Few of us who witnessed or saw on replay the Manny Machado injury in the latter part of 2013 will ever forget it. Legs simply are not supposed to go in the direction that ended his season as his was on the ground behind first base. It was gruesome. I thought of that scene recently when I heard some analyst state recently (I cannot remember who or where) that Manny Machado will some day be the Orioles' shortstop. Is that still a realistic possibility?
I went to do some reading on his injury and the surgery required to fix it. I think this article is pretty much the definitive reading resource. And after reading the piece, I did not come away with all kinds of warm fuzzies that Machado was going to be totally fine after his rehabilitation. The feeling I received was that Machado has an anatomical predisposition to having further kneecap problems. According to the article, this is Machado's second event and this time it took out the tendons with it.
It looks like he is in for a major rehab process and it sounds to me like mid-April is a somewhat safe guess on when he will be back. You do not have to worry about this year because J.J. Hardy is signed through 2014 and will be a free agent in 2015. But what then? Do you really want to take this young talent, this former third overall pick in the draft and put him at further risk making pivots at second base with runners barreling into him all season long? Would not third base be a safer way to keep him as healthy as possible?
2014 will also tell a lot about Machado's flexibility and maneuverability after he comes back to play. If he has the sure signs of losing some range of motion and loss of speed, then the decision might be made for the team. If that is the case, then the Orioles might want to think about extending Hardy or look for other options such as Adrian Marin, another kid from Miami like Machado who could make a similar early leap into the Majors.
But let's look at this another way. What if Manny Machado comes back from his rehab perfectly fine and looks to be the same player he was before the injury? Why would you move him from third? According to both Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com, Machado just completed the second best fielding season ever for a third baseman. If you look at B-R's leaderboard for zone runs for a season, there his 2013 season sits sandwiched between Brooks Robinson's 1968 (the best ever) and the Hall of Fame player's 1967 season.
In other words, nobody has played third base that well in 46 years! Why would you then move him? Because a shortstop is hypothetically more valuable to a team than a third baseman? I get the notion. And perhaps the lead guitarist in a band is the most valuable band member and perhaps Paul McCartney could have been that guy. Instead, McCartney became one of the best bass players in history. Maybe that analogy is a stretch, but it sort of makes my point here.
Whether the guy is playing short or third, if we already know that he can play third better than anyone else since Brooks Robinsion, it seems that you have found something you shouldn't mess with.
Ideally, you would like your third baseman to have some pop in the lineup. At least that is the prevalent theory. And I am not quite yet sold on Machado offensively. Machado has lost any sense of patience at the plate he displayed in the minors and his second half of 2013 was abysmal. He batted under .200 in two of his last three months with an OPS under .600 in those months.
But if you add up his season in total, his 51 doubles and 12 homers could turn someday soon into 31 doubles and 32 homers and then you have your ideal. Even so, most teams in baseball would have taken the offensive output that Machado put out in 2013 for their third basemen...like the Yankees for example.
The Orioles and perhaps many baseball analysts still might look at Manny Machado as the Orioles' future shortstop. Such a notion seems too big a risk to him physically long term and illogical considering how valuable a third baseman he has become. Machado might some day play short for the Orioles, but that won't mean it will be the right call.