When Buck Showalter announced at Orioles FanFest in late January that Manny Machado would be moving to shortstop full-time, pushing Tim Beckham to third base, I didn’t really blink at the move. It seemed inevitable, really, despite my own personal apprehensions. Machado is, as everyone knows, in his walk year. The move to short was conceivably to increase his value to potential trade suitors. From a personal standpoint for Machado, it would also increase his value as a free agent. Despite the fact that he’s said over and over that the move is not about money, if we are calling a spade a spade, the position switch has so far only shown the capability of helping the 25-year-old.
Last week, Machado spoke to New York reporters about the move. In claiming the move was not financially driven, he reminded everyone that, “I’m going to get mine.” This is, of course, very true. Machado is going to get paid handsomely by someone this offseason whether or not he is playing shortstop or third base. Instead, Machado says shortstop is where his “heart has always been” and that he made a commitment to play there and plans to stick to it.
That commitment, whether made to the team or himself internally, isn’t actually benefiting the team at the moment. Sure, it’s a small sample size. But something doesn’t look right when it comes to Machado at shortstop. Even more telling, something doesn’t look right with Beckham at third base. The move was a strange one from the start. What’s confusing to me is whether this was a move the Orioles actually believed would help them, either in the short or long term. Do the Orioles believe that appeasing to Machado by moving him to shortstop will give them a better chance to re-sign him this winter? That’s highly doubtful in my eyes. Do they think Machado is actually better at short than at third base, and in harmony with that idea, think Beckham is a better third baseman than shortstop? Machado might be the best third baseman and the best shortstop on the team, but if Beckham is a stronger shortstop than a third baseman, what logic is there in the move?
The often referenced defensive spectrum in baseball tells us that shortstop is a harder position to play than third base. It’s more important, historically to the tune of about five runs per season. But it’s also not difficult to mix in some weighted offensive numbers and close the gap between the two. Basically, the importance is getting closer and closer between the two positions. In that spirit, the Orioles took a player in Beckham, who had just 50 innings at third base in his career, and decided to put him there full-time. He’s already recorded more innings at third base this season than he had previously. The same goes for Machado. He had registered fewer than 450 innings at shortstop before this season, with more than 6,300 at third base. Even if shortstop is Machado’s natural position because he played it in the minors, he doesn’t have nearly the experience there in the majors.
What we’ve seen so far this season is a pure example of small sample size. But what we’ve seen is two players who look unfamiliar with their positions. Something just looks off with it. Timing, feel and instinct aren’t quite there. The most recent example came yesterday. With two outs and a runner on in the fifth, Yankees left fielder Jace Peterson hit a grounder to Machado that should have ended the inning. It was a sharply hit ball and a moderately tough backhanded play. But it was also a play that talents like Machado should make in their sleep. Instead, the internal clock seemed off, he took an extra step to set himself, and after a replay review, Peterson was ruled safe. The inning continued and the Yankees added a run.
Simply put, Machado and Beckham haven’t looked the part in their new roles. Both are talented and will make strong plays defensively this season. But if they continue to look like round pegs squishing into square holes, what exactly is the end game? If it’s something that leads to Machado having enough faith in the Orioles to sign with them, great. But that’s not the fairytale ending I see here. And in the end, can anyone really blame Machado for wanting to up his value so close to free agency? I’m more curious as to what the Orioles’ motivations are to make this move, one that has looked just a bit off from the start.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. Follow him on Twitter: @AStetka. 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.