As trade rumors start swirling around Orioles' Machado, he wants to play shortstop in 2018

For the first time, the possibility of the Orioles trading cornerstone third baseman Manny Machado became real Tuesday at the winter meetings.

An interesting wrinkle has been inserted into the suddenly swirling trade rumors regarding Machado. Whether he remains in an Orioles uniform in 2018, he wants to play next season at his original shortstop position.

The Orioles arrived at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort ready to listen to offers for Machado, who becomes a free agent at the end of next season. But on the second day of the meetings Tuesday, the club became more active in considering moving the three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, according to an industry source. The Athletic first reported that trade discussion regarding Machado was accelerating.

A sudden wrinkle is Machado’s desire to move to shortstop next year. Though it seems out of the blue, according to an industry source, Machado had a meeting with Orioles manager Buck Showalter near the end of last season when he made his wish to play shortstop in 2018 clear.

Showalter met with the media Tuesday at the winter meetings and said Machado’s desire to play shortstop isn’t new.

“Always has, since the day he signed,” Showalter said. “I think out of his respect for J.J. Hardy — and one of the reasons why we brought Jonathan [Schoop] and him up early is because the chance to play alongside J.J. and really jump start their development in a lot of areas.

“Manny has not only respect for J.J. but also for Tim Beckham and other people.To say that Manny and I haven't had conversations about it over the years, I wouldn't be truthful. … Obviously, we're not there yet, but it's something that Manny — I found that players need to know about that, not February 15 or March 15. They need to know about it back then — Manny's capable of playing both real well. And I think so is Tim.”

Machado, 25, came up through the Orioles system as a shortstop, but made an immediate transition to third base when he was first called up in August 2012. Since then, he’s won two Gold Gloves and an American League Platinum Glove at the position. His major league experience at shortstop is limited, having made just 49 starts there — 43 of them coming in 2016 when he filled in for an injured J.J. Hardy.

Hardy was a Gold Glove-caliber defender at shortstop and a mentor to Machado, and the combination made one of the game’s best left sides of an infield in baseball for several years. But Hardy is now a free agent. The Orioles acquired Tim Beckham at the nonwaiver trade deadline last season, and Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette sees Beckham as the team’s starting shortstop while he’s still under team control for the next three seasons.

Some in the organization aren’t sold on Beckham’s defense at shortstop — though his desire to become a better defender was clear from the time he was acquired — believing he’d best be utilized as a super-utility player to play regularly throughout the infield and outfield.

On Tuesday, Showalter was not yet ready to commit to Machado playing shortstop if still with the club in 2018. Asked what will determine whether Machado or Beckham will play shortstop, Showalter joked, “Next 48 hours.”

“No. Listen, you know, I've got a real gut feeling about how it's going to work out, but I want to make sure we cover all the bases before whatever direction we go in,” the Orioles manager said. “It's good to have the strength there for those two guys, guys that are going to play shortstop, and it's a good problem to have.”

Speaking to The Baltimore Sun at the Orioles’ holiday party in Maryland, Beckham said Machado potentially moving to shortstop was out of his hands.

“For sure [we're better with Manny],” Beckham said. “Any ballclub in Major League Baseball would be better with Manny Machado on their team. He's a great player, hell of a guy. As far as him moving over to shortstop, that's out of my [view]. That's something I don't even need to touch on. That's a front-office decision.

“If that's what he wants to do, he's going to talk to the front office about it. That's out of my reach. I'm just here enjoying the holidays right now, giving back to the kids, training back home and being ready to play 162 next year. I'm looking forward to next season.”

If the Orioles do move Machado to shortstop, there’s no clear heir at third base. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop played 17 games there in 2014 when Machado was injured, and a move there would likely involve Beckham shifting to second base, where he played before being dealt by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles moved one of their top hitting prospects, Ryan Mountcastle, from shortstop to third base last season, but his transition is still a work in progress.

However, this development has less to do with Beckham or Schoop, or even Machado’s desire to play shortstop, than with the Orioles’ asleep-at-the-wheel approach over several years that hasn’t ensured that Machado, the franchise’s top homegrown talent in years, will remain with the club long term.

How the Orioles will handle the latest development with Machado will be interesting. They haven’t truly engaged Machado in extension talks over the past three years — and they haven’t initiated any so far at this week’s meetings. And now Machado has one year until he can test the free-agent market at the age of 26. He will command a commitment that could potentially exceed Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325 million deal, and a move to shortstop would create an even bigger free-agent market for Machado one year from now.

Meanwhile, it could also back the Orioles into a corner where they are forced to move Machado if they don’t shift him to shortstop. The club is in desperate need for controllable big league starting pitching, and Machado is likely the only trade chip that can get them that, even as a one-year rental. Any hope that the Orioles might have of retaining Machado long term — as minuscule as it seems — would be thwarted if he isn’t allowed to play where he wants. He’ll have to opportunity to pick his place to play shortstop next offseason.

Machado’s trade stock dwindles as he gets closer to free agency, and if he reaches that market, the Orioles would receive only a compensation draft pick for losing one of the best all-around players in the game.

Duquette said coming into the meetings that gaining clarity on Machado’s future with the team was a goal this offseason, and his future is the biggest question in a future full of questions with Machado, closer Zach Britton, center fielder Adam Jones and setup man Brad Brach all able to become free agents at the end of next season.

Showalter is scheduled to have his winter meetings interview session this afternoon, and Duquette will meet with local media later Tuesday.

This story will be updated.

eencina@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

Sun s​​​​taff writer Jon Meoli contributed to this article from Baltimore.

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