This is the biggest question of the spring, and not just because it centers on the club's phenom, who had October knee surgery. Machado's status will have an overall domino effect on the roster. If the 21-year-old can be healthy and ready for Opening Day, then Ryan Flaherty likely will start at second base, and the Orioles will have one more spot for a utility infielder. But if Machado has to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list, the roster landscape changes. Flaherty then would be the favorite to start at third base, which would open up second base for several candidates, including Jemile Weeks, who was acquired in the deal that sent closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics. Weeks would compete with prospect Jonathan Schoop, veteran Alexi Casilla -- who signed a minor league deal to return this winter -- and several other minor league additions: Ivan De Jesus Jr., Cord Phelps and Alex Gonzalez. One of those players would likely be the utility infielder, although Machado's status also will allow the club to get a long look at Rule 5 third baseman Michael Almanzar. The 23-year-old Almanzar hasn't played above Double-A -- he hit 16 home runs for Portland in the Boston Red Sox organization last year -- so he's a long shot. But the Orioles like his power. Another issue is whether Machado can return to full effectiveness without attempting to rush back. The surgery he had usually takes four to six months for recovery, and though he is considered ahead of schedule, he is changing his stride. Basically, he's learning to run again in an attempt to limit the possibility of re-tearing the medial patellofemoral ligament in his left knee. Without Machado, the Orioles' powerful lineup takes a bit of a hit, and the defense will certainly suffer. The sense is that he needs to play in games by mid-to-late March to be ready for Opening Day. The Orioles, though, have to be careful putting too much of an emphasis on Machado. He's entering just his second full season in the majors and stumbled some in the second half last year (a .240 average, .277 on-base percentage and .370 slugging percentage, in comparison to a slash line of .310/.337/.470 in the first half).
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