With news that Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is having surgery on his right knee and will be lost for the season, two questions immediately arise. How will this affect Machado long-term and how will this affect the Orioles short-term?
Frankly, both are legitimate concerns.
This will be Machado's second surgery in less than a year — one on each knee. It's his third serious injury in a little more than three years. The good news is that he is 22, he is in his physical prime and, at this age, his recuperative powers are about as heightened as they are going to get. It's much tougher to come back from knee surgeries at an advanced age.
The bad news is the same. He's only 22. One scary collapse is a fluke, two are a concern. Now we're at strike No. 3 — albeit with a different knee — and that's waving a major red flag. If this is what's going on at 19, 21, 22, what happens when this guy, who arguably is the most important member of your franchise going forward and plays at a high-intensity pace, is 25 or 27?
Obviously, Machado's people and the Orioles will spin this the way they should: That the left knee was strengthened after surgery and is no longer a problem, and that the same should happen with the right knee after surgery. Then he'll be good to go for the rest of his career. The abnormalities have been caught while he is young, they'll contend, and that's what is important. Maybe, but knee injuries tend to reoccur with top-level athletes — it becomes more of a question of when than if. But, yes, it is possible that this is something that never again affects Machado for as long as he is an Oriole. That's what everyone hopes, of course.
That leads to the second question: What does this mean for the Orioles short-term? Initially, probably nothing.
These Orioles aren't built around one player. And the club has gone 26-18 without Machado this season. Certainly, the team is better with him, but don't expect a collapse now that he won't be back in 2014. These Orioles are still on their way to the playoffs. They are still, by far, the best — and probably the healthiest — team in the American League East.
Chris Davis, Ryan Flaherty or anyone else they throw out at third base in the next five weeks should be able to hold the line. And there is still more than a week left before players can be added via trade and still be eligible for the postseason.
Trades are a little trickier now. Any potential target will have to have already passed through trade waivers, or do so within the next week. Those transactions are kept confidential, and though a few have leaked out, it's hard to know exactly what the current trade landscape is for Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette.
Duquette is always looking to make a move, but the likelihood is that he won't find an alternative that is both better offensively and defensively than Davis or Flaherty. And it's hard to imagine that the Orioles would move rookie Jonathan Schoop to third base now, removing him from his current comfort zone, to add a second baseman.
Offensively, Machado's solid line — .278 average, .324 on-base percentage and 12 homers — and ability to hit second does create a bit of a void. But it can be filled, whether it's by J.J. Hardy or Steve Pearce or someone else.
Where the Orioles are really going to miss Machado is in the field during the playoffs. Because in the postseason runs are at a premium and great defense can make the difference between winning and losing. Ask the 1970 Cincinnati Reds about that.
No question that Machado is that kind of defensive player. Davis and Flaherty are not. There probably isn't anyone available via trade that is. Because in the postseason defense is not about holding the line. It's about making all the plays that need to be made — and some that shouldn't be. Hardy can do that at shortstop, Adam Jones can do that in center field and Nick Markakis can do that in right.
Whether the rest of the Orioles can step up their abilities in the absence of Machado to provide that kind of defensive game-changing play may be the difference between a long run in the postseason and an early exit.
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