Manny Machado pulled off the neat trick of being a central figure in three FanFest storylines despite remaining home in Miami.
Why wasn’t he there? What position is he playing? Why hasn’t he been traded or signed to a lucrative extension?
We only know that he had an unexcused absence that manager Buck Showalter supported as a private matter. We know that he’s entering camp as the starting shortstop, with Tim Beckham moving to third base. And executive vice president Dan Duquette explained again during the Q&A with season ticket holders that trade proposals fell short of acceptance.
“There’s a lot of clubs that were interested in Manny, but Manny has a lot of value to the Orioles and this ballclub,” Duquette said. “If the club was able to put together a deal like the Braves got for (Jason) Heyward a couple years ago, where they picked up four good players, that’s something that the club would certainly consider, but that deal really wasn’t out there for Manny, so we’re happy to have Manny on our ballclub and let’s see where it takes us.”
Duquette confirmed at the Winter Meetings that the Orioles hadn’t engaged in contract talks with agent Dan Lozano in a couple of years. I checked earlier this week and was told by a source that there’s still been nothing of substance. The expectation remains that Machado easily will price himself out of Baltimore and the only drama revolves around his ability to stay at shortstop and remain in the organization through the season.
The July 31 non-waiver deadline could bring more aggressive offers from contenders willing to part with the necessary pitching to make a run at the World Series.
Beckham said all the right things again at FanFest regarding his move off shortstop, which he had confirmed the previous night during a conversation with manager Buck Showalter. And he laid out his preferences for Camden Yards over Tropicana Field, his home ballpark for parts of four seasons.
“The energy in the stadium, man, and the fans,” he said. “The amount of fans that come out and support the town. The town is a baseball town. I love it. I love the energy here and we’re going to do big things this year.”
Beckham hasn’t lowered his expectations despite the many holes in the roster, particularly in the rotation. Despite the Yankees trading for Giancarlo Stanton and the Red Sox deciding where to throw the most money as a counterpunch.
“The main goal is to win and I’m sure everybody in the locker room is eager to get back on the field and eager to play to make the playoffs and play to win the World Series,” he said. “We don’t want to sell ourselves short by just focusing on making the playoffs. We’ve got a pretty darn good team and I’m looking forward to what we can do this year.”
No matter where Beckham is stationed on the left side of the infield, he’s glad that Chris Davis is taking his throws to first base. Davis saved Beckham from a handful of errors last summer with his ability to scoop the ball out of the dirt and play the short hops.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” Beckham said. “He’s a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman and I’m more than happy to have him on our club.”
The organization isn’t stocked with infield prospects - the Orioles had to re-sign minor league free agents Luis Sardiñas, Rubén Tejada, Erick Salcedo and Garabez Rosa and traded for Éngelb Vielma - and there’s no obvious replacement at third base. Ryan Mountcastle, 20, will remain at the position while returning to Double-A Bowie this summer, but he’s still in experimental phase after converting from shortstop.
“Here’s a guy with good hands, athleticism, balance and agility with quickness,” said director of player development Brian Graham. “He runs well and he can hit. We’re going to find a place for him. If his arm plays at third base, he’s going to be a good big league third baseman. If his arm doesn’t play there, he will stay be a big league player and is a bright spot for our future.”
Mountcastle batted .222/.239/.366 with 13 doubles, three home runs and 15 RBIs in 153 at-bats after his promotion to Bowie. He hit .314/.343/.542 with 35 doubles, 15 home runs and 47 RBIs in 360 at-bats with Single-A Frederick.
The splits confirm that Mountcastle is a beast against left-handers. He hit .302/.321/.453 against Eastern League southpaws and .180/.194/.320 versus right-handers. In the Carolina League, he batted .376/.389/.670 against lefties and .287/.323/.486 versus right-handers.
“The issue will be if he can throw good enough to sustain that at third base,” Duquette said. “He came around in Double-A in August. He started to hit the last three weeks of the season and he followed that up with some good at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. And really the key for him - he’s got good athletic ability - will be if he’ll be able to throw well enough to stay on the left side of the diamond. But he’s got a terrific bat and he kills left-handed pitching.”
Showalter confirmed at FanFest that Mountcastle will receive an invitation to major league camp.
“You’ll get to see him play a lot,” Showalter told the season ticket holders. “He’s going to play a lot, especially in the road games, so it will be a good experience for him.”