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Thanks to Manny, Orioles remain #blessed at third base

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His imperfect second half to 2016 shouldn’t disqualify Manny Machado from having further established himself as one of baseball’s best overall players.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Funny enough, I received a random text from my dad the other day saying a family friend of ours “thinks (Nolan) Arenado is better than Machado.”

Granted, the conscious bias from both sides wasn’t going to shy away from the fight. I responded the only way I know how by saying there was probably an argument to be had in regards to their respective offensive games, but defense? Pssssssh, man!

In the spirit of anonymity, we’ll call our friend Billy, or Mr. Walker, or Mr. Billy Walker, a retired Air Force Brigadier General who surprisingly, with so much background in the spirited defense our country, can’t recognize the same on a baseball diamond. Yes, Arenado does have three Gold Gloves in his first three years, and is likely to add a fourth this season. Mr. Walker also claims Arenado was named the best defensive player in baseball by his fellow players, though said poll doesn’t appear to exist on these very internets (insert thinking face emoji).

Arenado racked up an awesome 20 DRS over at third base compared to Machado’s 13, but Manny also played 380 innings at shortstop in J.J. Hardy’s absence, where he tallied an extra three defensive runs saved. Machado trounces Arenado in UZR, where his combined 12.3 nearly doubled Arenado’s 6.2, and if we’re talking jaw-dropping plays, Inside Edge’s remote fielding tabulations, where a player is given a 1-10% chance of making a presented play, calculates Machado’s 11.5% conversion rate on remote plays again borders the line of duplexing Arenado’s 5.9%.

Simply put, Manny gets to balls that Arenado doesn’t, and he makes the plays that Arenado’s range doesn’t afford him the opportunity of even attempting. And if we want to talk about the ole eye test, Manny’s relative ease in versatility, effort and arm make the 24 year-old the kind of superstar the Orioles have envied for the first decade-plus of this millennium.

At the expense of Mr. Walker, this friendly debate over not only two of baseball’s best third basemen, but overall players, perfectly transitions into just how good Manny Machado was yet again manning baseball’s hottest of corners.

A Tale of Two Halves

Entering this season after breaking out to a .286/.359/.502 slash with 35 home runs and 86 RBIs a season ago, Machado came blistering out of the gates over the course of the first three months. Totaling a first-half .318/.375/.569 line accompanying 19 home runs and 53 RBIs, Machado’s 4.3 fWAR was fifth-best in all of baseball to that point, while his 147 wRC+ was 12th-highest.

Reminiscing on his 2013 season, Machado trailed only Big Papi in doubles (29) prior to the break. Mixing in his defensive wizardry with a still-budding offensive approach, Machado’s early MVP candidacy was not only legitimate, but realistically attainable.

Then again, there’s a reason why the MVP isn’t decided in July.

Machado saw his numbers buckle in the second-half, much like Yordano Ventura on the top of the mound at Camden Yards. Slashing .266/.309/.492 with 18 home runs and 43 RBIs, Manny continued to flash the consistent power, but his overeagerness at the plate saw his on-base numbers shrink.

Machado’s strikeout rate flatlined throughout the year, hovering right at 17.3%, but his walk rate dwindled from 8.0% through July to 5.6% through the end of the year. Finding a source of hope, Machado’s BABIP crashing to from .346 in the first-half to .268 the rest of the year can certainly be attributed to his offensive stagnation, but Manny’s 2.2 second-half fWAR was still eight-best among all qualified third basemen, a credit to his maintained power and defense combo.

Still, Machado was a much more active swinger this year, raising his swing rate from 43.1% a year ago to 49.7%. More swings resulted in more chases, probably the cause of his fastball rate dropping by 7.2%. Failing to fully adjust to more breaking and off-speed stuff, including a 3.2% hike in swinging strikes, had its ups and downs, with more downs lumping over the stretch run.

Even in prolonged troubles, Machado’s .294/.343/.533 slash, 129 wRC+, career-high 37 home runs and platinum-caliber defense accrued baseball’s seventh-best 6.5 fWAR. He’s really, really good.

(Un)Notables

With Manny being thrust into shortstop duties for 44 games, borrowed playing time at third base was forced to Ryan Flaherty and Paul Janish. Flaherty specifically accounted for a mightily impressive 6 DRS, while Janish’s 22.7 UZR/150 actually exceeded Machado’s 12.6 number.

While the defense at third base remained a strong point, the offense naturally turned into a black hole. Flaherty and Janish combined for a .205/.288/.272 line, equating to a 52 wRC+. The after effects of J.J. Hardy’s broken foot and Pedro Alvarez’s defensive ineptitude forcing the pair into the everyday lineup for a quarter of the year had surprising benefits, and equally substantial deprivations.

LOCK! HIM! UP!

Back in July, ESPN’s Jim Bowden was told by Machado himself that his representatives approached the Orioles during Spring Training with the framework of a contract extension. Machado isn’t due for free agency until the end of the 2018 season, so we’re guaranteed at least two more years of his splendor, but the timing of his potential exit couldn’t be more curious.

The only notable players guaranteed to be Orioles entering the 2019 season are Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Mychal Givens, all of which doesn’t mention baseball’s historical age regression of Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy between then. The Orioles are facing an identity crisis, and the organization has to figure out if it’s willing and able to not only commit to Machado’s well-earned finances, or if there is indeed a rebuild on the horizon.

At only 24 with elite skills on both sides of the ball, Machado is an otherworldly trade chip with a potential return to lessen the blow of a cloudy future. In comparison to the rest of the AL East, the Orioles have rationed their talent base while the division is bountiful in youth, and a Machado trade could change the status of the Orioles immediate farm system. As enticing as that sounds and as faceless as the O’s would be, who is the player your thoughtless mind reacts to when you think of Baltimore baseball?

It’s Brooks Robinson’s defense married to Alex Rodriguez’s bat. It’s the shining proof that the Orioles are as exciting as they’ve been in 20 years. It’s knowing that one of the game’s greatest talents nests upon the Inner Harbor.

It’s Machado.

If baseball was willing to shell out $325M over 13 years in 2014, it will surely see currency rise above the moon after 2018. Whether or not the Orioles have the capability to meet Machado’s demands and spice the deal with Old Bay is an entirely different question for another day, but the Orioles haven’t had a player of this caliber and presence for long, long time. If there was ever a time to do it however, this winter would be it.