The question we all want answered is whether Manny Machado will be an Oriole on Opening Day, March 29.
Well, mosey up to the bar and let me help you out with that one.
My best guess, based on my years as an intrepid reporter, is maybe.
I still think the Orioles pull the trade trigger if they get the right return package of at least two young pitchers and one or two other players with decent ceilings. That may be a lot to ask for a pending free agent, however, even a terrific one such as Machado. So, if they don’t get that desired return, then I assume the Orioles hold onto Machado until July.
Really, this has been the expectation since the Orioles started fielding offers.
I’m not willing to buy the intermittent reports that he’s now off the market or now he’s back on the market. I think the Orioles will deal him if someone meets their needs and won’t if no teams come close.
So, while that waiting game plays out, there’s another Machado storyline worth watching.
What position will Machado play in 2018 if he stays with the Orioles?
You have to think the answer is shortstop.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has not made that pronouncement publicly, though he has been given ample opportunity. He’s staying with the standard line that the issue is being discussed and is close to being worked out. That, in itself, gives the impression that a switch is going to happen.
Machado is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, one of the best in the majors. But he’s always considered himself a shortstop, and has never wavered in the hope that he’d play that position regularly in the majors. Throughout most of Machado’s career, though, shortstop has been the domain of J.J. Hardy.
Machado had too much respect for the veteran shortstop to angle for the position while Hardy manned it. But Hardy is now a free agent, working out in Arizona and deciding whether to play somewhere in 2018 or retire.
With Hardy injured, the Orioles’ shortstop position in the second half of 2017 belonged to Tim Beckham, who is older than Machado (27 to 25), but has less service time in the majors (three-plus to five-plus). Machado and Beckham seemed to bond when Beckham was traded to the Orioles in July, but it’s not the same mentor-protégé relationship that Machado had with Hardy.
And, frankly, it’s difficult to make the argument that Beckham is a better shortstop than Machado.
In 49 games at shortstop for the Orioles last year, Beckham had nine errors; Machado had eight in 52 games at shortstop in 2015 and 2016. Machado’s sample size at the position is rather small, so the advanced defensive metrics may be even less telling than usual, but they are fairly comparable depending on what stat is used.
Beckham looked good at times last year at shortstop, making some difficult stops. But he also had occasional trouble with routine plays and in making consistently accurate throws with his strong arm. He was much flashier than Hardy, but not nearly as consistent.
So, moving Machado to shortstop shouldn’t provide a downgrade, could provide an upgrade and, ultimately, will make the Orioles’ star happy in what likely will be his last season in Baltimore.
Moving Beckham to third would certainly be a downgrade defensively, though he should have the arm and quickness to be OK at the hot corner.
There have been rumblings for the Orioles to go out and get another third baseman – free agent Mike Moustakas, for instance – hold onto Machado this year and make Beckham a utility player. Theoretically, that makes some sense. I just don’t see the Orioles spending the money that it will take to land Moustakas.
So, that leaves you, oh wonderful faux bar patrons, to opine on this.
Would you move Machado to shortstop for 2018 if he remains an Oriole? Not only would it likely increase his value in the open market next winter, but also on the trade market this summer. But it could weaken the club’s overall defense if Machado proves to be simply adequate at short as opposed to outstanding at third.
Tap-In Question: If Machado is an Oriole in 2018, would you start him at shortstop?