Ranking the front-runners and dark horses to land Machado
Rob Leiter / Major League Baseball / Getty

As the calendar inches toward the new year, superstar free agent Manny Machado remains on the open market. He's scheduled meetings with three teams this week, so he appears to be narrowing his list of potential landing spots.

The clubs he's meeting with are surely the favorites in the Machado sweepstakes as they already have a seat at the table. Still, the prospect of a mystery team swooping in at the last minute to land the 26-year-old shouldn't be categorically dismissed. If the usual suspects are unwilling to give Machado the money or term that he wants, it's quite possible that he decides to change direction.

Here's how his current suitors rank, including three mystery teams that could be lurking in case the situation remains unresolved.

Front-runners

1) Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies have been linked to both Machado and Bryce Harper since before the offseason began. Their acquisition of shortstop Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners seemed to create a bit of a roadblock. After all, Machado has mentioned he wants to play at short going forward.

The Phillies are reportedly unphased by this and hope the four-time All-Star will acquiesce and play the hot corner instead, displacing holdover Maikel Franco in the process.

Money, presumably, will talk. And if the Phillies offer him the most cash over the longest term, it could very well be tempting enough to change Machado's mind. Phillies owner John Middleton said in November that money wouldn't be a concern, either, and that the team was ready to "be a little bit stupid about" how it's spent.

That supposed willingness to break the bank is what, for the moment, gives Philly the edge.

2) Chicago White Sox

There's been speculation floating around the Twittersphere that the White Sox attempted to gain Machado's favor by trading for his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso. It seems absurd, but it certainly can't hurt their chances. Alonso could be a source of comfort and familiarity, but he won't be a deal-clincher.

It emerged over the weekend that Chicago doesn't want to hand out record deals to either of the big-ticket free agents. Like it or not, that's what it's going to take to get Machado. If the White Sox are trying to leverage themselves into getting a discount, they should probably re-think their strategy. A thin market won't necessarily mean he can be had at a bargain price.

That said, the White Sox are in a good position to land him, and the reports of stinginess could just be a smokescreen. Machado is meeting with them, after all, so the mutual interest is there. And signing him is the right move in this part of the team's rebuild.

3) New York Yankees

Never underestimate the Yankees. They have an open spot at shortstop with Didi Gregorius on the shelf to begin the season and set to hit free agency next winter. As good as Gregorius is, Machado would more than fill that void - especially with the bat - for the next decade.

Like the White Sox, however, the Yankees have shown some reluctance to spend the requisite amount of money to sign him. It's understandable, as they can still challenge for a World Series without Machado. This is a team that set power records by hitting 267 home runs in 2018, but it somehow still felt like the Yankees were underachievers.

Machado would change that. He's raked at Yankee Stadium by slashing .289/.344/.478 with eight homers and 10 doubles over 45 career games in the Bronx. Plus, he'd help form an incredibly frightening trio alongside Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton for years to come.

Dark horses

4) Miami Marlins

While speculation linking Machado to Miami has yet to gain much momentum, he would make a lot of sense, and not just because he lives there in the offseason.

The Marlins mortgaged their immediate future last offseason by trading away Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon. It was an effort to re-stock a floundering farm system that hasn't quite turned the corner yet (it's been a year, relax). But Machado isn't only a win-now move. The Marlins would make him the face of the franchise through the early years of a rebuild and into their planned ascent to postseason glory.

No one would block him at shortstop, and there's a chance that adding Machado tempers catcher J.T. Realmuto's desire to escape.

5) Los Angeles Angels

The Angels need pitching help more than anything, but bulking up the offense would certainly be a worthwhile alternative. He'd have to move back to third base because there is no chance Andrelton Simmons leaves shortstop. In that scenario, Zack Cozart shifts to second base.

Signing Machado could also make the finances a little stickier when Mike Trout's free agency comes around in 2021.

With all those caveats, why then would Machado still be an option? By the time Trout's contract situation rears its ugly head, Albert Pujols will be a lot closer to coming off the books, and by 2022, a roster built around Machado and Trout would look incredible. Young pitchers like Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney would need to take a step forward and weather the storm in the rotation with Machado lining up alongside Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Justin Upton in a fearsome lineup.

Also, owner Arte Moreno has spent big bucks several times before on much riskier names like an aging Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and C.J. Wilson. It'd be foolish to count them out.

6) Atlanta Braves

The Braves are a bad fit only if you believe they're committed to Dansby Swanson at shortstop no matter the alternative.

Atlanta entered the winter meetings with just the 16th-highest projected payroll for 2019, even after signing Josh Donaldson. Now is the perfect time to pounce. Of the other listed suitors, the White Sox and Marlins are projected to spend less, and the Phillies' payroll is poised to be slightly higher.

Donaldson is possibly a one-year option. Long-term, the Braves would be adding Machado to a core of Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna in addition to a young and exciting pitching staff. Atlanta is coming off its first NL East title since 2013 and isn't far away from being a big-time contender.

Machado could be just the piece the Braves need if general manager Alex Anthopoulos decides to eschew his patient and frugal approach to make the biggest splash imaginable.

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Ranking the front-runners and dark horses to land Machado
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