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The cracks in the White Sox-Manny Machado rumors

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Nothing is squaring up, and maybe it’s Baltimore’s fault

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

As the White Sox stay atop the Manny Machado rumor mill, I’ve had a feeling that they’re spending an uncomfortable amount of time leading an auction they’re not expecting to win.

Given that Machado is a big-time player who fits in their bigger timeline if not their immediate plans, and given that the Orioles really want pitching, it makes sense for Rick Hahn to wave his paddle early in the process, even if he’s not planning on one-upping a rival for long. In this scenario, teams that can make better use of Machado’s rental year would likely surpass him in short order, but at least the Sox played an active role in the room.

Instead, the White Sox are hanging in there. It’s difficult to determine the exact quality of the offer. At last check, Michael Kopech is not involved, which means that Lucas Giolito remains, at least if Ken Rosenthal’s initial report is holding up.

But there’s even disagreement about how alluring the White Sox’ offer is, and the investment level from other teams. Buster Olney says the White Sox and Cardinals lead the way, but Bob Nightengale says the Cardinals haven’t made a formal offer and the Sox’ offer isn’t as strong as rumored.

That’s not the only conflict that has come out of this. The White Sox’ internal messaging also lacks consistency.

Earlier in the day, James Fegan relayed a quote from Hahn that suggested the White Sox would be prepared to pony up for a major player in this version of a rebuild.

“There was certainly a notion that the Chicago White Sox would never rebuild, there was certainly the notion that the White Sox would never incur a substantial penalty or substantial tax in order to sign a player, as we did with Luis Robert. There was repeatedly written and reported, even a year ago at this time, that the White Sox would never make a trade with the Chicago Cubs, so we've repeatedly shown that what you've assumed about our actions in the past doesn't indicate how we're going to act going forward. So the notion that we wouldn't potentially be aggressive when the time is right in free agency or would not spend big on a premium ticket item, I would say probably fits in with those old narratives that we've already proven to be false.”

But Nightengale, who is notoriously tight with Jerry Reinsdorf, says a Machado extension is out of the question:

Oh, sure, they’d love to have Machado for the next 10 years, and would have exclusive negotiating rights next season, but the chance of them dishing out at least $350 million for one player is about the same as the White Sox hosting a ring ceremony party for the Cubs.

Maybe Nightengale is operating with old information and assuming in the fashion Hahn is knocking. Maybe Hahn is floating something he doesn’t believe. Maybe Nightengale is accurately relaying Reinsdorf’s sentiment while Hahn is voicing his own convictions, and they don’t line up because they didn’t think they’d have to get their stories straight on a potential nine-figure investment this early in the rebuild.

And maybe the Orioles are paranoid and infecting everything with their particular strain of weirdness. While Nightengale says the White Sox merely want to see what Machado looks like on their team, the Orioles are terrified of the Sox instantly flipping Machado to the Yankees, taking advantage of Baltimore’s unwillingness to deal directly with a division rival.

Yet, the White Sox insist they would not trade for Machado and immediately flip him. It would be completely unethical, they say. If the Orioles even wanted it in writing that they’d keep him around until at least mid-summer, no problem.

Still, the Orioles don’t believe it. They’re not sure what to believe anymore, really. What would stop the White Sox, or any other team, from dumping Machado into the Yankees’ awaiting arms if they get off to a lousy start in April, or out of the race by May? What would stop them from trading him even in spring training if the Yankees offered a dazzling package of prospects?

Piecing together all the incongruous parts, and my guess is that the White Sox think having Machado on their roster would be fun, however long it lasts, and they’d be willing to pay for his presence on a non-contender accordingly. They probably should have been outbid by now, and they probably will be at some point in the near future, but until another non-Yankee team has more to offer, they might need to tighten up their front in pretending they’re prepared to win it.