Baltimore Orioles: Important spring training for the infield

For the first time in awhile, there are some questions facing the Baltimore Orioles’ infield going into a baseball season. And not all of them concern on-field matters. Some do, and we’ll start there. We knew that the Orioles would probably have a new shortstop in 2018; we just didn’t think it was going to be Manny Machado.

I don’t think fans should worry too much in terms of the quality of play. While Machado hasn’t played shortstop consistently in over five years, it’s his natural position. It’s why the Orioles drafted him – make no mistake about that. However the Grapefruit League schedule is going to be really key to getting Machado ready for the season, as it’ll give him a chance to face live bullets…in games that don’t count. The switch sounds simple enough, but the throw to first is different, the angles are all different, and the double-play duties are different.

Which brings up to the hot corner; Tim Beckham has vociferously said that he’ll be fine at third base. But it’s not a position at which he’s spent significant time. Now I know the emphasis that Buck Showalter puts on defense; they wouldn’t have made this move if they didn’t think Beckham could handle it. And with the way that he embraced Baltimore, the Orioles, the fans, etc. when he was traded here, you can’t help but give the guy a shot.

The elephant in the room obviously is also Machado’s contract situation. Namely, it expires after the season. He’s expected to hit free agency, however the Orioles apparently have been in close contact of late with his agent about an extension. For what it’s worth, he’s saying all the right things (quote courtesy of Roch Kubatko, MASNsports):

Obviously, this is the only organization I’ve ever played for and the only organization I know, so I could definitely stay here, play for this organization, play for the crowd, play for the fans. This is all I know. It’s a great organization that I’ve always played for and gave me an opportunity to come up here and play in the big leagues, but at the same time, there are some things that are out of my jurisdiction, out of my hands. What I can do is go out there and give them the best season I can and see what happens.

The Orioles also have to deal with the Jonathan Schoop situation, which came out of Orioles’ FanFest a few weeks ago. To be specific, Schoop opted not to show up – at the last minute. Later we found out that it was due to his salary situation (regarding arbitration) not being resolved, and at the time he said that his agent advised him against attending.

You might say that the fans are ultimately the ones who suffer when business and baseball intersect. It wasn’t a popular decision with the fans, and manager Buck Showalter and GM Dan Duquette both voiced frustration with Schoop as well. However to his credit, Schoop is trying to make amends (quote courtesy of Brittany Ghiroli,

Every fan, I’m going to sign for them and give them something back. I’m glad it’s over and I can focus on baseball now so I can focus on being out there and helping the team win.

Personally I think that Schoop may want to reevaluate who represents him if he was advised against going to an event as innocent as FanFest. And one that means so much to the Baltimore community at that. (I said at the time that if Tim Beckham – a guy mind you who had just been traded to the Orioles the previous summer – could show up and be excited for the fans on his birthday, there was no reason why Schoop needed to miss FanFest. Regardless of what his agent said.) However my hope is that fans quickly forget about that and view it as a blip on the radar once the Grapefruit League season starts next Friday. Once Schoop smacks a ball out of Ed Smith Stadium or turns a double-play with Machado, all should hopefully be well.

Similar to the year when Toronto tried to pick off Dan Duquette as their GM, there have been a lot of distractions this off season. And for all of the wrong reasons. However the Orioles hope that come Friday when games begin, all of that melts away. Needless to say, the upcoming slate of spring games are important to a lot of people for a lot of reasons.

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