In 2017, for the first time since Manny Machado reached the majors (way back in 2012), the Orioles were a losing baseball team. It’s no coincidence that Machado, by in large the most talented guy on the squad, also had the worst full season of his career. He overcame an extremely slow start to the summer and ended up with decent offensive numbers, and yet they were still nowhere near his lofty standards.
A .259 batting average and .310 on base percentage for the season were both career lows, and despite his 92.0 mph average exit velocity on balls in play (11th in MLB), Machado batted just .265 on balls in play. His power numbers weren’t bad (33 home runs and .471 slugging percentage), but they were his worst marks since 2014, when he only played in 82 games.
The O’s third baseman even struggled defensively. His .967 fielding percentage is only one point less than his career average, but it was a significant dip from the .979 fielding percentage he posted at the position in 2016. Advanced stats didn’t like Machado as much this year either. According to Fangraphs, his 4.7 UZR and 1.5 range runs were both career lows as was his .678 revised zone rating. Keep in mind, those are still good numbers, but this is Manny we’re talking about.
A tale of two halves
Machado’s performance had some drastic differences between the first and second half of the season. In his first 83 games, he slashed .230/.296/.445 as opposed to .290/.326/.500 in the second half. The Florida native was on pace for even better numbers after the midsummer break but he, along with the rest of the team, took a dive in September (.211/.256/.330).
Another aspect of Manny’s uneven season was his discrepancy in performance between Camden Yards and elsewhere. At home, he hit .288/.350/.544 with 22 home runs and 55 RBI in 80 games. On the road, he posted .229/.268/.398 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI in 76 games.
The first sign of trouble
There are always high expectations for Machado. Ever since he was drafted third overall in the 2010 draft out of a Miami high school, Manny was anointed the possible savior of the franchise. Throughout his big league career, he has lived up to that hype, winning two Gold Gloves and appearing in three All-Star Games, not to mention nabbing quite a few MVP votes. The 25-year-old has set himself up for what could be a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career.
Unfortunately, 2017 was a dud of a season by Machado’s standards. Fangraphs gave him a WAR of 2.8, whereas Baseball Reference was more generous with a 3.5. Both are the worst full-season ratings for his career on the respective sites.
There will be no hardware this year either. Machado missed out on the chance to play in his hometown in the All-Star Game. His slow start killed any chance at a Silver Slugger or MVP shot. And his defense, while still above average, wasn’t quite up to the Gold Glove level.
It has become routine to see Machado up near the top of the league in WAR, just a touch below the likes of Mike Trout or Jose Altuve. It didn’t happen this year. In fact, he wasn’t even the best player in an Orioles uniform. His buddy Jonathan Schoop takes home that honor. But to think that this type of a season is Machado’s worst shows just how good the guy has been up until this point.
An off-season of questions
Dan Duquette, the Orioles Vice President of Baseball Operations, told the media over the weekend that the Orioles plan on competing in 2018. So, those pushing for a rebuild in Baltimore will be sorely disappointed. Machado, with his contract expiring after the 2018 season, has been viewed as a possible trade chip for going on a year now, but the O’s don’t seem interested in moving him.
It makes sense. Despite his struggles, Machado remains one of the most supremely talented players in baseball. Both Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are entering their walk-years as well, so they are unlikely to be interested in starting a rebuild they may never finish. And if the O’s do want to win, Manny needs to stick around.
However, the Orioles had Machado this year, and they were still a losing baseball team. He alone cannot fix this. If the front office doesn’t go get starting pitcher, and a lot of it, then failing to deal the third baseman and get something significant in return just puts them another year behind the eight ball, and possibly back into an extended spell of losing baseball.
On the other hand, if the Orioles prioritize inking Machado to a long-term deal, they could view the off-season as a “win” no matter how they address the rest of the team’s needs. Signing Machado gives the O’s a foundation to build a team around for the next decade. And with the likes of Chance Sisco, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and D.J. Stewart knocking on the major league door over the next year, the future doesn’t look so bleak offensively.
How much will the Birds need to pay the man? Will they have to offer an opt-out? Not to sound crass, but who cares? Machado is irreplaceable. The front office can search as much as they want, but unless Nolan Arenado is walking through the clubhouse door, the team won’t find another third baseman of that ability.
Dan, Buck, we know you read Camden Chat religiously. If he’s willing, sign Machado up, and make him a career-long Oriole. You won’t regret it, at least not until 2025 when he’s 33 years old and can barely move around the field. Still, do it anyway!