Orioles beat writers Eduardo Encina and Jon Meoli discuss what Tim Beckham's role on the team might be this coming season. (Ulysses Muñoz, Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles manager Buck Showalter, like most everyone else in Baltimore and around the baseball world, is waiting for the short-term future of star infielder Manny Machado to be solidified before discussing him in absolutes.
But should Machado spend his final year before free agency in Baltimore, a scenario that seems the most likely, Showalter said he has a "pretty good idea" of whether Machado's request to play shortstop will be accommodated and how the incumbent at that position, Tim Beckham, will fit in.
Last month at the winter meetings, Showalter demurred on the subject so as not to speak publicly before he talked to the parties involved. Those conversations, he said, have happened.
"It's further along than it was," Showalter said, though he said there's no public resolution to them. "I'm going to let some things play out. We don't want to get too committed to something unless we're sure everything's going to be as we think.”
Though executive vice president Dan Duquette has said several times that the Orioles have moved on from a possible Machado trade to other priorities, including staffing a threadbare starting rotation, he hasn't shut down conversations that began a month ago in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
With the threshold for a return high on both the baseball and ownership sides, the team still plans to have Machado for 2018. Showalter plans to have a committed, positive Machado when he does report to Sarasota next month.
"Manny's strong," Showalter said. "He's strong with that, and he's seen enough. I think he's a smart guy. He understands how it works. He knows that good players are mentioned this time of year, and he's a good player. A real good player. So, it's really just an honor to have those type of things being said. I'm making plans for him to be on our team right now."
As for Beckham, who was at the club's OriolesREACH holiday party as news broke of Machado's desire to move to shortstop now that J.J. Hardy is a free agent, Showalter said he's had those discussions with him, too.
"We're down that road — if that's the case," he said. "I'm not saying it is. I think I've positioned us to maneuver, regardless of what happens between now and the season starting."
At that event, Beckham said he expected plenty of work in his future to get his defense at the position to the high standard the Orioles have set for it. Showalter said Beckham and third base coach Bobby Dickerson were going to work with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson in California this month.
As spring training looms and the Orioles roster remains in a state of flux, the idea of the familiar is starting to appeal to Showalter. He expressed interest in reunions with outfielder Craig Gentry and right-hander Chris Tillman, both of whom remain free agents.
Tillman, who lives in Sarasota and has been working out at the team's facility, entered free agency after the worst year of his career. A shoulder injury caused him to start slowly, and he ended with a 7.84 ERA. Before that, he made 30 or more starts in four straight seasons and had a 3.91 ERA in that span.
"Chris is better," Showalter said. "Capable of better. We know. We've seen it firsthand.”
As for Gentry, who resurrected his career with the Orioles in 2017 after dealing with concussions and other injuries for several seasons, he wouldn’t fit Showalter's desire for a left-handed bat in the lineup. They'd add one "in a perfect world," Showalter said.
"Certainly was a challenge for us last year, and just adding one is still going to be a challenge. But I'd rather have nine good right-handed hitters than a left-handed hitter who wasn't very good,” Showalter said. “You can find a lot of left-handed bats. It's just can they defend, and do they fit on your club? Obviously, we don't need a left-handed-hitting DH. That's the one thing when you're going through this time of year, there's going to be a lot of free agents where you think you're going to get a really good deal, but does it fit your club? When you find something that really fits your club, you've got to act."
The right-handed Gentry hit .257 with a .719 OPS, two home runs and five steals a season ago.
Showalter said closer Zach Britton (Achilles) is in a walking boot and “on schedule” after surgery last month. … Showalter said right-hander Mike Wright is working out with Anderson, as is left fielder Trey Mancini. Mark Trumbo is also scheduled to check in there this month. ... Showalter cautioned against assumptions that outfielder Anthony Santander would be on the Opening Day roster. Between Santander, the three Rule 5 picks this year (pitchers Nestor Cortes Jr., José Mesa and Pedro Araujo) and out-of-options pitchers Wright and Gabriel Ynoa, it's as if they have six Rule 5 picks this year.