists believe that coach Nick Nurse has what every coach wants in a postseason roster: two-way players, toughness and versatility. The challenge is that, while LeBron James is finally gone, the competition is formidable and the stakes are extremely high.

Fun stat: I am not sure if the Raptors have a reputation for this, but they’re all over the NBA‘s hustle stats leaderboard: per game, they are top-four in deflections, loose balls recovered, shots contested and box outs.

Biggest concern: In a word, cohesion. Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have only played 38 games together, and Marc Gasol has played 10 games with that trio. Lowry’s usage rate is just 16.1 when Leonard and Siakam are on the floor with him, and while he influences the game in lots of ways, it’s fair to wonder how playmaking will be distributed in the postseason. The Raptors are not the Rockets, where everyone knows what’s coming and it doesn’t matter because it’s so hard to stop anyway. They want to be more like the Warriors, who are unpredictable and can hurt you in all sorts of ways. It is not easy to play that way.

Further reading: The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur on the underappreciated production of Playoff Lowry.

Games remaining: vs. Bulls, @ Knicks, @ Bulls, vs. Magic, @ Nets, @ Hornets, vs. Heat, @ Timberwolves

Philadelphia 76ers

The outlook: The good news is that their killer starting five has now played 150 minutes together and still has a plus-15.7 net rating. This is a small but promising sample, and it supports the idea that Philadelphia raised its ceiling with the Tobias Harris trade. Recent wins against the Bucks and Celtics were encouraging, too. The big question, however, is whether or not the team can coalesce into something special.

The Sixers are not the only team on this list that has a significantly different roster than it did five months ago. No team, however, has done anything as drastic as they did — at the beginning of the season, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and Dario Saric were starters. Their relatively new four-star look makes them endlessly interesting, but it also makes things complicated. Philadelphia is an unpopular pick to come out of the East not necessarily because its star power is being underestimated, but because other teams feel like safer choices.

Fun stat: The Sixers average 1.89 dribbles per touch, which means they dribble less than every team in the league except Golden State. This is not inherently good — Houston leads the league in this category, and its offense better than every team in the league, except, again, Golden State — but it reflects how coach Brett Brown wants the team to play. While Philadelphia now employs multiple players who are capable of making plays off the bounce, its attack is predicated on ball movement, player movement and misdirection.

Biggest concern: A series of smaller concerns — trouble containing dynamic guards, Joel Embiid’s past struggles against Al Horford and Marc Gasol, Ben Simmons‘ turnovers against Kawhi Leonard and a shaky bench, to name a few — add up to one big question: Can sheer talent can outweigh matchup problems? The answer is sometimes yes, but the Sixers’ talent will be tested.

Further reading: Zhaire Smith has been through hell, and Rich Hofmann of The Athletic got the story.

Games remaining: vs. Nets, @ Timberwolves, @ Mavericks, @ Hawks, vs. Bucks, @ Bulls, @ Heat, vs. Bulls

Boston Celtics

The outlook: Who knows? If the Celtics make it to the NBA Finals, every moment of this soap operatic season will be framed as necessary adversity from which they emerged stronger. If they don’t, then the drama and disharmony will be seen as damning.

I tend to think that their plus-4.7 net rating, which ranks sixth in the league, is more indicative of who the Celtics are than any of the alarming quotes that have come from their postgame scrums. If they are healthy (note: it has become impossible to ignore how important Aron Baynes is to this team), they check just about every box for playoff success. On offense, they have an absurd amount of weapons and a closer who has made clutch shots in the most pressure-packed situations imaginable. On defense, they have a collection of versatile wings, rim protection and a center who can capably switch onto smaller players. But there is a world of difference between their on-paper profile and the confusing experience of watching them all season.

Fun stat: Per Cleaning The Glass, glue guy extraordinaire Marcus Smart is in the 98th percentile of a stat I’ve never seen cited: assist to usage ratio. His is 1.18 percent. As you can probably tell from its name, this stat compares a player’s assist rate to his usage rate. (You will not be surprised to learn that Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Joe Ingles are also elite in this category.)

Biggest concern: Coming into the season, Boston’s challenge was to embody the underdog spirit of prior Brad Stevens teams despite the fact that it had a star-studded roster. This has definitively not happened. Stevens recently said that this is the first team he’s ever coached that is “solely reliant on whether you make shots or not.” If the Celtics are going to live up to their potential, they have to be way less rickety than they’ve been.

Further reading: That Stevens quote came from a piece about Boston’s inconsistency by The Athletic’s Jay King, in which Marcus Morris says other teams’ coaches keep asking him why things aren’t working for the Celtics.

Games remaining: @ Cavaliers, vs. Pacers, @ Nets, vs. Heat, @ Heat, @ Pacers, vs. Magic, @ Wizards

The best of the West

Golden State Warriors

The outlook: The Warriors stunk it up against Dallas at home on Saturday, losing 126-91 with Stephen Curry sitting out. The next day, after a 121-114 victory against Detroit, coach Steve Kerr said this: “It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally, spiritually, trying to defend the crown, trying to win the title, trying to stay on top of the mountain. It’s hard. And last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank.”

The Mavs game was less surprising to Kerr than the lack of blowout losses in the first three years of his coaching career. It is worth remembering that Kerr was part of the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat, and, when he was an analyst for TNT in 2013, he (correctly) predicted the Miami Heat wouldn’t win their third title in a row, citing emotional exhaustion and nonstop scrutiny. He knows that he has to be patient and that if Golden State raises its game when the time is right, none of its challengers can reach its level. The Warriors will be vulnerable if their defense remains average in the postseason, but do you really expect that to happen?

Fun stat: As a team, the Warriors have made 45.8 percent of their midrange shots, which leads the league. For context, master of the midrange, LaMarcus Aldridge has made 44.2 percent of his.

Biggest concern: Basketball-wise, it’s about the depth and the defense, but the biggest issue might be simpler than that: Do they have enough juice to go all the way again? As easy as it seems like it should be for a collection of future Hall of Famers, the Warriors have almost always had to deal with some sort of adversity on the way to the title. The rest of the league is hoping that this time, they will not only stumble but fall.

Further reading: The Athletic’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss on the return and rejuvenation of Andrew Bogut, who lost weight playing at home in Australia despite adding “a whole lot more beer to my diet.”

Games remaining: @ Grizzlies, @ Timberwolves, vs. Hornets, vs. Nuggets, @ Lakers, vs. Cavaliers, vs. Clippers, @ Pelicans, @ Grizzlies

Houston Rockets

The outlook: Compared to where they were a few months ago, everything is rosy. In a total reverse of last season, the Rockets struggled early on, particularly relative to expectations and the talent on the roster. They waived Carmelo Anthony, cycled through role players, suffered through injuries and asked James Harden to do almost literally everything. Harden kept them afloat, and now that Chris Paul and Clint Capela are playing like themselves, they have won 14 of their last 16 games.

On a recent Lowe Post podcast, general manager Daryl Morey said that “we feel like we will be better than last year’s team going into the playoffs.” That’s a tough sell with Trevor Ariza gone, but, if midseason acquisitions Austin Rivers, Iman Shumpert and Kenneth Faried earn Mike D’Antoni’s trust, perhaps this Houston team will be willing to go more than seven or eight deep in important games this time around. One thing that seems certain: Danuel House, an incredible find by Morey’s front office, will be in the rotation.

Fun stat: The difference between their league-leading 44.7 attempts from 3-point range per game and the second-place Bucks’ mark of 38.1 is the same as the difference between Milwaukee and the Nuggets, who rank 16th in that category.

Biggest concern: Even with Harden’s defensive improvement, Houston has allowed 110.8 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 21st in the league. This doesn’t preclude the Rockets from playing elite defense when they need to — they are third in defensive rating since the All-Star break — but, if you have less confidence in them getting stops than you did last season, I can’t blame you.

Further reading: I wrote about P.J. Tucker, who is indispensable to Houston because he has made himself into one of the league’s best defenders.

Games remaining: @ Bucks, vs. Nuggets, vs. Kings, @ Kings, @ Clippers, vs. Knicks, vs. Suns, @ Thunder

Denver Nuggets

The outlook: No longer a fringe playoff team, the Nuggets might also wind up with the top seed in the West. I don’t know an NBA nerd who doesn’t love watching them play, mostly because of the pass-first center who inspired this did-he-really-say-that quote from Bill Walton: “When you see someone like a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King or a Mahatma Gandhi, someone who sees the future before anyone else does, knows how to get to where they need to be, where they want to be, that is Nikola Jokic. Happiness begins when selfishness ends. In a game that has been taken over by incessant dribbling for yourself, Nikola Jokic is such a breath of fresh air. And it’s his imagination. Watching him play basketball is like watching Bob Dylan come up with a song.”

It’s not just the Jokic show: Jamal Murray has made strides, Paul Millsap has done what Denver hoped he would and Monte Morris has come out of nowhere. The Nuggets are deep, and, after missing the playoffs by one game two years in a row, they knew they could no longer be pushovers on defense. There is a sense, however, that their record is more impressive than it is convincing. Aside from Millsap, hardly anyone has significant playoff experience. Depending on their first-round opponent, there might be some expert-led momentum to pick against them.

Fun stat: A floater master, Morris has made 55 percent of his short midrange shots, per Cleaning The Glass. Among players who have logged a minimum of 600 minutes, that leads the league.

Biggest concern: Will the defense translate? Teams will target Jokic and try to exploit Denver’s lack of size on the perimeter. There is no denying that it has committed to getting stops and massively improved, but the playoffs require schematic adjustments and versatility. The Nuggets might not be built for that.

Further reading: SB Nation’s Paul Flannery on Denver’s trajectory.

Games remaining: vs. Pistons, @ Rockets, @ Thunder, vs. Wizards, @ Warriors, vs. Spurs, vs. Blazers, @ Blazers, @ Jazz, vs. Timberwolves

Oklahoma City Thunder

The outlook: The Thunder might not deserve to be on this list right now, but they’re on it out of respect for what they looked like earlier this season when their defense was tops in the league and Paul George was in the MVP conversation. At their best, they were fast, physical and relentless, the type of team you’d hate to play against. For a while they even made you think shooting wasn’t going to be a much of an issue. Based on their recent play, however, it is reasonable to wonder whether we’ll see that version of the team again.

Oklahoma City has lost five of its last six games, including a total stinker in Memphis on Monday, and has fallen all the way to eighth in the West. It has an offensive rating of 105.2 since the All-Star break — only New York has been worse — and, since the beginning of the calendar year, its defensive numbers have resembled last season’s: good, not great. George has shot poorly for the last month, especially for his standards, and, while he said he is not concerned about his shoulder issues, Thunder fans surely are.

Fun stat: After making 25.9 percent of his corner 3s last season (15-for-58), Jerami Grant has made 38.5 percent of them this season (50-for-130). There hasn’t been much Most Improved Player buzz about him, but he has done everything OKC could have asked for in his new starting role.

Biggest concern: Aside from George’s health, it is the same as it always is: shooting. The Thunder are 25th in the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, and all the teams below them are headed to the lottery. Russell Westbrook’s percentages have risen since the All-Star break but he is still having a wildly inefficient year overall. Oklahoma City’s philosophy is to force turnovers, grab offensive rebounds and get to the free throw line so it doesn’t have to rely on missed shots, which makes sense if you have an average-shooting team. This is less viable if your shooting is awful, as the Thunder’s has been recently.

Further reading: The New York Times’ Scott Cacciola on George’s career season — and the little pond behind his house.

Games remaining: vs. Pacers, vs. Nuggets, vs. Mavericks, vs. Lakers, vs. Pistons, @ Timberwolves, vs. Rockets, @ Bucks

The rest

The Indiana Pacers are still fourth in the East, two games ahead of Boston, and if that’s the 4-5 matchup, they are the team less likely to combust. I dig essentially everything about them, but I could not credibly call them contenders. The Portland Trail Blazers are only half a game behind the Rockets, and yet, even before Jusuf Nurkic’s season-ending injury, I could not argue that they are the same sort of threat to Golden State.

The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are all jumbled up in the standings, and while I could see any of them potentially beating a non-Warriors opponent in the first round, they were not included here because they don’t have Denver’s record or Oklahoma City’s upside. I feel particularly bad about excluding the Jazz, who have the same net rating as the Nuggets and the second-best defense in the league. This exercise was much simpler last year.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-03-26 21:14:11

Tagged: , Basketball , News , Featured , NPStrans , TopPic , Houston , TX , USA

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What mystery team is reportedly after Manny Machado? Process of elimination points to a potential breakout club

What mystery team is reportedly after Manny Machado? Process of elimination points to a potential breakout club

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We are roughly four weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training camps across Arizona and Florida, and still generational talents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper remain free agents. They’ll sign soon enough and be paid handsomely. You don’t have to worry about them. But even they have been caught up in the sluggish free agent market.

For most of the winter Machado’s market has been more active than Harper’s. Machado has visited more teams, as far as we know, and there are more rumblings about him in general. Scott Boras, Harper’s agent, is known to take his top clients deep into the offseason. Chances are Boras is waiting for Machado to set the market before getting serious about a deal for Harper.

The White Sox have reportedly offered Machado an eight-year contract, and the fact he hasn’t signed it yet tells us he’s still looking for more. Either more money or more years, or both. The latest scuttlebutt has a Mystery Team jumping into the Machado bidding:

Machado camp is telling some folks there’s a mystery team in addition to Chisox, Phils. Validity is unknown.

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 11, 2019

The Mystery Team makes an appearance or two each offseason, usually when a top free agent is getting closer to making a decision. Truth be told, the whole Mystery Team thing is usually a transparent attempt by agents to create leverage, and crank up the bidding one last time. Do teams ever fall for it? Maybe! I can’t remember the last player to sign with a Mystery Team though. Maybe Cliff Lee with the Phillies way back when? That came out of nowhere.

Anyway, Machado reportedly has a Mystery Team pursuing him now. That’s when you know you’ve made it. Who is that Mystery Team? That’s what we’re here to figure out. The best way to do that is with the process of elimination, so let’s start knocking clubs off the prospective Mystery Team list step-by-step.

Step 1: Teams in on Machado

Can’t be a Mystery Team if we know you’re in on Machado.

The Phillies, White Sox, and Yankees are out. They are publicly in on Machado to varying degrees. We still have 27 possible Mystery Teams.

Step 2: Teams that can’t afford him

I mean, every team can afford Machado. League revenues are at an all-time high. Some teams are just less inclined to spend big on a free agent. We’re eliminating the following teams in Step 2: Athletics, Indians, Marlins, Orioles, Pirates, Rays, Reds, Royals, Twins. A case can be made the Indians should sign Machado. Put Machado at third, Jose Ramirez at second, and Jason Kipnis in the outfield. Their window to win is as open as it’s going to get. Cleveland has reduced payroll this offseason though, and I don’t get the sense it was so they could afford Machado.

The Pirates are another team you could argue should be in on Machado. They’re good enough as is to challenge for a postseason spot in 2019. The NL Central? Eh, maybe, if some things break their way. Put Machado on their roster — their current projected shortstop is career utility man Erik Gonzalez — and they are firmly in the wild card mix. Pittsburgh has given us no reason to believe they’ll spend money though. They salary dumped Ivan Nova and replaced him Jordan Lyles, remember. We’re down to 18 possible Mystery Teams.

Step 3: Teams that can afford Machado but are rebuilding

The White Sox could be lumped into this group, except they are making efforts to improve. Their young prospects are starting to arrive and they’ve added low-cost veterans (Nova, Jon Jay, Yonder Alonso) to help push the team in the right direction. The clubs we’re eliminating in Step 3 are not doing that. They are actively unloading veteran players, or at least ignoring them entirely. Those teams: Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Rangers, Tigers.

Toronto, to me, is a team that absolutely should be in Machado but isn’t. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette figure to arrive at some point in 2019, and pair those two with Machado, and you have the foundation of a devastating offense, which is pretty much a requirement for contending in the AL East nowadays. The Blue Jays have the money — they are owned by Rogers Communications, which is like Verizon and AT&T put together — and there is upward of seven million people in the greater Toronto area. Rogers Centre is packed when the Blue Jays are good. Alas, they seem uninterested in Machado. We now have 13 potential Mystery Teams.

Step 4: Contenders that don’t need him

This step sounds dumb because you make room for a player of Machado’s caliber. Rearrange the lineup, change some positions, whatever. Machado makes you a lot better, and if you have a chance to get him, you should. That isn’t the reality though. These contenders are out:

Astros: Jose Altuve at second, Carlos Correa at short, Alex Bregman at third. Houston is probably the only team in baseball that can make a genuine “we don’t have room for Machado” argument.

Braves: They already committed huge 2019 dollars to Josh Donaldson at third base and their infield is fairly well set. Any large contract from here on out figures to go to an outfielder.

Dodgers: Corey Seager is returning at shortstop and Justin Turner is locked in at third. They could sign Machado and use one of those guys at second, I suppose. Their recent austerity with regards to the luxury tax makes it unlikely.

Nationals: If they’re going to hand out a mega-contract this winter, it’ll go to retaining Bryce Harper. There’s no room on the infield now anyway.

Red Sox: They’re already way over the luxury tax threshold and have Xander Bogaerts at short and Rafael Devers at third. Moving Bogaerts to second won’t happen with a Dustin Pedroia return still possible.

Knocking another five teams off the list bring us down to eight potential Mystery Teams. Getting warmer!

Step 5: Contenders that have to move people around to make it work

Every team should want Manny Machado. Only a few are pursuing him though. USATSI

Gosh, the Mets really should be in on Machado or Harper, shouldn’t they? At least one of them. They’re a New York team, after all. The Mets have already added Robinson Cano and Jed Lowrie to an infield mix that includes Todd Frazier, Amed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil. Signing Machado and trading Rosario for help elsewhere on the roster seems doable. I just can’t see the Wilpons signing off on this. The Mets are out.

The Cardinals made their big offseason move when they acquired Paul Goldschmidt. That pushed Matt Carpenter to third and Jedd Gyorko to the bench, with Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong the middle infield tandem. DeJong’s a nice player. He shouldn’t stand in the way of Machado though. Signing Machado to play short, then cashing DeJong or Wong in as a trade chip is a nice idea that doesn’t seem all that likely. St. Louis made their big move already. They’re out too.

What about the Cubs? They retained Addison Russell, so they’ll have plenty of infielders once he returns from his suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy. Chicago could, however, move Kris Bryant to left field, a position he’s played plenty over the years. Bryant in left with Machado and Javier Baez on the left side of the infield is a fun little idea, isn’t it? The problem here is the Cubs have been crying poor all winter. And, even if they did spend big, it would likely be on Harper. No dice.

The Rockies are another “Harper fits better than Machado” team. If they grant a huge contract to an infielder, it’ll go to Nolan Arenado, who is a year away from free agency. Harper in Coors Field would be a fun baseball thing. Would be neat if it happens. Colorado is out on Machado and so are the Giants, who already have several massive contracts on the books and a full infield. They’re another “Harper over Machado” team. We’re down to three potential Mystery Teams after eliminating the Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, and Giants.

Step 6: The contender that needs him but can’t afford him

Maybe “needs” is too strong a word here. Clearly though, the Brewers could stand to add Machado to their lineup. They could either install him at shortstop and move Orlando Arcia to second base, or install him at third base and move Travis Shaw to second base. Remember, Milwaukee went after Machado hard at the trade deadline last year. They settled for Jonathan Schoop instead and Schoop was a total bust.

The Brewers could use Machado. All indications are they can not afford him. Yasmani Grandal’s pricey one-year contract puts their projected Opening Day payroll at $115.1 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Here are Milwaukee’s Opening Day payrolls the last five years:

2018: $90.96 million

2017: $63.06 million

2016: $63.91 million

2015: $104.24 million

2014: $103.70 million

The Brewers had the best record in the National League last year when they went to Game 7 of the NLCS, and they’ve increased payroll going into 2019. That’s great. That is exactly how it should be. Milwaukee is already poised to run the largest payroll in franchise history this season and they play in the game’s smallest market. Realistically, they might not be able to go much higher with their payroll.

Remember, Machado is looking at something like $30 million per year on his upcoming contract. That would push the Brewers up over $140 million. I just can’t see it. Machado is a fit for the roster. Financially, the Brewers appear to be at their limit. They’re out and we have two potential Mystery Teams remaining.

Step 7: The team that has to pay Trout soon

The Angels should take every dollar they are considering giving to Machado and instead give it to Mike Trout, who is two years from free agency and has played three postseason games in his seven full MLB seasons. The Halos could absolutely fit Machado on their roster. Machado at third, Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, and Zack Cozart moves to second. See? Nice and easy. That would be the best defensive infield in baseball, hands down.

This offseason has been a great big “we tried” for the Angels and GM Billy Eppler. They’ve reportedly been “finalists” for several prominent free agents:

That indicates some level of financial restraint. In a perfect world, the Angels would sign Machado and add him to Trout, and move forward with two of the best players in the world plus the fun as heck Shohei Ohtani. In the real world, retaining Trout has to be the priority. He is the best player on the planet and a homegrown superstar. You don’t let him walk. Every dollar the Angels give Machado is a dollar they can not give Trout.

Barring a big — and unexpected, frankly — increase in payroll, the Angels aren’t going to end up with Machado. I do believe they are a good candidate to be the Mystery Team. A great candidate, really, because they have the infield opening and they’ve at least attempted to get better this winter, even if they’ve come up short a bunch of times. It just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

So, with the Angels and 28 other teams ruled out, it means we’re down to one possible Mystery Team. Drum roll please …

The San Diego Padres!

Yes, the Padres. There are several reasons this makes sense. One, they have a tremendous farm system that will begin plugging high-end talent into the major league roster in earnest in 2019. The most efficient way to build a contender is to develop a homegrown core and supplement it with select veterans. Machado qualifies as a select veteran. He’d accelerate the rebuild and give San Diego a lineup cornerstone.

Two, despite all those prospects, the Padres do not have an obvious long-term third baseman. Sure, they could move someone like Fernando Tatis Jr. or Luis Urias to third, but that defeats the purpose. Those two are top-notch middle infielders and they should remain on the middle infield, where they’re most valuable. San Diego has had a revolving door at third base since the first time they had Chase Headley. The Wil Myers at third base experiment was well-intentioned but ill-fated, and it is now over.

Wil Myers said he and the Padres collectively decided he will return to the outfield this year. He may still fill in at third base on occasion.

— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) January 12, 2019

And three, the Padres have money. They are currently on target for an $80.3 million Opening Day payroll in 2019, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. They ran a $108.4 million Opening Day payroll four years ago, when revenues were quite a bit lower than they are today. Add in the forthcoming homegrown core that will remain cheap for several years, and this is the perfect opportunity to spend on a generational type talent like Machado. Those guys don’t come around often. Get ’em while you can.

San Diego spent big to add Eric Hosmer last winter, and say what you want about Hosmer’s production, but he is very highly respected within baseball. He’s a leader and players gravitate toward him. The Padres could sell Machado on joining Hosmer and leading the core group of young players to contention, and living in San Diego. And, also with lots and lots and lots of money, of course. That always helps.

The Padres are the best Mystery Team fit for Machado. They have been angling to do something big all winter as their reported interest in Noah Syndergaard and Corey Kluber suggests. Machado is available for nothing but cash, he plays a position of need, and he’d advance the rebuild considerably. Plus Padres GM A.J. Preller is known to step out and make surprise splashes (see: Hosmer, Eric). All the pieces fit. I hereby declare the Padres the Machado Mystery Team.

News

Posted by smashdownsportsnews on 2019-01-14 19:20:42

Tagged: , Baseball , News , Featured , NPStrans , toppic , Los Angeles , CA , USA

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