Manny Machado was in the Orioles lineup, batting third and playing shortstop as he’s been all year, for the beginning of Monday’s doubleheader with the New York Yankees.
To hear him talk about the fans who voted him as the All-Star starting shortstop over the last month, and the teammates and organization he’ll be representing at next week’s All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., you’d think that weren’t the case at all.
In every city that boasts a contending baseball team that Machado and the 24-65 Orioles have visited this year, the local fans and media have taken their turn to engage in some fantasy forecasting about his future, be it a midseason trade or his pending free agency.
There was a new one Monday at Camden Yards — Machado spoke with such inevitability of a move, to a line of questioning so resigned to such a fate, that he ended up essentially saying goodbye before it’s time.
After all, what’s left for him to do?
“It is a little bittersweet of a situation where I get to go represent the team as an All-Star, but at the same time, you think about all the bad stuff that’s been happening here,” Machado said. “All the talks, just a lot of distractions that have been going on around here. You just try to put it aside and just try to go out there and try to represent the organization as best as I can.”
This weekend, those distractions have come in the form of constant reporting, both locally and nationally, about possible trade destinations for the Orioles’ star. As of Saturday, the Los Angeles Dodgers were in the lead, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, all in the mix as well.
“Everywhere I see, it’s just Manny, Manny, Manny,” Machado said. “It kind of gets a little bit distracting at times. It’s just a matter of trying to let it all out. Once I come in here and step in this clubhouse, I’m just a ballplayer. I’m just trying to win some games. I’m just trying to be myself, trying to go out here and have fun. The only thing that keeps me going is I love this game so much, I want to go out there, put on a show and be the best player I can be out there.”
At the plate this year, he’s been just that. His .313/.382/.560 average with 21 home runs, 19 doubles, and 61 RBIs completely tower over anyone else who has worn an Orioles uniform. The defensive metrics have him as a well-below-average shortstop in his first season there, even if Machado says he’s “been playing really great, other than a couple errors here and there.”
Wrap all that up into one pending free agent and you have the most attractive pennant-chase rental in recent memory, with his pending trade such a foregone conclusion that Machado seems to be already saying his goodbyes.
“This organization has given me everything,” he said. “They brought me up, I got drafted here, this has been home for the last seven years. It’s been truly an amazing journey here that I’ve had, with everyone in here. … This is now part of my family.
“Everyone in here is part of my family. They’re brothers to me. They’ll always have my contact. They’ll always have anything. If anything ever happens, they’ll always have my back because we’ve gone through some good times and some bad times. It’s just made us better and brought us closer together. This organization means a lot, and I’ll never be ungrateful for the opportunity that they’ve given to me.”
As for the fans, Machado said, “They’ve always supported me throughout the good and the bad” as he thanked them for voting him into the All-Star Game. He encouraged them to “keep rooting for us, keep rooting for me, keep their heads up high.”
Manager Buck Showalter said he’s handled it well everywhere he’s had to, but “of course, it’s real easy to handle stuff like that when you’re as talented as he is.”
But even he is already treating the Orioles’ pending loss of their only All-Star in a fantastical way. Asked to compare this July to ones where the team has tried to add, he’s said there’s not much difference to what will happen to these Orioles than years past.
Showalter said: “I’d very much like to be adding, but we feel like potentially, we will add — really well. Either way, you’re just adding for a different purpose and subtracting for a different purpose. I think there’s a great opportunity here, in a lot of ways. But we know what a false deadline the end of this month is.”