How willing is Cubs ownership to back aggressive play for Manny Machado?
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Maybe the fix the Cubs need for their struggling lineup is as simple as these two words:
A lot of dominoes would need to fall in the right directions for the Orioles’ superstar shortstop to wind up with the Cubs before the trade deadline.
But after checking in on his availability during the winter, the Cubs expect to talk to the Orioles about Machado again when the worst team in the American League inevitably makes the pending free agent available in the coming weeks, insiders say.
Perhaps just as important, Cubs ownership seems to be on board with the front office getting aggressive, especially in a competitive window of opportunity that might have less than four years left.
When asked how aggressive ownership should be in such a pursuit, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts suggested the family will be as aggressive as president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer want to be.
‘‘We leave all the baseball decisions up to the baseball guys,’’ Ricketts told the Sun-Times a few days ago. ‘‘To the extent there’s a window where they want to sign more guys or not sign more guys, that’s their decision.’’
That might be critical, considering the size of the check Ricketts might be asked to write if the Cubs are successful in acquiring Machado and, in turn, extending him on a long-term deal.
Some estimate an eight-year, $300 million price tag on a free-agent deal for Machado, a three-time All-Star who turns 26 in July and ranks among the top five in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
‘‘That would be special,’’ said center fielder Albert Almora Jr., who’s eager to do anything he can to facilitate a deal between the Cubs and the childhood friend he considers family. ‘‘It’s something we’ve always talked about growing up. We were always so confident. We always said, ‘Man, we’ve got to try to play together in our [big-league] careers one day.’
‘‘I’ll have to start sweet-talking Theo a little bit and see what we can do.’’
Machado has made it clear he plans to test free agency at the end of the season, regardless of where the Orioles trade him. But his relationship with Almora might give the Cubs an edge in keeping that from happening.
Of course, they still would have to acquire him among a crowded field of likely pursuers, such as the Dodgers, with strong need and deeper player capital to offer.
The Cubs don’t have the level of prospects they did when they outbid the field for Aroldis Chapman in 2016 or Jose Quintana last year.
Any deal almost certainly would have to start with shortstop Addison Russell, whose primary value involves three-plus years of club control and the kind of work in the field that made him a Gold Glove finalist in 2016.
The Cubs made him available during the winter in talks with other teams, sources said.
‘‘It’s kind of a different situation when my name is getting tossed around out there,’’ said Russell, who walked and scored in the fourth inning, doubled home two runs in the fifth and singled and scored in the seventh in a 14-2 victory Monday against the Marlins. ‘‘I love this organization. . . . I’d like to stay here, but I also understand the business side of it, too.’’
Whether the Cubs have what it takes to put together a package strong enough with young pitching and possibly another hitter to compete for Machado is anything but clear.
Unlike in 2016 and 2017, the Cubs went into this season without an easily identifiable position of possible need in the summer.
Now they might have one.
‘‘Obviously, our team is unbelievable as it is right now,’’ Almora said. ‘‘But it would be something that our families and ourselves would really love to see, being in the same uniform. That’d be cool, man.’’
Contributing: Madeline Kenney