In an offseason when he was coming off another career year and showing that no set of expectations was too high, the most conversation around Orioles third baseman Manny Machado seemed to be about whether the team should trade him.
It's a bit incongruous from a here-and-now standpoint, given how much he's meant to the team now and the likelihood that he could reach unfathomable heights in the two years of club control remaining. But such is the Orioles' situation, where assuring the future to some is better than fortifying the present, and Machado's present got some short shrift.
But entering spring training, it's worth looking at just what he's accomplished so far and what that could mean for the ensuing season.
After batting .294 with 37 home runs and an .876 OPS last season, Machado has now compiled 23 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs, in his five seasons, though it's important to note that his 50-game debut in 2012 and his 82-game season in 2014 depress that total a bit.
It used to be accepted that players hit their prime around age 27 and carry it just into their early 30s, but with major league debuts coming so early, the adjustment periods are happening earlier in careers and a player's best years arrive earlier. As such, hopes are high for Machado in his age-24 season this year.
According to FanGraphs' Steamer projection, Machado is projected to be worth 6.5 WAR this year, second among position players only to Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system is lower on Machado, projecting him for 4.8 WAR by their own methodology, though some of that comes from their placing him at shortstop instead of third base for part of the season, where his defense isn't as impactful. They also project him for just 25 home runs.
And yet, they went through the entire league and picked the best player at every age, and the age-24 selection was Machado over the likes of Bryce Harper and Mookie Betts.
So even when there are reasons for the numbers not to look favorably on him — like the rest of the Orioles, a free swinging approach doesn't translate well into many algorithms, no matter how hard or far you hit it when you do connect.
Machado's parallels with his buddy and idol Alex Rodriguez may never completely prove true on the baseball field, but as long as he stays in the same stratosphere, these next couple years of club control for the Orioles could be special. Through his own age-23 season, Rodriguez had 25.5 wins above replacement — which averages out to a half-win per season better than Machado.
And this stage of his career is when Rodriguez did some of his best work, posting WARs of 9.5, 7.8 and 10 in his ages 24-26 seasons, respectively. A season or two like that would not only help Machado break into the next level of MVP voting, but be a huge boon for an Orioles team who needs that type of production and then some to get near a championship with a team that's built to win one now.