As long as we’re touching on various camp competitions that await the Orioles after they begin full-squad workouts and Grapefruit League games, we should consider what’s happening at shortstop.
It could be about the players or the people within the organization who have their preferences.
The job seemed to belong to Tim Beckham without dispute following the July 31 trade that brought him over from Tampa Bay. And especially after he batted .394/.417/.646 in August with 10 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 19 RBIs. The September swoon, which saw him post a .180/.255/.348 slash line with three doubles, four home runs and seven RBIs, didn’t really influence the detractors as much as his inconsistency in the field.
Diving stops and throws from the hole and catches on the run in shallow center field, followed by bounced throws to first base and the occasional bobble on routine grounders.
(I found it interesting that one veteran noted how Chris Davis laid back on some of those throws to play the hop rather than extend for the ball, suggesting that Beckham wasn’t exclusively responsible for the skips.)
Beckham offered expanded range and a nice arm, but the Orioles missed J.J. Hardy’s reliability and steadiness. And no one is going to replace his leadership.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette is a firm believer in Beckham, which certainly makes sense considering that he orchestrated the trade. Meanwhile, the idea of moving Manny Machado to shortstop has been floated within the organization, the pros and cons weighed with no absolute resolution.
Machado is on board with the idea, from what I’ve heard, though I also was told previously that the position took a physical toll and he was more than content to stay at third. He didn’t play a single inning at shortstop this year. The argument that it’s easier to find a third baseman than shortstop is pushed by supporters of a Machado move. One of the counter arguments is that the Orioles already found their shortstop on July 31 and there’s no reason to remove a Platinum Glove winner from the hot corner, which potentially could burn the team.
“I like Tim Beckham,” Duquette said during his interview Thursday night on 105.7 The Fan. “I like his tools. Anybody that’s going to be drafted one-one like he was and be the first player selected in the entire (2008) draft has got to have good tools. And he showed them right away when he came to the Orioles.
“He’s got all the abilities to be a great player and he leveraged the opportunity he got with the Orioles and did well. He got off to a great start. He made some really good plays for us defensively. I think if he was a little bit steadier defensively he’d be one of the top defenders in the league because he’s got a good arm and he’s got good hands. And he improved his technique, I thought, in the short period of time that we had him. And he did a great job with the bat.
“He looks to me like he’s an average shortstop. He’s got a good arm, good hands, quick feet. He’s a pretty good baserunner and he can hit and hit for power. He had probably the third-best year on the club behind Manny and (Jonathan) Schoop in terms of production and he wasn’t here that long.”
It will be the job of third base coach and infield instructor Bobby Dickerson to make Beckham “steadier.”
What would happen to Beckham if Machado took over at shortstop? He’s played every infield position in the majors, but only five starts at third base among his nine appearances. He could replace Ryan Flaherty as the utility infielder, but that’s not what Duquette envisioned after the trade and it’s definitely not what Beckham wants.
From my vantage point, it’s easier to go into camp with Beckham as the shortstop and hit him 1,000 ground balls each day while working to make him more consistent. But I’m not naïve enough to think the Rays didn’t do the exact same thing.
No matter how it plays out, you’re going to appreciate Hardy more and more after he’s gone. Count on it.
There’s no obvious successor to Machado at third base. Ryan Mountcastle’s bat might be ready, but he’s still a work in progress defensively after moving over from short. A team that needs multiple starting pitchers also would have to go in search of a third baseman.
Assuming that Beckham isn’t the utility infielder, the Orioles will need someone to fill the role. The Red Sox tendered Brock Holt, preventing him from hitting the market and providing a perfect fit.
The Blue Jays non-tendered Ryan Goins, a left-handed hitter who batted .237/.286/.356 with 21 doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 62 RBIs in 143 games. Goins, 29, has played every infield position, though only three starts at third base and none at first, as well as left and right field.
Goins was a fourth-round pick in 2009 out of Dallas Baptist University. He was born in Texas. Manager Buck Showalter has a home in Dallas. They could bond.
MLBTradeRumors.com projected that Goins would receive $1.8 million in arbitration, the same amount paid this year to Flaherty.