While the Orioles were in Minnesota last week, a birthday cake was brought out to Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, who turned 26 on Friday.
He was about to blow out the candles, when he stopped and said something to his best buddy on the team, second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
“He told me to blow the candle for him and wish that I can stay with you,” Schoop said. “So, we blew out the (candle) together and we wished that we could stay together for our whole careers.”
Machado and Schoop have been close friends since they met in Sarasota in 2010 and initially competed for the chance to play shortstop. They played together throughout the minors – and then again starting in 2013, when Schoop first joined Machado with the Orioles.
They’ve been inseparable for roughly eight years. But now, with Machado about to be traded as the woeful Orioles begin what should be a fire sale this month, Schoop and Machado know they will soon be on different teams.
But since it hasn’t happened yet, Machado and Schoop figured it was worth a birthday wish.
“I wish he can be here. He’s my best friend. We are close,” Schoop said. “But if things go the other way, me and him are gonna stay in touch with each other. So, I don’t want (him to go) and he don’t want to, but that’s business.”
Machado and the Orioles haven’t had legitimate extension discussions in several years. The club and Schoop, who is a free agent at the end of the 2019 season, have not any talks this year.
If they are to be teammates again, it will almost certainly be away from Baltimore.
Machado understands his career here is coming to an end, but he certainly is saying the right things as he prepares to leave.
“This organization has given me everything. I got drafted here, and it’s just been home for the last seven years. It’s been truly an amazing journey here. Everyone in here is part of my family. They’re brothers to me. We’ll always be in contact,” Machado said. “If anything ever happens, I’ll always have their back because we’ve got through some good times and some bad times. It’s just made us better and gotten us closer together. This organization means a lot. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
Machado and Showalter on the Manny rumors
Every day is a new rumor about who may be pushing hardest for Machado. Most contenders appear to be in the mix, The Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees have all been discussed as landing spots.
The Phillies had one of their top special assistants, Charlie Kerfeld, at Camden Yards on Monday, presumably watching Machado as well as a cadre of Orioles relievers that includes pending free agents Zach Britton and possibly Brad Brach (who likely further hurt his trade stock with another rough outing in Monday’s nightcap).
Machado, of course, is the biggest and best name available, and it’s inevitable that he’ll be moved by the Orioles.
“Everywhere I see, it’s just Manny, Manny, Manny. It gets kind of a little distracting at times,” Machado said Monday. “Once I come in here and step in this clubhouse, I’m trying to be myself and have fun. That’s the only thing that keeps me going — I love this game so much, and I’m going to go out there every day and put on a show and do the best I can.”
If he isn’t traded by Monday, he’ll be taking part in the All-Star Game media scrum in Washington D.C. that afternoon. His table will surely be one of the most crowded during the event. It will be a different venue, but the same questions and attention Machado has received all year. He said he’ll handle it in stride.
“Same I way I have to deal with it every day. I’ve had to deal with it all year. It’s been non-stop every city we go to with reporters asking questions. I’ve answered all the questions I’ve needed to answer,” Machado said. “Obviously, there are going to be some more questions coming out there at that time. I’m sure quite a few (reporters covering contenders) are going to want to ask questions about it. Those are just things I’m going to have to deal with when it comes, just try to enjoy the moment when I get there.
“It’s about enjoying it with your family, enjoying it with your friends and the people that have gotten you to that position. Just enjoy it as much as I can. I’m the starting shortstop and I’ve worked hard to get to this position. I’m very grateful and humbled at the same time.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter aid he’s been impressed with how Machado has handled the extra attention – but not surprised.
“He actually thrives on it. If you look at all the things that have brought attention on him, very few are self-inflicted,” Showalter said. “If you look at his response to all of it, it’s been very much like this first-half-plus of the season … Of course, it’s real easy to handle things like that when you’re as talented as he is.”
Two other things about Machado and the All-Star Game. He said he’s not going to participate in the Home Run Derby contest and he said he hasn’t thought at all about having to sit out of the game if he is traded to the National League before the event. If that were the case, he wouldn’t be able to play. If he is traded to the AL, however, he would still get the starting nod.
“I’m the American League starter. That’s all I’ve been thinking about it, celebrate with my wife, my family,” Machado said. “We’re just very excited. We’re not even thinking about (being ineligible).”
Machado sidesteps Yankees rumors post-game
After Machado spent 10 minutes before Monday’s game holding court with Baltimore reporters about the All-Star Game and trade rumors, he had go through a similar drill after Monday’s doubleheader, when several members of the New York media converged on his locker after there were reports in-game that the Yankees have renewed interest in Machado.
He was clearly perturbed about answering more questions about speculation.
“If you want to talk me about something, then talk to me about the game,” Machado said when asked to comment about the Yankees’ rumor. “Talk to me about something useful, not about rumors. I ain’t here to talk about rumors.”
He reiterated that point several times, and then again said he wants to play shortstop if/when he gets traded to a contender.
“I’m a shortstop. I play shortstop,” he said.
Britton looks more like Britton on Monday
A potentially important development occurred for the Orioles in Monday’s first game. Britton entered with a one-run lead in the top of the ninth against the Yankees and pitched a scoreless inning for his second save.
He allowed a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Miguel Andujar, but then struck out a batter and picked up two groundouts. He threw nine of his 15 pitches for strikes – all were sinkers, mainly at 95 to 97 mph. His velocity was a few ticks above where it had been in earlier outings and his command is improving.
“Zach was good, huh? Roger (McDowell) and I were talking in the dugout. That was Zach, that was good to see,” Showalter said. “Very quietly, little by little, he’s getting there. You could tell by his body language he felt really good about his stuff.”
Aside from Machado, Britton is by far the Orioles’ best trade chip, assuming that he has fully knocked off the rust that gathered after December’s Achilles’ surgery.
Most contenders could use back-end relief help and if Britton can show that he’s even somewhat close to the form that made him one of baseball’s best closers from 2014-16, then he could bring back some legitimate pieces in a late July trade.
The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers appear to be the best fits for Britton, who was nearly traded to the Astros last July.