Manny Machado and the Shortstop Dilemma Brewing in Baltimore

Sunday June 10th, 2012

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Sam Evans: Despite being only a teenager, and never having played a full season above High-A, Manny Machado has already drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez. Machado has great instincts and covers a lot of ground as a shortstop. Not to mention, he has outstanding bat speed for a player his size. Even though Machado has yet to truly dominate at any level of the minors, Orioles fans are already pegging him to be their shortstop of the future. However, Orioles’ fans shouldn’t be the only ones excited for Machado’s major league debut. If Machado can put all his tools together, he has the chance to be the best shortstop in all of baseball.

Manny Machado was born in July of 1992 in Miami, Florida. After playing in high school at Brito Miami Private School, Machado was considered a top-five prospect for the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft. After all, he had been recorded throwing up to 92 MPH, his footwork at shortstop looked great, and he squared up a lot of balls. If Bryce Harper wasn’t available at number one for the Nationals, some thought Machado could have been the #1 pick.

Machado stands 6’3’’ and weighs roughly 190 pounds. He hits from the right side of the plate, and has striking plate discipline for a teenager. Machado has a lot of room to grow, so if he does grow into his frame, he could potentially move over to third base. He is athletic enough to make this change, and become one of the top defensive third baseman in the league. However, as long as Machado can stay in shape and not bulk up too much, his team will use him at shortstop, where he will be of the most value.

Personally, I’m not a big believer in Machado’s power. Sure, he has swift bat speed, which usually leads to home runs, but he won’t be strong enough to be a 20 homer per year guy. It’s a lot more reasonable to expect Machado to hit .320 with 12-14 homers than say, .280 and 25 homers. Machado’s hit tool is fantastic, but I think sometimes talent evaluators overrate his power tool just because of his bat speed.

courtesy of kfflWhen the Orioles selected Machado with the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, they were hoping to get their shortstop of the future. Machado still has a long ways to go, but so far, he has looked like the player they thought they were drafting. In 2011, in 101 games between Delmarva and Frederick, the Orioles Low-A and High-A affiliates, Machado hit .257 with 11 homers and forty-five walks. While his batting average might not stand out as being impressive, his bat speed continued to leave scouts hopeful.

This year, Machado’s numbers have suffered as a result of being one of the youngest players in an advanced level. In fifty-seven games at Double-A, Machado is only hitting .233 with three home runs. However, he does have a 10.9 BB%, a .328 OBP, and is stealing bases at a career-high clip. Machado needs to start figuring things out for the plate, but his age and inexperience provides a reasonable excuse.

The reason Machado is going to be a great shortstop is because he doesn’t have a big weakness at any aspect of the game. Machado’s tools across the board all project to be at least average at the major league level.

Machado is almost certainly never going to be a player similar to Alex Rodriguez, but he could be a perennial All-Star at the shortstop position. That kind of player doesn’t come around very often. The Orioles have not seen anything from Machado this year that should convince them he’s ready for the majors. Machado needs at least another year in the minors, assuming he starts to put up better numbers, until he will be ready for the majors.

Currently, the Baltimore Orioles are 33-26 and in the third place in the A.L. East. Despite a rough last few weeks, the Orioles are still only one game behind the A.L. East division leading Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles will probably need to make a move at the deadline, if they want to stay competitive in the later months of the year. However, they would need to be getting back one of the top young players in the league if they were to trade away either Machado or Dylan Bundy.

Orioles’ shortstop J.J. Hardy has been a pleasant surprise since he came to the Orioles prior to the 2011 season. In fact, the Orioles decided to lock him up with a long-term contract last July. Last year, Hardy hit thirty homers, played slightly above-average defense, and was worth 4.8 WAR. This year, Hardy has already hit eleven homers, and has posted his lowest strikeout rates since 2007. Hardy is signed through 2014 for $7 million each year.

Expecting a twenty-nine year old infielder to continue to produce the kind of power Hardy has in the last couple years is absurd. However, Hardy will only be thirty-two when his contract is up, so it’s not unreasonable to think that Hardy can’t hit twenty homers or more in each of his next two seasons. That’s great production for what the Orioles are paying him.

Let’s assume everything goes swimmingly with Manny Machado. By the end of the 2012 season, Machado is on a tear in Double-A and the Orioles are taken away by his development. Machado eventually earns a promotion to Triple-A, then when rosters expand in September, the Orioles decide to give him a cup of coffee at the major league level.

By that point, who knows if the Orioles will be in competition? Entering the 2014 season, the Orioles will have an interesting dilemma on their hands. Machado is ready to become their everyday shortstop, but Hardy is still getting paid the big bucks through the end of the year. The Orioles would make the right choice by letting each of them get a couple of starts per week, until they can find a trade partner looking for a veteran middle infielder by the trade deadline. At that point, the Orioles hand over the reins to Machado, and say goodbye to Hardy.

That’s if everything goes perfect. However, in baseball, nothing ever goes exactly as planned. Players get injured, prospects never reach their ceiling, and veterans all of a sudden fall off a cliff. The Orioles should be thrilled if Machado reaches the majors by this timetable, and Hardy continues to produce. Still, there is a slim chance that the Orioles realize they won’t get much better chance to contend in such a competitive division, and they decide to go all in this year.

I’m convinced that Dylan Bundy isn’t going anywhere, but Machado could potentially be flipped for a superstar caliber player. By trading Machado, the Orioles could stay competitive with the Yankees and Rays down the stretch, thanks to a new starting pitcher or big-impact bat. However, this would be the wrong decision because the Orioles would be trading away their cornerstone and potential franchise player of the future. Crazier things have happened, but I would be shocked if Machado was playing a different organization by August.

There have been both negative and positive stories from teams that have sacrificed their most talented prospects to make a playoff push. In 2008, the Brewers traded away a group of elite prospects headed by Matt LaPorta to the Indians for workhorse starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia. LaPorta and the other players never panned out, and Sabathia was dominant in his seventeen starts in a Milwaukee uniform. Even though Milwaukee was unsuccessful in their attempt to win it all and they couldn’t resign Sabathia at the end of the season, they definitely came out on top in the trade.

On the other hand, there are teams who traded away their top prospects for a postseason run that still regret that decision to this day. In 2007, the Braves traded for slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira at the trade deadline. However, they gave up both Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus in a huge haul of prospects, who have been vital cogs in the Rangers’ success over the last couple years. If you haven’t noticed, the Braves, who have found a new General Manager since the trade, could really use an All-Star shortstop and electric pitcher.

Trading Machado is probably not a good idea. Most times when you trade away prospects for a veteran to help you compete in only one season, it comes back to haunt you. The Orioles are going to be the talk of the town once Bundy and Machado get called up, so why not be patient and wait to compete? In the end, I think Machado’s potential will be too much for the Orioles to trade him away at the deadline.

**Today’s feature was prepared by Sam Evans, Baseball Writer.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter***

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About samevans87

I love writing, talking, watching, and playing baseball. I am a baseball writer for MLB Reports and Fish Stripes. "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined." -Paul Gallic

Posted on June 10, 2012, in On the Verge: MLB Prospects and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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