After weeks of speculation, Orioles manager Buck Showalter confirmed today to fans and reporters (including MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko) that Manny Machado would be moving from third base to shortstop, with Tim Beckham shifting over to the hot corner. This will at least be the club’s setup going into Spring Training, Showalter specified, though plans could still change down the road.
News broke in November that Machado was interested in a move back to his original position, despite developing into one of baseball’s best defensive players as a third baseman. Machado has played just 433 big league innings at shortstop over his six-year career, with the bulk of that action coming in 2016 (380 innings) when he filled in for the injured J.J. Hardy. Machado posted strong metrics that year (5.4 UZR/150, +3 Defensive Runs Saved) as a shortstop, though it’s hard to extrapolate from that small sample size how Machado could fare at the position over the long term.
Given that Machado is just a year away from free agency, it can’t be ignored that the position change widens Machado’s potential market. Proving that he can handle shortstop would only raises Machado’s already sky-high value heading into the 2018-19 offeason. While his first preference would seemingly be to find a team that would allow him to continue at short, Machado could also keep third base-needy teams in the picture or even explore scenarios that would see him play every day at one of the two positions.
The position change also has significant 2018 implications for the Orioles, who now could look to complement the right-handed hitting Beckham with a left-handed platoon partner at third. Given how Beckham impressed in his first month in an O’s uniform, however, the team might want to give him a clear shot at the everyday job. Executive VP Dan Duquette mentioned (via Kubatko) that the Orioles had been talking to long-time utilityman Ryan Flaherty about a possible return; such an addition wouldn’t be any significant threat to reducing Beckham’s status as the starting third baseman. Engelb Vielma or prospect Ryan Mountcastle could also eventually get into the third base or infield backup mix.
On the other hand, the Orioles could go big by moving Beckham into a multi-positional bench role and looking for a full-time third baseman. Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier are the most notable hot corner names still available in free agency, with Moustakas carrying the bigger price tag (both in terms of salary and draft pick compensation) but his left-handed bat is also a better fit in Baltimore’s lineup. Making a big signing or trade splash for third base could be difficult, however, given that the O’s have a more pressing need in their rotation.