SARASOTA Fla. — Manny Machado arrived at the Orioles’ training facility this morning, and walked around the clubhouse exchanging hugs with teammates old and new.
Machado, who had been the subject of trade talks after December’s Winter Meetings, was laughing and joking. He later took the field for some batting practice and took ground balls from infield coach Bobby Dickerson at his new position – and the one he wants to play for the remainder of his career: shortstop.
“It’s my natural position, that’s where I think I can be the best at,” Machado said. “It’s not really something about — I know a lot of the talk has been [about] ‘Oh, is he going to be worth more there? More money.’ It’s not about the money. It’s not about going out there and signing a 20-year deal.”
Machado has started 49 games at shortstop since coming to the Orioles, 43 in 2016, and six in 2015 — when J.J. Hardy was hurt.
Manager Buck Showalter thinks that Machado will excel at shortstop, and perhaps be equally adept there as he was at third base.
“He needs a new challenge, I think. I think he prospers off that,” Showalter said. “I think he’s really engaged. Not that he got bored at third base. I feel good that he had a month or so at shortstop for us to really kind of remind him; Bobby’s been showing him some of that tape and talking to him about the total engagement you have to have at shortstop to play that position. He’s a shortstop that moved to third because we had one of the best shortstops (Hardy) in the game.”
Machado grew up playing shortstop and played it in the minor leagues until the Orioles recalled him in Aug. 2012 and immediately moved him to third base. Now, he’s back where he feels he belongs.
“This is where my heart has always been, this is what I want to do, this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Machado said. “This is what I came into this world to do was to play shortstop at the big league level. Finally, Buck and the Baltimore organization are giving me the opportunity to go out there and do what I can at that position and show myself. That’s been my dream all along. I’m just really looking forward to it.”
As soon as word came out last year that the Orioles were willing to trade Machado in the right deal, several teams were linked to him, but no offers were to the team’s liking. The Orioles decided to keep Machado — for now.
Of course, the Orioles could always trade Machado at the non-waiver trade deadline in July if they’re not competitive early in the season.
“Hopefully not. Hopefully, I’m here all year and we’re in the World Series,” Machado said. “That would be awesome. It crossed my mind a little bit when the trade talks were going that I might not be able to see these guys again … see my coaches and see the guys that I’ve known for the last seven years.
“At one point, it was kind of a little sad. Thank God nothing went down and I was able to come back and see my guys that I’ve been with for seven years. It’s just going to be a great experience that I went through at that time – a learning experience this whole offseason – that I’m putting in the back of my mind going forward getting ready for this year.”
If the Orioles are competitive and don’t trade Machado in July, they’ll stand to lose him next fall when he can become a free agent. Machado will be peppered all season about whether he’d like to play in New York, Los Angeles — or somewhere else – in 2019 and beyond.
“You know what, it shouldn’t be a distraction,” Machado said. “I don’t work in the front office. I’m not an agent. I play baseball. That’s the only thing I know how to do. It’s the only thing I really know how to do, to be honest – just go out there, play baseball and answer the questions I need to answer and go about my business. My job is to go out there, and produce and if I don’t do that, none of the other stuff will come with it. So, go out there, you know, try to help this team as much as I can, be a good teammate and do everything I’ve got to do in this clubhouse and do everything I have to do on the field and things will just start rolling.”
Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette acknowledged at the winter meetings that the team hadn’t had discussions with Machado’s agent for a few years. There seems to be little chance of Machado extending his career in Baltimore beyond this year.
“I hope. Everybody hopes,” Machado said of a possible extension.
“Obviously, this is the only organization I’ve ever played for and the only organization I know, so I could definitely stay here, play for this organization, play for the crowd, play for the fans. This is all I know. It’s a great organization that I’ve always played for and gave me an opportunity to come up here and play in the big leagues. But, at the same time, there are some things that are out of my jurisdiction, out of my hands. What I can do is go out there and give them the best season I can and see what happens.”
Machado’s arrival at Orioles’ camp Saturday overshadowed Jonathan Schoop’s. Two weeks ago, Schoop disappointed fans and the organization when he didn’t attend FanFest because his agent advised him not to since he and the team hadn’t agreed on a contract figure for 2018.
Schoop said he regretted being a no-show at FanFest.
“Yeah, of course, for the fans. That’s why I’m going to sign for them — autographs,” Schoop said. “Every fan, I’m going to sign for them and give them something back. I’m glad it’s over and I can focus on baseball now, so I can focus on being out there and helping the team win.”
He says his relationship with the Orioles is a positive one.
“Of course, of course, it’s good,” Schoop said. “I went in there and shook hands with Buck and talked with Buck and I think everything is OK. And, like I said, I’m focused right now to go out there and do my job and help my team win.”
Showalter was displeased that Schoop was not at FanFest and chided his agent. The Orioles and Schoop ended up agreeing on an $8.5 million contract for this season.
“FanFest is not about contracts or anything like that,” Showalter said. “It’s just some bad advice that a young player got.”
Like Machado, Schoop said he hasn’t had any talks with the Orioles about an extension.