During the Baltimore Orioles Fanfest on Saturday, Orioles Manager Buck Showalter made headlines when he made the announcement that Manny Machado will be playing shortstop this upcoming season. This will mark the young star’s first full season at the position he grew up playing as he prepares to enter free agency.
Machado has made it no secret he wanted to shift over to shortstop this season. It would not be surprising to hear some fans say they thought he was always a third baseman because of how easy and natural he made it look. He won his first Gold Glove and the Platinum Glove in 2013; his first full season at the position. Machado’s current dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) has him above Evan Longoria (11.2 to 10.7) who has won 3 gold gloves and been in the league for almost twice the amount time Machado has.
Machado has played shortstop in the majors before having logged 7 games there in 2015 and 45 games in 2016. Machado was also the Orioles shortstop during infield shifts. In his time at shortstop, Machado has accrued 228 chances with 80 putouts and 140 assists with 8 errors.
There are some things to keep an eye on with the move though. Shortstop is a more taxing position with more lateral movement and ground to cover. Machado has had two knee surgeries since joining the Orioles roster. How he finishes the season there can be more important than how he starts. A strong and healthy finish could help lead to a slightly bigger payday in free agency than he would already require.
The switch to shortstop also allows Machado an opportunity to do something only 2 players have ever done, win two Gold Gloves at different positions. The others being Plácido Polanco (2B and 3B) and Darin Erstad (OF and 1B). It would be a pretty huge accomplishment considering Gold Glovers who have changed positions and never won the award again. Names like Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez, Robin Yount, Craig Biggio, and Ernie Banks to name a few. Machado winning a Gold Glove this season at short would be historic.
A strong first half could help the Orioles ascertain a trade at the deadline that could bring in valuable young pieces. This is assuming the Orioles do not view themselves as contenders at the deadline and decide to roll the dice and go for it all, Machado included.
There is no question that moving Machado to short keeps him happy and adds value there, but it could help the Orioles in contracts talks this offseason. It is what he has wanted since he was called up. Machado just never pushed for it out of respect and admiration for JJ Hardy who is now no longer with the team.
Fantasy wise Machado will earn dual eligibility as a 3B and SS a little over a week into the season increasing his value for his owners.
Who Plays Third?
At the moment the answer to that question is simple, Tim Beckham. He is the only player on the roster that can. But anyone who knows Buck and has watched him manage knows he prioritizes defense. Beckham created 9 errors last year in his 49 games with the Orioles. Is the defensive value of Machado playing short over Beckham enough to counteract the decrease of Beckham at third instead of Manny? Does Buck trust Beckham enough to not seek other options?
Since the announcement, Beckham has handled the situation with total class. Not entertaining any thought of negativity and exhuming excitement about an opportunity to start regardless of where that is. It might help that Beckham is no stranger to third base either. Beckham has started 5 games at third (played 9 games overall at the position). However, he has only had 12 defensive chances. He has converted them all.
Beckham won fans over with his play after coming aboard at the deadline. Batting .394 in his first month with the Orioles. Many fans still remember that, but that was all in part to due to a high .458 BAbip (Batting Average on balls in play). He came back down to Earth hard in September/October hitting just .180 in that time.
Beckham will be working with Orioles third base coach, Bobby Dickerson, before position players report to Spring Training on February 18th for the Orioles. The Orioles seem to indicate they know a few holes Beckham has and want to fix them. Perhaps he shows enough between now and then and the Orioles keep him at third.
That is the solution using the current roster. In what has been an unusual offseason, there remains many options for the Orioles to explore on the free agent front. The Orioles have been clamoring for a utility player who can handle all infield positions; Beckham can do that. The Orioles have also been clamoring for a left handed bat to add to the lineup. There is a third baseman on the market who would fit that mold; Mike Moustakas. There are some other free agent options available such as Todd Fraizer and Eduardo Nunez, but Moustakas is the only one who crosses off two check boxes on the Orioles list. He would also come with the highest price tag.
The Orioles could also find a potential player they like in a trade to plug in at third. Unfortunately, there is no player in the farm at 3rd who could come up and help remedy the situation. Ryan Mountcastle has the best bat. He also has major questions about whether or not he profiles as a third baseman defensively. Jomar Reyes would be another internal option. Reyes has a better glove than Mountcastle but has yet to play past single A.
There is no denying that a happy Manny Machado is what’s best for the 2018 Orioles. Machado and Schoop turning double plays up the middle will be quite the treat for Oriole fans this summer. It’s a sight they might only get to see this year.
(Photo Credit: Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)