If it seems like trade talk about Manny Machado has been going on for a long time now, that is because it has. The speculation and rumor mill kicked into overdrive at the Winter Meetings, and while it has cooled considerably since then, it still seems to be hanging over the team as the new year begins.
It would seem that it is getting in the way a bit at this point, but maybe that is just due to the media focus. Perhaps team officials are much less focused on their All-Star third baseman who might be a shortstop this year.
Maybe that is true. Maybe not. The Orioles could be reaching a point where they have to either deal Machado or announce he’ll be on the team come opening day and move on from all trade discussions for him. Perhaps set a firm deadline for a deal.
While a lot of fans are frustrated as the speculation and talks have not led to any action yet, that action could be days, or even hours away, for all we know. A deal that many fans might see as a good one could still be out there.
There is also this factor - wherever Machado plays this season, he figures to be highly motivated to put up huge numbers. He is one year from getting the big contract. Would it benefit the Orioles to be the team he does that for, even if he leaves at the end of the year?
After hitting .286 and .294 in 2015 and 2016, Machado hit a career-low .259 last summer. His OBP went from .359 and .343 to .310, its lowest point since 2012. His OPS dropped from .861 and .876 to .782. That ranked sixth among qualifying American League third basemen and 14th among all major league third basemen.
Machado has some improving to do on offense in 2018 and we know he is clearly capable. Could he have one last huge season for the Orioles? Would it make a big enough difference in the team’s outlook to contend?
We know Machado is a special talent - no one doubts that. A potential elite defender on defense and a player that hit three grand slams in a 12-day stretch last August when he was the league’s Player of the Month. He finished fourth in the AL MVP vote in 2015 and fifth the next year. There are not many players that can hit 33 homers with 95 RBIs, as he did last season, yet we all know he is capable of much more.
In his ranking of the top 10 major league third baseman, ESPN’s Buster Olney ranked Machado fifth behind Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Cleveland’s José Ramírez, Washington’s Anthony Rendon and the Cubs’ Kris Bryant.
“To be honest, he looks bored sometimes,” one evaluator said to Olney.
Well, Machado figures to be anything but bored in his final season before free agency. A final season before he and the Nats’ Bryce Harper head up a star-studded free agent class.
Do the Orioles take an energized Machado and try to add players to him and surprise people in 2018, or do they pull the trigger on a good deal that may not even be out there yet, if it does arrive?
For now, the Machado rumors, speculation, debate and discussion won’t go away.