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Schmuck: Whether Orioles can sign Manny Machado to long-term deal already worth watching

Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck talks about whether the Orioles will try to sign Manny Machado to an extension or wait for a year to make an offer. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

SARASOTA, FLA. — Perhaps in a more perfect baseball world, it wouldn't be necessary to start counting the days until it will be too late to sign one of baseball's best young players to a lengthy contract extension.

Manny Machado is only through his first winter of arbitration eligibility, but the hottest topic during his first interview session of the spring was how the Orioles' big offseason spending spree might affect his chances of staying in Baltimore well past the 2018 season.

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"They're trying to keep everybody here. That's good for me," he said. "I hope they keep me here long term. But the case is you can't sign everybody. You can't bring everybody back. It's just part of the business."

Give the kid credit for understanding that ownership's sudden urge to spend money might soon be tempered by the fact that the club already spent a lot of it. The notion that it represents a major change in organizational philosophy is probably only as good as the Orioles' performance over the period between now and whenever the front office decides to seriously address Machado's future.

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Still, Machado knows what Orioles fans want to hear and he insisted Tuesday that he wants to be an Oriole beyond the moment he becomes eligible for free agency. He's taking the fact that the Orioles ponied up $161 million to keep Chris Davis as a sign that it's possible.

"I mean, there's hope," Machado said. "That brings out hope. I think this is the biggest contract in Orioles history, so there's hope there. I know they've got the money for it. I know Peter [Angelos] is trying to do everything possible to bring a ring here. … It just brings me hope that they're trying to keep everybody here and hopefully they can come up with something and we can make something happen."

It's difficult to say when a Machado extension might become a top priority, but it probably won't be for a while. The Orioles are busy at the moment trying to figure out if they still want to complete the $35 million deal for pitcher Yovani Gallardo and sign free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler.

Who knows when they'll be willing to even consider what it might cost to lock up Machado for the foreseeable future, especially with some people predicting that reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper will be in line for a $500 million deal when he becomes eligible for free agency at the same time.

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Machado is tied to the club for three more years, so it's logical to assume that the front office will wait at least through this season to see how he follows up on his terrific 2015 performance and holds up after becoming the only player in the major leagues to appear in all 162 of his team's regular season games.

The one thing that appears certain is that he will not get the opportunity to play that many games in 2016.

Manager Buck Showalter didn't waste any time dispensing with the possibility during his news briefing Tuesday, saying that he would likely give both Machado and durable center fielder Adam Jones days off during the upcoming season.

"Cal's not in jeopardy," Showalter said.

Machado didn't say anything about chasing Cal Ripken, but Showalter is probably going to get an argument when he writes somebody else's name into the lineup at third base.

"I'm going to do everything possible to play every game," Machado said. "It was a great accomplishment last year. I enjoyed it. It was awesome. I was able to say I was the only one to do it. … And at the end of the day, it's a great accomplishment that you can play 162."

If that grueling schedule took a toll, you'd never know it by his numbers. He set career highs in almost every offensive category and had a breakthrough power performance with 35 home runs, but didn't get the ultimate outcome that he and his teammates were striving for.

"We fell short," he said. "I think we had a great team. We were in first place for a while and we just came up short. We got tired toward the end. Our pitching staff fell off a little bit. We didn't hit as much as we liked. We went through tough stretches where we shouldn't have and those are things we learn from. I think we just look back at what we can take from last year, which is just go out there and keep playing. Don't worry about the outcome. Just keep playing the game and hopefully we can learn from the things that we left short last year."

Though Machado doesn't have a lot left to prove — even at such an early juncture in his career — he hopes to be part of a team that proves everyone wrong this year. Once again, there are plenty of national publications and so-called experts predicting that the Orioles stumble back under .500 again and finish deep in the American League East standings.

"For as long as I can remember playing here, it's been the same thing," he said. "'Oh, you guys suck. You are going to be in last place.' Can't compete with the Yankees. Can't compete with Boston. Can't compete with other teams in our division. But we've made the playoffs [two of the past four years]. We've gone to places other teams in our division haven't gone. I think we just can't think about that stuff. We have to go out there and play.

"I think we have a great ballclub here. We have the people we need to surround ourselves with. The coaching staff does a great job of getting us where we need to be. The front office does what they need to do to put the players on the field that we need. … We've just got to unite as a team and play as a team and the sky is the limit after that."

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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