Jonathan Shepherd: Solving the problem that is Manny Machado

Some say Manny Machado is in the midst of a slump. That he missed spring training, came into the season cold and proceeded to be off his mark. Before last night's came, that slump has been going on for 199 plate appearances this season with a slash line of .224/.274/.322. If you prefer using a more holistic metric that takes run expectancy for each of his at bats and compares it to the league average, his wRC+ is 66. That is well below league average (100 wRC+), average for a third baseman (97 wRC+) and tied with Royals third baseman, Mike Moustakas for the worst third base bat in baseball. While most of the negative attention Machado gets is related to his recent temper tantrums on the field, it is his stagnantly fetid offensive performance is what should concern the Orioles more.

Upon first glance, those troubles with the bat might warrant a shrug. Machado did have a serious knee injury, was unable to get his spring training work in place and is dealing with his first apparent professional cold streak. I say "apparent" because statistics can often be a bit arbitrary with beginning and end points. Traditionally, you begin counting when the season starts and cease when the season ends, but the timing of a season does not necessarily correlate to the growth and decay of a player's ability. For instance, Machado's great first half last season (.310/.337/.470, 119 wRC+) hid his terrible second half numbers (.240/277/370, 73 wRC+) as his numbers flashed across television screens and the center field big screen when he came to bat. This year, he has no great two-month span to hide his troubles.

Instead, he has his injury to blame. However, the similarities between him coming back from an injury with his second half last season injury-free makes one think that perhaps his batting woes are more engrained and difficult to fix as opposed to simply waiting for his knee to completely heal. If you take into consideration the second half and what he has accomplished this year, Machado has the second-worst batting average, by far the worst on-base percentage, third-worst slugging percentage and worst wRC+ of any starting third baseman in baseball. That is a rather long and dreadful slump.

At this point, what can the Orioles do? Yesterday, we noted at Camden Depot that the club has the fifth-worst production in baseball coming from their second basemen. Subtract Matt Wieters' performance and the Orioles have the worst production in baseball coming from their current catchers. With third base also a gaping hole at the plate, the club has three major issues to deal with as they teeter on the cusp of the playoffs.

This is bittersweet. It is tough seeing these horrible performances, but it means that the club has a wide range of options to try to improve the team. If the Orioles simply had a need for a new third baseman, then they may find themselves with poor choices and expensive price tags. With a wide variety of needs, the club may be able to pick and choose, acquiring pieces that provide the greatest cost efficiency.

In the end, the Machado problem is one that the team will need to learn to live with. Although quite young and capable of throwing tantrums in response to the weird and pointless world of unspoken rules in baseball, he is one of the pillars of this team. The Orioles will come and go as Machado comes and goes, just like it is for Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Nick Markakis. You ride them all, even though tough patches, because benching them is not a good human resources move. As such, second base and catcher are the areas that would be the easiest to turn out the incumbents.

With respect to second base, one of the problems might be that the Orioles are among five of the bottom six clubs with second base production who are also in contention for playoff slots. This is probably a great year to have a second baseman to deal. The competition is likely to be heavy for players such as the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy, the Chicago Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio and maybe even the Mariners' Nick Franklin. For catchers, the two names surfacing are the Pittsburgh Pirates' Russell Martin and the Minnesota Twins' Kurt Suzuki. Martin may not be going anywhere as the club is three games outside of the wild card and word is that the Pirates love him to pieces. Suzuki is mashing the ball with singles and a few doubles, but you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes in him sustaining that level of performance.

In the end, maybe no moves are made and, considering how shallow the Orioles' farm system is, that might be a good thing.

Jon Shepherd blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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