Ending months of speculation over which position Manny Machado will play, Orioles manager Buck Showalter told the media at FanFest this morning that the three-time All-Star - absent from the event - will move to shortstop.
There isn’t a bigger story here, rivaled only by Machado and Jonathan Schoop staying home.
Tim Beckham will play third base, where he’s made five major league starts, while Machado returns to his original position. Machado didn’t appear at shortstop last summer while J.J. Hardy was on the disabled list and he made 43 starts in 2016.
Machado’s interest in shortstop heightened late in the season and he spoke to Showalter about it. He remains on the club despite the trade offers that began to pour in at the Winter Meetings, and Beckham is directly impacted by it.
“I’ve talked to Tim some,” Showalter said. “We’re going to shake it out. I think Tim is capable of playing third base, but we’ll see. There could be some adjustments down in the spring. Maybe we don’t like the feel of it or whatever, but that’s where we’re going to head into it and there’s a chance we could adjust from there. But I’ve talked to Manny and Tim about it and we think it’s our best setup right now.”
Beckham showed up in Baltimore after a July 31 trade with the Rays proclaiming that he was a shortstop despite his experience at second and third base.
“I think Tim would rather play shortstop, as Manny would, as (Ryan) Mountcastle would,” Showalter said. “They all want to, but Tim, I think his big thing is getting an opportunity to play every day at one position. I’ve heard people talk about he’d be a great guy that could play somewhere all around, including I thought about that, but I think mentally for a guy who’s got potential to lead off, I think we need to settle both of those guys in a spot and get after it.
“I think they’re capable of playing it, both of them.”
Showalter and others in the organization think Machado will be energized by the switch. And no one is concerned that the trade talks have become a distraction.
“Manny, I think he’s primed to have a great year for us,” Showalter said. “All the stars are aligned as good as they can be. He understands that when you’re a good player ... he knows what’s going on. He’s going to do well in his career. We’d like for it to be here. If it’s not, it’s just the lay of the land.
“We’ve got the biggest payroll we’ve ever had last year. I don’t covet other people’s players or payrolls, and Manny’s going to do ... I’m more interested in how he’s going to play this year and what he’s going to do for us. And same way with Jon and Chris (Davis) and Zach (Britton) and all these guys. I don’t look at it as a distraction. That’s part of it.”
Machado has been taking ground balls at shortstop in Miami. Two surgically repaired knees seem to be holding up fine.
“All indications, talking to people who see him, he’s really excited about this,” Showalter said. “I can’t imagine him being in a better frame of mind or physically set up to do this. I think out of his respect for J.J. the last few years he’s been very professional about it, but it’s not like he’s changing positions. He’s going back to a position that he was equipped to play.
“It’s Manny’s natural position and he’s basically played shortstop in the shift for three or four years. I think we’re moving Manny back to his natural positon. And Tim’s been playing a lot of places. I know how important Manny is to our team and I think he can be the most impactful there, especially with the loss of J.J.
“I don’t want to underestimate, that’s a huge loss. I know J.J. had some injury issues along the way here recently in his tenure here, but we had some challenges there without J.J. and I think Manny is our best option. And Tim could do it, too. But when I think about moving infielders like Jon Schoop and Manny and Tim, I don’t look at it as position changes. They’re just too talented. They can play anywhere.”
If Machado could make the switch from shortstop to third base while coming up from Double-A Bowie to the majors, Showalter sees no reason why going back should trip him up.
“There’s a whole bunch of want-to with him at shortstop,” Showalter said.
Showalter knew that Machado and Schoop weren’t going to appear at FanFest. He’s only letting one of them off the hook.
Britton and first basemen Davis had excused absences.
“I think we’re disappointed that Zach got hurt and he’s not here. I’m not disappointed that Chris’ wife (Jill) is fine and had two babies and he’s there,” Showalter said.
“I know a little more than what I’m going to let on here about what’s going on. I’m disappointed that Jon’s not here. I think we all get advice along the way and heed some of it and some we don’t. I think he got some bad advice and it’s one of those things. We’ll move on and it’s unfortunate.
“I’ve communicated with both of them. Jon’s is tough. He goes through four or five (phones) in an offseason, so getting ahold of him is kind of tough. Usually we go through his mom. But I talked to his agent and he made me aware of the advice he gave Jon, so we’ll live with it and move on.
“I look at a lot of FanFests around and I don’t really care how many people are missing from other people’s FanFests or whatever. It’s a couple days out of your life and I enjoy it. Usually I’ve found things that people may think is not, if you actually embrace it and look at it, you can actually have fun, which I choose to do. But I don’t know. I made a lot of decisions that I look back on and wish I hadn’t when I was 25.”
Machado also missed FanFest two years ago without the club’s blessing so he could be present for the birth of brother-in-law Yonder Alonso’s first child. Schoop was a late scratch last year due to a death in the family.
“Manny has ... it’s one of those things I’ve learned through the years, before you kneejerk with stuff, so I’ve gotten a feel for what Manny’s absence is about and I have a pretty good understanding of that,” Showalter said. “Jon’s I don’t. The reasons I’m being given, not very good.”
Showalter made certain that Machado wasn’t ducking the event to avoid media and fan scrutiny.
“I asked if it’s got anything to do with answering the questions about the possibility of trades or free agency or what position you’re going to play and he goes, ‘No, that’s not part of it.’ And I really believe him,” Showalter said.
“The reasons he gave for not being here are very legit. Trust me.”
The roster still needs serious sleeve-rolling work with three openings in the rotation, a desperate need for a left-handed hitter and the desire to add a veteran catcher and left-handed reliever. Showalter said he isn’t overcome with anxiety over it.
“I had a meeting with our coaching staff yesterday and trainers, our advance people, everybody and we’ve got 35 pitchers coming to camp. More than I think the history of the Orioles. And we’re staying focused on the people who are here right now and trying to see if certain people can go to another level. If someone else shows up along the way ...” Showalter said.
“You guys know, you see the people out there and how many chairs there are. There’s going to be some people out there that ... but we’re not looking at one signing or two signings. As a coaching staff we don’t. We have to be as good if not better than we’ve ever been this year and it can be done. But I don’t have those feelings, especially getting down to spring training and seeing some of the work these guys have done.
“You see what’s going on with Mike Wright and different guys. I spent a lot of time talking to Nestor Cortes and a lot of our guys last night, seeing what they’ve done. The offseason that Richard Bleier’s had. Mychal Givens is in the best shape I’ve seen him in a long time. So I choose to live in that world instead of coveting all these things. We’ve got plenty of resources to do more than compete.”