Machado fields questions before All-Star ground balls

WASHINGTON - The starting shortstop for the American League in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game spent about 45 minutes this afternoon covering the same ground.

Manny Machado sat at a table during the AL media session on the second level of Nationals Park and repeated how he’d prefer to play shortstop, but has no control over it if traded. Only in free agency does he wield such power.

Machado wishes that he could stay with the Orioles, but if he’s destined to be dealt he’d rather it happen soon to get it over with and eliminate the same questions about his immediate future.

The Orioles spoke to Machado’s agent early in the infielder’s major league career about a possible extension and the sides came fairly close without reaching agreement. The suggestion that they revisit the topic later never came to fruition.

He’d rather test free agency than negotiate an extension with the team that trades for him.

The media crush and rumors aren’t ruining his All-Star experience. He’s having a blast.

Jonathan Schoop remains his best friend and he loves hitting behind the second baseman in a lineup that he could leave before the Orioles land in Toronto after the break.

Rinse, repeat.

Thumbnail image for Machado-Swing-White-Sidebar.jpg“I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “Look around the room, these are all All-Stars here. To be a part of that, to see the guys around the clubhouse, see them out of uniform, being inside a clubhouse with them and not just against them is pretty awesome. No one will ever take away how much fun I’m going to have in these two days.”

Multiple sources said the Orioles don’t have an agreement in place with the Phillies despite rumors that gained momentum earlier today. The Dodgers and Brewers remain in the mix, as well. A deal is “very close,” per a source, but it isn’t finished.

The chances of a trade unfolding before Friday are increasing, but Machado won’t wear an Orioles jersey in D.C. and ponder whether it’s the last time.

“No, no,” he said. “I’m putting it on, I’m going to represent the organization the right way. If it is, it is. If not, I’ll be there Friday and back with my teammates.”

Fans in Philadelphia unfurled a banner during the Orioles’ July 4 visit that read, “We want Manny.” Are the Phillies a good fit for Machado?

What exactly is he supposed to say?

“You know what? I don’t know what the right fit is,” he said. “The only thing I’ve ever known is being in the Orioles organization. They drafted me, I came up with the organization, played with them, done everything with them. So, I don’t know anything different.”

Another attempt to tug at his heartstrings came when asked if there’s anything he wants Orioles fans to know as he takes the field with the rest of the AL club?

“Continue to be myself,” he said. “I’m going to continue to be the same player that I’ve been since I came up and I’m not going to change for anybody. Once I go out there I’m going to have that smile on my face and enjoy myself like always. Go out there and leave it on the field.”

Teammates are having a little fun at Machado’s expense. One of them tried to prank Machado by telling him that he was traded to the Giants.

“The Toyko Giants,” he said.

Advice on how to navigate the situation comes from players who have been through it.

“But at the end of the day it’s always hard, getting microphones in your face every day and cameras. It’s not easy,” he said. “But you’ve just got to deal with it and try to handle it the best as possible.”

This is Machado’s fourth All-Star Game, his second as a starter, and it has to feel different for him. But not solely because of the trade buzz.

“I’m the starting shortstop,” he said. “I worked hard. I put something in my mind that I wanted to go out there and be the best shortstop that I could possibly be and to see the fans vote me and see all the hard work that I put into it and I’ve done this year, it’s just a different feeling.”

There has to be some level of recognition that he’s in an usual place this week, a player on a team that’s close to surrendering him. A man without an island, as one New York columnist worded it.

“I think the feeling is great,” said Machado, who hasn’t been told how many innings he’ll play Tuesday. “I’m an All-Star and I’m playing in the All-Star Game and have the uniform on representing the Orioles and doing everything possible. I’m not really thinking about anything, moving forward or what has happened or whatever it is. I can’t control any of that stuff. But I can control enjoying myself today.

“I have a lot of friends and relationships that have grown there, so that’s why I kind of try not to think about any trades or think about another team, because it’s a lot of relationships, a lot of friendships, a lot of hearts that have been going around that clubhouse with everyone in there. So, I’m not trying even to think about that.”

Machado admitted that he pondered how he might not make it to Tuesday before the Orioles completed a trade. He had no assurances that he’d still be in the AL lineup and still be representing the team that made him the third-overall pick in the 2010 draft.

“It crossed my mind, yeah,” he said. “Going to a lot of cities and a lot of questions asked and a lot of trade rumors, so it kind of did cross my mind that I wasn’t going to be able to put on this jersey, but I’m here,” he said. “I love putting on this jersey. I’ve been putting it on for the last eight years. Whether it’s the last time I’ll put it on, it’s going to be something special.”

The media kept reaching for the heartstrings, hoping to bring out more emotion in Machado as he patiently fielded each question.

Asked what he’ll miss most about Baltimore, Machado replied, “All my friends. The whole fan base who have always supported me, all of my friends in the clubhouse, my teammates, my coaches. Those are relationships that I’ll never forget. They’ll always be there. I think that’s probably going to be the hardest part about this whole thing.”

The story was retold of how the Orioles expressed interest in signing Machado to a long-term extension and failed to follow through with it.

“They tried to lock me in my first year,” he said. “It fell through. They waited until the offseason, we were going to be talking in the offseason, and after that they’ve been saying they wanted to reach out, but we’re still waiting for that phone call.

“I think it was because of my (knee) injury. It was right after my first injury. We were listening. It was almost done. There was almost a deal done and both of us didn’t come to terms and we said we’d talk about it again in the offseason and then a couple years later they came back again and said they were going to make a phone call to us, and like I said we’re still waiting to hear that phone call.”

The losing hasn’t increased Machado’s appetite for a trade.

“No, no, not at all,” he said. “Just because we’re not having a good season doesn’t mean I want to get out of there. I would love to stay there. That’s where I grew up. That’s where I became the player I am today because of the organization. They gave me an opportunity. They’ve given me the opportunity this year to go back to shortstop, where my heart was, and I’ll forever be grateful.”

Machado had to emphasize again his position of preference and when he’s able to dictate it. A team receiving him in a trade gets to make the decision.

“I mean, at that point I’ve got no say,” he said. “Obviously, whoever trades for me, it’s going to be out of my hands. I can’t control that. But everyone knows my heart is at shortstop. I truly believe that I can continue to play there for the rest of my career.”

There’s little to no interest in signing an extension and bypassing the free agent process. Machado wants to exercise his right to choose his team - and yes, his position.

“At the time, not really. I’d love to test free agency. But you never know what happens between now and then,” he said.

“I’m not thinking that far ahead. Wherever I go, I’m going to try to help the team win in whatever way I can and try to make the postseason.”

With no preference for which organization employs him over the last few months. Any contender at this point will do.

“I’m playing baseball,” he said. “I’m trying to enjoy myself and not thinking about anything else other than going out there to the field and try to be the best player I can.”

A trade is inevitable. Maybe within the next 24-48 hours. If Machado had any control, he’d make it happen fast. Take down the circus tent and just concentrate on the games.

“Definitely, 100 percent,” he said. “Get these answers done with and just get it over with already. Go on and not answer these questions no more, I’ll be good.”

And if the impossible happens and he remains in Baltimore through September?

“It crosses my mind all the time,” he said. “I might stay here all year. I mean, it’s a possibility. I would love that. I don’t have to move, I don’t have to deal with headaches and just be at home. But you’ve got to be realistic at the same time.”

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