First impressions of the Manny Machado-infused Dodgers

MILWAUKEE -- The Manny Machado watch has ended, and we now know that the gem of this year's trade deadline market will be calling Chavez Ravine home, at least for the next few months. Springing into fashion is the No. 8 Dodgers jersey, last worn by Shane Victorino in 2012. Headed for the clearance rack is Machado's No. 13 Baltimore Orioles jersey, which may never again be as lucky for that franchise as it has been since Machado broke into the big leagues.

To begin Machado's L.A. career, the Dodgers took two of three on the road from the Milwaukee Brewers, capped by an 11-2 rout on Sunday. From there, the Dodgers headed out for three games in Philadelphia, followed by four in Atlanta. The hope is that by the time Machado makes his L.A. home debut on July 30 against Milwaukee, he'll be a true-blue Dodger.

"It's great bonding," Machado said of starting out with his new team on the road. "Coming in here [to Milwaukee]. Then we're going on a flight to Philly, then Atlanta. That will be great bonding. I'm looking forward to it."

When Machado finally is introduced to the Dodger Stadium fans, the reception should be boisterous, particularly if L.A. keeps winning road series against fellow National League playoff hopefuls.

The fact of the matter is that we won't know if this finishing stroke by Dodgers honchos Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi will pay off until as late as Halloween, when a potential Game 7 of the 2018 World Series would be played. For all the analysis, that's what this trade was all about: Helping the Dodgers win one more game than they did last season and, in doing so, ending a three-decadelong championship drought.

Until then, here are some first impressions from Machado's first weekend with his new club.

1. This is not Mannywood 2.0

The acquisition of Machado went official on July 18, about two weeks shy of the Dodgers' 2008 blockbuster trade with Boston that brought Manny Ramirez to Los Angeles. Ramirez then proceeded to hit .396/.489/.743 after the trade, helping what was a .500 L.A. team win the NL West.
"Awesome," Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said after Machado's debut, in which he reached base four times against Milwaukee. "A fit for L.A. He's our new Mannywood! Mannywood 2.0."

Jansen lit up as he spoke, but Machado is a different personality than the irrepressible Ramirez. He's the new face in town and a good-looking one, so the cameras and microphones will surely follow him around as long as he's in Los Angeles. But Machado is quiet, polite and seems to have no particular need to be in the spotlight. On this Dodgers team, as good as he is, Machado is simply another star among stars.

"The guys are great here," Machado said. "They're amazing. They made me feel at home from the first play of the game. They had a pretty good team already going, that could contend for a World Series. To come in here and help the team however I can, I'm going to do everything possible to help the team win. Everybody here wants to win."

It's what you would expect him to say. Machado, who said he was a big fan of the other Manny and knows him a bit in real life, also emphasized that he's not going Hollywood any time soon. By contrast, here's one quote from Ramirez's media conference 10 years ago after he re-upped with the Dodgers as a free agent after the 2008 season:

"I'm baaaack!" the first Manny proclaimed.

Machado is a star by performance, not personality. And in that way, he's a consummate 2018 Dodger.

2. The Dodgers are happy to have him -- really happy

I mean, duh. But there was a tangible energy in the Dodgers' clubhouse over the weekend at Miller Park. Anytime anyone was asked about Manny, smiles ensued.

"I can't imagine a deeper lineup," starter Alex Wood gushed. "For sure the deepest I've ever played with, and I've played with some pretty good lineups so far in my career. Adding him in there gives our lineup a whole other dynamic. Looking 1 through 8 every night, it's like, 'Who is going to be the game-changer?'"

Matt Kemp, who continued his second-act career breakout with two homers on Sunday, is the Dodger who probably knew Machado best before the trade. He had a locker next to him in the clubhouse and seemed particularly upbeat, cracking jokes with his teammates and the media alike.

"You throw a guy like that in our lineup, with the already dangerous [group] we already had, it makes it dangerous for the other team," Kemp said. "He has good at-bats. Like every at-bat is a good at-bat. He takes walks and hits the ball hard, and it trickles down. It's pretty cool."

3. The possibilities are endless

The Dodgers had a deep, talented and versatile group of position players before trading for Machado, even with star shortstop Corey Seager out for the season. It was good enough to keep prized prospect Alex Verdugo in the minors until Monday, even though he's hitting .349 in Triple-A.

Yet, to say that the addition of Machado is a marginal upgrade is wrong, too. The Dodgers have just three players who have at least 300 at-bats this season -- Kemp, Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger. Because of the injuries to Seager, Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig, among others, manager Dave Roberts has often been forced to use his depth and versatility to paper over these injuries rather than leveraging those traits for matchup purposes.

Roberts is aggressive when it comes to resting players and moving pieces around. And the experimentation can have ancillary benefits, too. For one thing, it gives opportunities for players like Max Muncy to prove themselves. However, adding Machado gives Roberts a tentpole player -- someone who will anchor the lineup almost every day, leaving the manager all sorts of options for moving his other pieces around.

While Zaidi said that Machado was being acquired to play both short and third, and Machado declared his willingness to do whatever he's asked, Roberts said over the weekend that he's going to plant Machado at shortstop at the outset. He looked terrific there over the weekend, working well with his new infield mates and showing off his cannon arm with a couple of plays in the hole. Then on Monday, Turner went back on the disabled list and Roberts moved Machado to third.

When Machado is installed at short, Taylor is freed up from that position to bounce around mostly between second and center. With Machado at third, Taylor can move back to short to open up the outfield rotation. Bellinger can bounce between first and center. Muncy can rotate from third to first to second as needed. Joc Pederson and Enrique Hernandez and be spotted in as needed, especially if Puig gets healthy and, along with Kemp, help anchor the outfield corners.

4. The Dodgers have their old team back

Most of what was written next to point No. 3 would have already been true for the Dodgers had Seager not been injured. But he was and now that Machado is on board, it allows the Dodgers to enter the stretch run and the playoffs with roster that is closer to how the team was originally constructed.

To illustrate this point statistically, consider the power rankings in my system. The Dodgers entered the season with a rating of 94.8, which is to say that, on paper, they had the true talent of a team that could be expected to win about 95 games. That figure began to erode almost immediately once the season began and dipped as low as 86.2.

After this weekend, with Machado now occupying Seager's old place on the depth chart, the Dodgers' power rating is now 95.0. The identity of the shortstop has changed, but the Dodgers are back to being the team we thought they'd be.

5. Manny is present

The Dodgers have been baseball's most-injured team over the past couple of years. Or, at least, they've used the disabled list more than any other squad. Seager is down for the season. Puig is still out with an oblique strain. Turner, who looked pretty hobbled in Milwaukee, does not seemed destined for full health this season.

Machado missed a total of 11 games between 2015 and 2017, and has missed just one game so far this season. The Dodgers aren't long in that kind of durability and, because they're the Dodgers, they'll probably insist that Machado take the occasional day off. But his track record suggest that he'll be there for the Dodgers whenever they need him.

6. Defense should be a problem but it probably won't be

The Dodgers move guys around in some seemingly odd ways. Bellinger is a first baseman-center fielder, having started more than 20 games at each position. The last everyday player to do that (minimum 500 at-bats) was Nick Swisher in 2007. Austin Barnes plays catcher and second. Taylor plays shortstop and center with near equal aplomb. Muncy is built like Matt Stairs but has played a passable second base. On the other hand, his work at the hot corner in Milwaukee was not so good, which is likely why Roberts opted to move Machado to third to cover for Turner's ongoing absence.

So in comes Machado, a former dynamo at third base, who in his first big league season at shortstop ranks dead last with minus-18 defensive runs saved.

"You look at his ability, and I think for us there was a challenge," Roberts said. "He knows what the metrics say. The challenge is for him to prove them wrong. For me, I like the eye test, and I want to see it for myself. I haven't seen him play much at all as a shortstop. For me, the way he's worked and how he's connected with [coach] Chris Woodward, I think there are a lot of good things for us to look at."

These are, of course, the Dodgers, who have been as successful as any team in using analytics and big-league-level coaching to get development out of those who seemed to be already developed. For all their discontinuity in the field, the Dodgers rank 11th with 15 defensive runs saved.

"I think that our information is very good as an organization," Roberts said. "And I think that when you're playing on a first-place team, the focus -- not to say that [Machado] wasn't focused -- but the energy or whatever you want to classify it, is heightened. That's just facts."

7. Symbiosis or codependency? Either way, it works

My hypothesis is that Machado, a selectively aggressive hitter -- particularly on pitches in the zone -- will have bigger-than-expected impact on a Dodgers lineup long on patience and walks, but not so great in the bat-to-ball department. Thus, L.A.'s performance in offensive high-leverage spots this season hasn't dovetailed with the overall production of the group.

Roberts, on the other hand, sees it as a matter of Machado's threat and ability to harness his innate aggression on balls out of the zone as the real upgrade to the Dodgers' attack. Simply put: Machado's on-base ability creates for everyone else. Whether it works out more like my hypothesis or Roberts', either way it's good for the Dodgers.

"It doesn't affect the kind of pitches they're going to get," Roberts said. "It's going to create opportunities. They're going to pitch Manny carefully, which all teams I assume will. Whoever hits behind him is going to get opportunities."

8. He's not going to help the bullpen

In front of Jansen, the Dodgers' bullpen in Milwaukee consisted of Daniel Hudson, JT Chargois, Dylan Floro, Erik Goeddel, Zac Rosscup, Caleb Ferguson and Scott Alexander. That group entered this season with a combined 6.5 career WAR. L.A. currently has seven relievers on the disabled list, including Julio Urias, whom Roberts said was likely to work in a long relief role if he's able to return and help with the homestretch.

That's a lot of uncertainty for a prime World Series contender, and it's not an area Machado can help with. So as great as the acquisition was, the Dodgers still have work to do before next week's trade deadline.

9. There is only one Machado, and the Dodgers have him. The other contenders do not

A small point, but seems pertinent.

10. Don't ask him about what comes next

Machado will be a sought-after free agent after the season, so of course he was asked during his first weekend as a Dodger if it's possible that he might want to stick around. Machado has answered too many questions about his future to go down that rabbit hole.

"I'm not worried about that right now, to be honest," Machado said. "Honestly."

It's what Machado said during his introductory media conference. It's what he said after it. It's what he's going to say (or something to that effect) every time he's asked about it from now until after the Dodgers' last game. If that last game is a win, there isn't a blue-clad baseball fan in Los Angeles who will care.

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