BALTIMORE — The early months of the year mean one thing for Baltimore Orioles fans – Fanfest. The annual gathering took place on Saturday at the Baltimore Convention Center. In a time where several important decisions face the franchise, both on and off the field, this offseason has been a quiet one for the O’s. Every year, Fanfest gives both fans and the media an opportunity to hear from the likes of manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette, both of whom’s contracts expire after the 2018 season. Now that the fan forum and multiple media sessions have ended with the Orioles’ brass, there’s some clarity of where things stand for this team a few months away from the regular season.
Takeaway #1 – Manny Machado will play shortstop this season, Tim Beckham will shift to third base
Speaking of expiring contracts, Manny Machado‘s $16 million arbitration settling marks the last year the Orioles have him under club control. Barring a contract extension, Machado will become a free agent after the season and command a contract worth over $300 million, a figure the Orioles have never come close to touching. The relationship between Machado and the Orioles appears to be at a standstill, as both him and Jonathan Schoop backed out of their Fanfest appearances that were scheduled for this weekend.
At the Convention Center, Orioles season ticket holders drilled both Showalter and Duquette with questions, a lot of them inquiring about Machado’s status. Showalter revealed that Machado will slide over to shortstop this season, and that Tim Beckham will shift to third base. Shortstop is Machado’s natural, preferred position, but he’s played third base for Baltimore since being called up in 2012. Machado has always wanted to play shortstop, and now that J.J. Hardy seems to not be in the plans (or possibly retiring), this is not a shocking move. Judging on how the Orioles have handled Machado’s contract situation, it’s safe to assume that he’s not happy with where things stand right now. If so, I think letting him play his preferred position in possibly his final year in Baltimore is a smart move.
Takeaway #2 – O’s relationship with Machado, Schoop is suffering
Since Machado and Schoop backed out of their Fanfest appearances at the last minute, fans also asked Showalter and Duquette about where things stand with the two young superstars.
Duquette – “Obviously, we’re disappointed they’re not here. We talked to them about the merits of being here and being available to our fans, but they’re not here. That’s all I have to say about it.”
Showalter – “I’m disappointed that Jon’s not here. I think we all get advice along the way and heed some of it and some we don’t. I think he got some bad advice and it’s one of those things. We’ll move on and it’s unfortunate.”
More Buck – “I’ve gotten a feel for what Manny’s absence is about and I have a pretty good understanding of that. Jon’s I don’t. The reasons I’ve been given, not very good.”
Although Schoop remains under club control one year more than Machado, they remain best friends off the field. Showalter claimned that Schoop got “bad advice” from his agent, but it’s clear that Schoop is just as unhappy as Machado.
Takeaway #3 – Still no clarity or direction with starting rotation issues
As of now, the only pitchers locked into the Orioles’ starting rotation are Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. That’s a problem. Yes, the free agent market for starting pitchers is rough, and starting pitchers are expensive, but the Orioles did nothing this offseason to improve a rotation that finished 2017 with a 5.70 ERA.
When asked about addressing the starting rotation before the regular season starts, Duquette did not have much to say that has not been said already.
“We still have some work to do with our starting pitching – yeah, a lot of heads nodding,” Duquette said. “That’ll be the key to the team, if we can find some starting pitching. The other [positions] will be able to sustain a competitive team. If we can’t find the starting pitching we need and the depth, it’s going to be a difficult year.”
Duquette also stated that he’s “confident” that the Orioles can add some starting pitching, and that he would like to have that done by March 1, four weeks before the regular season begins.
Image Credit: Maryland Sports Blog