Manny Machado will get his wish to shift to shortstop from third base this season, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said at Saturday’s annual FanFest event.
Machado requested to move to shortstop late last season, a desire that became public during last month’s winter meetings as the Orioles began actively fielding trade offers for the three-time All-Star in the offseason leading up to his final season before free agency.
So, now the Orioles appear ready to start the season with Machado on the roster, and with him playing shortstop. Showalter said the club will report to spring training with Tim Beckham moving to third base after he played shortstop the final two months of the season upon being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays at the nonwaiver trade deadline.
Showalter is big on infield defense, but he said moving Machado away from the position where he won two Gold Glove Awards and an American League Platinum Glove is in the best interest of the club after longtime shortstop J.J. Hardy became a free agent this offseason.
“[Machado’s] really excited about this, and I can’t imagine him being in a better frame of mind of physically set up to do this,” Showalter said. “I think of the respect for J.J. the last few years, he’s been very professional about it. But it’s not like he’s changing positions. He’s going back to the position he’s equipped to play.”
Machado came up through the Orioles farm system as a shortstop, but the major league club had a pressing need at third when he was called up in August 2012, and he quickly became one of the game’s best, most dynamic defenders at that position. He has filled in for Hardy at shortstop in the past, making 49 career starts there, but has never been the club’s everyday shortstop.
“It is Manny’s natural position and Manny’s basically played shortstop in the shift for three or four years,” Showalter said. “I think we’re moving Manny back to his natural position. And Tim’s been playing a lot of places. I know how important Manny is for our team and I think he could be the most impactful there, especially without J.J. I don’t want to underestimate [that]. That’s a huge loss. Everybody talks about this and that, and I know J.J. has some injury issues along the way recently with his tenure here. We had some challenges there without J.J. and I think Manny is the best option there, and Tim can do it, too.
“But when I think about moving infielders like Jon Schoop or Manny and Tim, I don’t look at it as position changes. They’re just too talented. That can play anywhere. … I remember the question, ‘What made you think he could play third after playing shortstop the whole life. I feel pretty confident about him going over there. There’s a whole bunch of ‘want to’ with him going to shortstop.
Beckham, who was acquired at the trade deadline to be the team’s shortstop for the next three seasons, has made just five career major league starts at third base. He has made 163 career starts at shortstop and 55 at second base.
“I’ve talked to Tim some,” Showalter said. “We’re going to test it out. I think Tim is capable of playing third base. We’ll see. There could be some adjustment time this spring. Maybe we don’t like the feel of it or whatever, but that’s how we’re going to head into it and there’s a chance we could adjust from there. But I’ve talked to Manny and Tim about it and we think it’s our best setup right now.”
Showalter said that after speaking with Beckham, it was most important to him to establish himself at one position instead of moving around, which had been a consideration.
“I think Tim would rather play shortstop, as Manny would, as [prospect] Ryan Mountcastle would, as we all want to,” Showalter said. “But Tim, his big thing is getting the opportunity to play at one position instead of — I’ve heard people talk that he’d be a great guy to play all around. And I thought about that. But I think mentally for a guy who has the potential to lead off, I think we need to settle both of those guys into a spot and get after it. I think they’re capable of playing both.”