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Orioles notes and observations (Machado, Valencia, Hammel, OBP)

By Dan Connolly

The Baltimore Sun

6:00 AM EDT, October 14, 2013

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Manny Machado is scheduled to have reconstructive surgery to repair the medial patellofemoral ligament in his left knee today in Los Angeles.

We'll hear later today that the surgery was a success. That’s because we never hear surgeries are not successful. That usually isn’t determined until months down the road when things aren’t going well and the whispers start.

The Orioles hope that's a road not taken.

Machado's rehab process is estimated to be between four and six months. Five months would put Machado's return in the middle of March, giving him about two-plus weeks to be ready for Opening Day on March 31 at Camden Yards.

My guess is Machado will return in time to begin the season. And, eventually, he’ll be as good as before. But I’d be surprised if he didn’t start the 2014 season slowly. I’ve seen it happen several times over the years.

Spring training is long and tedious, yet the lengthy duration allows players to go about their own pace to get ready for the daily grind. Cutting that time in half – or worse – often seems to have an effect in late April and May, when that grind really kicks in.

Ultimately, the Orioles aren’t worried about Machado. But expectations for his junior year in the big leagues should be tempered early on.

** Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette didn’t pull as many rabbits out of his ballcap in 2013 as he did in 2012. But his best under-the-radar move this past season looks like it could be the most important heading into 2014.

Danny Valencia hit .304 with eight homers in 52 games for the Orioles last year. Although he was primarily a DH in Baltimore, he is naturally a third baseman. In fact, Valencia started 17 more games at third base (147) than his closest competitor in 2011 while with the Minnesota Twins.

He made 18 errors that year (Machado made 13 in 2013), so he's not flawless. But he certainly can fill the void at third if Machado isn’t ready and if Ryan Flaherty is needed at second base.

Valencia, who is out of options in 2014, will again serve in a DH and bench role if Machado returns for Opening Day. He’s still 29, was a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2010 and had 15 homers and 72 RBIs in 2011, so it’s not like his contribution this year was a complete surprise. The guy can hit – especially against lefties.

Still, the Orioles need to find a consistent bat at DH that can get on base an offseason priority. There's no such thing as too many competent hitters.

** One of the developments I'm interested in following this offseason is what becomes of right-hander Jason Hammel, last year's Opening Day starter who, for the second consecutive season, missed a chunk of time in the second half due to injury.

Hammel, 31, seemingly is behind Scott Feldman, Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth on the club’s priority re-sign list. And the best guess is that Hammel hooks on with another club and doesn't return to Baltimore.

It will be interesting to see whether he signs elsewhere as a starter, which is his preference, or if his suitors view him more as a swingman/long reliever – a spot where he’s had more career success in fewer opportunities (4.88 ERA in 158 starts compared to 4.04 ERA in 57 relief appearances).

Regardless, Hammel showed a tremendous competitiveness in his two seasons with the Orioles, and it would be great to see him land in a good spot. The guy has guts and talent, but the injuries really limited him after that excellent first half in 2012.

** If you read this spot often, you know how much I’ve been harping on the Orioles' low on-base percentage (.313, 19th in the majors), and how the Orioles had just one player with 200 at-bats and an OBP over .330 (Chris Davis).

Well, I am not saying it's the only statistic that matters – so much more to baseball than simplifying it like that – but I thought this was worth mentioning:

The top 3 teams in OBP this year were, in order, Boston, Detroit and St. Louis – yes, three of the final four teams standing in the postseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers were ninth overall.

It’s not end-all, be-all, but it is an area the Orioles must improve in next year.