Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter officially confirmed at FanFest what had been rumored for months: Manny Machado will be switching positions in 2018.
“He’s going to play shortstop,” Showalter said.
Machado has played primarily third base since the Orioles promoted him to the majors in August 2012, starting 715 games at the hot corner compared to 49 at short. He last played shortstop in 2016, when he filled in for 45 games while J.J. Hardy was injured.
Machado, though, was almost exclusively a shortstop during his minor league career, making all but four of his 206 starts at that position.
With the departure of the three-time Gold Glover Hardy, who is currently an unsigned free agent, Showalter decided the time was right to move Machado back to his original position.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Showalter said. “By all indications, talking to people who have seen him and everything, he’s really excited about this. I can’t imagine him being in a better frame of mind or physically set up to do this. I think out of his respect for J.J. the last few years, obviously, he’s been very professional about it. But it’s not like he’s changing positions. He’s going back to the position he’s equipped to play.
“I feel pretty confident. There’s a whole bunch of want-to with him at shortstop.”
Tim Beckham, who was the Orioles’ starting shortstop last August and September after he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, will likely be switching places with Machado on the left side of the infield.
“Probably third base,” Showalter said of Beckham’s 2018 role. “I’ve talked to Tim some. We’re going to shake it out. I think Tim is capable of playing third base. We’ll see. But there could be some adjustments down the spring. Maybe we don’t like the feel of it or whatever, but that’s where we’re going to head into it. There’s a chance that we could adjust from there, but I’ve talked to Manny and Tim about it, and we think it’s our best setup right now.”
Beckham has only five career starts at third base, and none since 2016. The Orioles, though, never seemed completely comfortable with his defense at shortstop. He committed nine errors in 49 games for the Orioles last season. He struggled with his consistency, showing he was capable of making athletic plays but sometimes botching routine ones.
The timing of Machado’s shift to short might raise some eyebrows, considering that 2018 is his final season under contract with the Orioles before he’s eligible for free agency. His name has also been bandied about in trade rumors for much of the offseason.
For now, though, the Orioles are moving forward as if Machado will be with the club for at least the start of the 2018 season. Showalter likes the setup of his infield with Machado at shortstop and Beckham at third rather than the other way around.
“Manny’s basically played shortstop in the shift for three or four years,” Showalter said. “I think we’re moving Manny back to his natural position. And Tim’s been playing a lot of places. So I know how important Manny is to our team, and I think he can be the most impactful there, especially with the loss of J.J. … We have some challenges there without J.J., and I think Manny is our best option.”
If Machado shows he can excel at shortstop, it could increase his value in free agency next winter — or perhaps increase his trade value if the Orioles decide to deal him during the 2018 season.
“I think he’s bound to have a great year for us,” Showalter said. “All the stars are aligned as good as they can be. He understands that when you’re a good player. He knows what’s going on. He’s going to do well in his career. We’d like for it to be here. If it’s not, it’s just the lay of the land.”