In assenting to Manny Machado's request to spend his last year before free agency at shortstop, the Orioles have showed their hand on several facets of their short- and long-term planning around their star.
Machado playing shortstop won't dramatically change the composition of the 2018 Orioles — he's really just swapping positions with Tim Beckham. But there's a lot that goes into it, and the impact could spread far beyond that pair.
Here are five pieces of fallout from the move announced Saturday at FanFest, from the actual defensive impact to the possible ripples on Machado and Beckham's futures and the free-agent market.
They might have their best defender at shortstop — but it's not definite
Beckham made quite an offensive impact after his July 31 trade to the Orioles, but his defense wasn't what the Orioles had had previously in J.J. Hardy. He made nine errors in 49 games to give him 18 at the position in 119 games between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays, and there was definitely some uncounted detriment when considering some of the outs lost on double plays with his arm.
But by advanced metrics, the difference between what the Orioles have in him and Machado isn't terribly large. Machado played 45 games at shortstop in 2016, starting 43, all while Hardy was out with a fractured foot. He made six errors and turned 33 double plays in that span — the same number of double plays Beckham turned at shortstop with the Orioles.
There are lots of theories about Buck Showalter's decision to move Manny Machado to shortstop, but it might be pretty simple. He wasn't comfortable with Tim Beckham at the infield's most pivotal position.
By UZR/150, which credits or debits a fielder for the expected run value of a batted ball depending on whether or not he converts it into an out and averages it over a 150-game full season, Machado has a career 5.4 UZR at shortstop, while Beckham's is 2.7 (stats courtesy of FanGraphs). That, however, is owed mostly to a miserable -20.9 in 207 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2015. His UZR at shortstop was 11.5 in 2016 and 5.1 in 2017, his largest sample size.
According to defensive runs saved, Beckham has a career -1 and Machado has two in his career. And while Beckham has limited experience at third base, Machado has spent the past five years as an elite defender at the position. When he made the switch back upon Hardy's return in 2016, manager Buck Showalter said Machado's long-term positional choice would hinge on whether he wanted to be the best defensive third baseman or a good defensive shortstop. It seems he's chosen the latter for 2018, even if its impact on what happens at third base is yet to be measured.
Regardless of the future, a happy Manny makes this team better
Executive vice president Dan Duquette said two things many times to fans and the media Saturday. One was that the success of the team hinges on somehow rebuilding the rotation around Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. The second is that the 2018 edition of the Orioles is going to be much better with Machado on it, regardless of the pitching.
The caveat there should be a happy Machado. Machado really has nothing to gain by sulking through a season on a losing team at third base ahead of his prized opportunity at free agency, and Showalter has said a few times that Machado understands how to separate the business side from the baseball. This isn't an appeasement as a bargaining chip toward an extension — let's not be ridiculous with that talk anymore. But it is a nod toward the players in the sense that the coaches and management can at least garner some goodwill in the clubhouse by doing right by a player who has no recourse in the matter.
Is there another move to make?
When asked Saturday whether moving Machado to shortstop would affect the team's plans for the rest of the offseason, Duquette rattled off the standard shopping list of starting pitching and a left-handed-hitting outfielder. But considering they've already moved Beckham once, there's nothing really stopping them from doing it again.
Third base features some intriguing possibilities, albeit on the higher end of the market, headlined by left-handed slugger Mike Moustakas. His career-high 38 home runs in 2017 mean the price tag is high, but the two-time All-Star would fit in the Orioles' lineup quite nicely, with Beckham moving to a super-utility role. Others include Todd Frazier, Yunel Escobar, and Danny Valencia — none of whom hit left-handed but have experience at third base that could help at the right price.
Tim Beckham could be the new symbol in the Showalter-Duquette struggle
In moving the prized trade-deadline acquisition Duquette made off the position he was acquired to play, Showalter showed where he stands on Beckham. While there's a lot of weight to be given to the eye test and the evaluations of Showalter and Bobby Dickerson as to what will be the best defensive alignment, there's likely to be some resentment from on high at the move.
As with everything about which there are two distinct opinions within the Orioles organization, both sides can rightfully say they're correct. One can look at it and say it'll be better with Machado at shortstop rather than Beckham given what he's seen, and another can say the acquisition of Beckham was a smashing success last year who shouldn't be moved off his position for a marginal upgrade.
Don't hold out for a Hardy reunion
One of the most reasonable factors in all of this was that Machado has long held this desire to play shortstop, but didn't act on it out of respect for the veteran incumbent, Hardy. That the Orioles are granting this wish in such a public way when they really didn't have to at all means that a return for Hardy to Baltimore is probably off the table.
When Machado moved to the position in Hardy's injury absences, the team didn't want him to move back and forth between positions, so proclaiming he's the shortstop in January doesn't really leave room to add a veteran behind him in February or March.