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The Orioles have no reason to play Manny Machado at shortstop

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There has been talk of Baltimore’s star third baseman moving away from the position, but it could be a big mistake

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This will probably be Manny Machado’s final season in an Orioles uniform. The 25-year-old is due to hit free agency next winter and, publicly, there seems to be either no progress or no interest in Machado signing a long-term extension with Baltimore. And yet, there are murmurs that the team is going to bend over backwards to move their star player away from third base, where he has been so good throughout his career, and play him at his preferred position of shortstop. From the team’s perspective, this makes absolutely no sense.

Bobby Dickerson, the Orioles third base coach, spoke to 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore on Thursday night and, among other things, mentioned the club’s plans for the current Orioles shortstop, Tim Beckham. MASN’s Roch Kubatko compiled those thoughts in his daily blog. Here are the bullet points.

-Beckham is working out with Brady Anderson in California
-Beckham will work out with Dickerson in Mississippi before Spring Training
-Beckham will work on things that “aren’t position specific”
-There has been no confirmation about what Beckham’s position will be in 2018

In case you missed it, Beckham was pretty darn good for the Orioles after coming over in a trade with the Rays on July 31. He played in 50 games, slashed .306/.348/.523 with 10 home runs. 12 doubles, two triples and 26 RBI. All the while he played steady, slightly above-average defense. He did everything to prove that he is a worthy starting shortstop at the highest level.

Machado, for his part, rebounded from a tough first half of the season to put together some respectable numbers: .259/.310/.471 with 33 home runs and 81 RBI. And of course, he was a lot of fun to watch in the field, although it was far from the finest showing of his career with the leather.

Ch-ch-changes

Both of these guys have spent most of their MLB stints at one position. Beckham has 173 career games at shortstop, 77 at second base and nine games at third base. Machado has 715 games at third base under his belt, and just 52 at shortstop. Sure, they could flip flop positions and things may be just fine, but will they be better than they are now? Beckham’s time at third has been so limited that it feels like a big gamble. And while Machado has had impressive moments at shortstop, it seems almost impossible that he could be better there than he is at the hot corner.

The one person that would clearly benefit from Machado pushing Beckham off of shortstop is Machado himself. The free agent-to-be is an excellent hitter no matter what position he plays. Steamer projects Machado to hit 38 home runs with 97 RBI and a .292/.352/.549 slash line in 2018. Not bad. However, those numbers look a lot better when compared to other shortstops in the league than they do next to Nolan Arenado, Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant and the like.

It’s simple, proving that he can play shortstop everyday while hitting just as well as he has throughout his career likely makes Machado a richer man. But how much money Machado earns after leaving Baltimore is not the Orioles concern. They should be setting up their team to perform to the best of their collective ability both now and in the foreseeable future. Machado, in all likelihood, won’t be a part of that future, so position him where he makes the most sense this season.

The kids are alright

One of the Orioles top prospects is Ryan Mountcastle. For the moment, Mountcastle is a shortstop, but there are wide-ranging concerns about his ability to stay at the position. The more likely outcome is that he moves over to third base or to one of the corner outfield spots. The soon-to-be 21-year-old saw action in 38 games with double-A Bowie in 2017, but struggled a bit (.222/.239/.366). He’ll start the year with the Baysox and look to continue his upward trend in the eyes of baseball scouts.

Despite some struggles, that puts Mountcastle on a collision course for Baltimore sometime in 2019. If there really are doubts about him playing shortstop in the majors, why not cement the position now with Beckham? He is under team control for three more seasons, including 2018. The organization has no other starter-quality players for the position emerging from the minors anytime soon. If Mountcastle sticks at short, Beckham can move off of the position when the kid is ready for the bigs.

(EDIT: h/t to Camden Depot’s Matt Kremnitzer. Mountcastle is no longer playing shortstop. He is at third base full-time, which would make a Machado move make even less sense)

No respect, no respect at all

It seems that the narrative, at least from the fan’s perspective, behind the possible position move for Machado centers around “loyalty”.

“Oh, if the O’s move Machado to shortstop, he will owe it to them to sign an extension.”

That’s not how any of this works. The Orioles are using Machado just as much as Machado is using the Orioles. It’s a business relationship. Baltimore doesn’t owe Machado anything beyond what is outlined in his contract. At the same time, Machado doesn’t owe the Orioles anything either. He’s been a model citizen off the field and he has performed on the field. If the O’s move him to short, that’s good for him, but in no way does it tie him to the organization for life.

This team has so many questions that need to be answered before Opening Day in two months. What are they gonna do with Mark Trumbo? How does the bullpen stack up? Are Austin Hays and Chance Sisco ready? Who the heck are the starting pitchers? Machado at third and Beckham at short are two known commodities. Messing with that dynamic is an unnecessary tweaking that could do more harm than good.