Orioles' Manny Machado enters equation of who’s best



The conversation about the best player in baseball seems to begin and end with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
A case can be made for either player.
Trout, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder, has won one American League MVP award and finished second in the voting three other times despite being just 24 years. Harper, the Washington Nationalsright fielder, is a year younger than Trout at 23 and added the National League MVPto the top of his ever-growing résumé last season.
However, there is a case that Baltimore Orioles third baseman/shortstop Manny Machado should at least be in that conversation as the game’s top player.
“He’s awfully good,” Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona says. “He can take over a game with his bat, he makes great plays on defense and he just has a great feel for the game for someone so young. He’s one of those rare players who can beat you all by himself.”
In Baseball-Reference.com’s version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which measures offensive and defensive prowess, Machado was fifth in the major leagues at 3.5.
Machado cooled after a torrid start that netted him AL player of the month honors but was still hitting .308 with 17 homers and a .978 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) through 65 games.
The 23-year-old also made a flawless move from third base to shortstop when J.J. Hardy went on the disabled list May 2 with a broken left foot.
Though Machado was drafted as a shortstop, he was converted to third base in 2012 at Class AA Bowie (Md.) in time to join the Orioles for the stretch drive as they made the playoffs for the first time since 1997. He played exclusively at the hot corner until last season when appeared in seven games at shortstop.
“Playing shortstop is what I did for basically 20 years, so it wasn’t a big deal moving back there,” Machado says. “We’re a better team when I’m at third base and J.J. is at shortstop, but my dream ever since I started playing baseball was to be a major league shortstop.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was not surprised that Machado could make a smooth transition back to shortstop.
“I never take Manny for granted, that’s sure,” Showalter said. “He’s a special player, a special talent and special person. He makes the game look easy a lot of times and it’s not. The reason he makes it look so easy is because he puts a lot of work into it.”
Machado is talented, which is why the Orioles used the third overall pick to select him from Brito Private School in Miami in the 2010 amateur draft. Harper went first to the Nationals and the Pirates then selected right-hander Jameson Taillon, a well-regarded prospect who has yet to reach the major leagues while battling injuries.
Machado has overcome having two major knee operations during his five-year career. After being injured late in the 2013 season, he had reconstructive surgery on his left knee in which a hamstring tendon was used to graft a replacement for a ruptured patellofemoral ligament. He had the same procedure performed on his right knee less than a year later when he was injured again in August 2014.
He made a strong return last season and was the only player in the major leagues to play in 162 games. He finished fourth in the AL MVP voting as he hit .286 with 35 homers, 20 steals and a .861 OPS.
Machado also had played in each of the Orioles’ 62 games, although that streak was in jeopardy with his potential four-game suspension for last week’s brawl with theKansas City Royals’ Yordano Ventura after Ventura hit him with a pitch. Machado has appealed.
“I love to play and I take pride in being in the lineup every day,” Machado says. “I know that in order to do that I’m going to have to work hard every day for the rest of my career. I need to get in the weight room to keep my needs strong. I need to come in early every day and get in the trainer’s room for treatment.
“If there’s a silver lining to having the surgeries, it’s that it has made me have a better work ethic. It’s not like I felt like I didn’t work hard before but I’ve had to take to a whole different level and it’s made me a better player and person.”
Machado says the biggest disappointment of the second injury was that he missed the postseason as the Orioles advanced to the AL Championship Series for the first time since 1997 before being swept by the Kansas City Royals.
The Orioles slipped to 81-81 last season but are in first place in the AL East at 38-27.
“It was hard to have to watch the playoffs two years ago,” Machado says. “I think we have a great ballclub here, we have the people we need to surround ourselves to get us to the place we want to go.”
Machado makes no secret of his desire to spend his entire career with the Orioles and he is not eligible for free agency until after the 2019 season.
However, speculation has already started that Machado could land a contract worth at least $400 million, especially if he an everyday shortstop, which is most likely because Hardy is under contract through with 2017 with a vesting option for 2018.
The seven-year, $161 million contract Orioles first baseman Chris Davis signed this past offseason caught Machado’s attention.
“That brings out hope that maybe I can be here for the long term,” Machado says. “I know they’ve got the money for it. I hope I can stay. I came up with the organization. I’d love to stay with the organization but that’s out of my hands. The only thing I can do is do what I’m doing now. I’d love to stay here. This is all I know. This is all I’ve known about. I bleed orange.”
However, if Machado is still in the best-in-baseball running with Trout and Harper in 2019 — or perhaps even surpassed them — then it will take a lot of green to keep him in orange.
“If people want to say I’m one of the best players in baseball, that’s great, but I never think about it,” Machado says. “It’s not like you go out on the field thinking about stuff like that.”
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