Manny Machado is on the move.
No, no… calm down, everybody. Machado hasn't been traded (yet). He's just moving from third base to shortstop.
The Orioles are honoring Machado's request to go back to his native position. Necessity (and J.J. Hardy) prompted a shift a few steps to his right when Machado first broke into the big leagues, and in the time since, he's established himself as a modern-day Brooks Robinson. But there's great pride that comes with the premier position at short, and Hardy's post-2017 departure means Machado can now make good on something he told me last spring.
"I am who I am because of third base," Machado had said. "I haven't done enough at short to say otherwise. But I know I can do over it over there at that position, as well."
Machado's move is interesting on two levels.
One, we already have to edit our list of the top 10 shortstops in the game -- a list replete with incredible young players.
And two, we now have to consider Machado and teammate Jonathan Schoop to be one of the best double-play partnerships in the sport.
We can discuss the top shortstops another day. For now, let's delve into the shortstop-second base duos. Though there are any number of ways you can identify the prominent pairs. I've chosen to take Steamer's 2018 offensive and defensive estimates (which are available at FanGraphs) to come up with the five that project to be the best.
It's very simple: "Off" is offensive runs above average, combining a player's context-neutral value both at the plate and on the bases, and "Def" uses stats like defensive runs saved and UZR to determine a player's defensive value relative to league average.
Add Defense ("Def") and Production ("Off") and you get DP. So here are the five top DP combos in the game using that formula.
1. Astros:Jose Altuve (21.8) + Carlos Correa (35.1) = 56.9
Hey, look, another list with the Astros on top.
It's actually unfair that as good as Houston already is, we likely have yet to see peak-level Correa. He had a .315/.391/.550 slash line and 158 OPS+ last season, and his year still paled in comparison to that of the American League MVP Award winner lined up to his left. Correa's Def projection (5.0) is nowhere near as crazy good as his Off projection (30.1), and it's true that many evaluators believe the ideal baseball alignment would be Alex Bregman at short and Correa at third. But suffice it to say, things are working out well enough here as it is, and Correa is only entering his age-23 season.
I'm not going to waste my time or yours explaining why Altuve is awesome, though it is notable that he's actually rated negatively on the Def scale in five of the past six seasons, and Steamer has him at minus-1.2 for 2018.
Obviously, that didn't hold the Astros back.
2. Orioles: Schoop (8.6) + Machado (33.3) = 41.9
This is an exciting, albeit likely temporary, arrangement up the middle in Baltimore.
There is risk associated with Machado's move, for both player and team. The physical wear and tear of the assimilation to the position could possibly lead to a decline in offensive production, which would hurt Machado's trade and free-agent value.
But for now, I'm giving Machado the benefit of the doubt in these rankings. His Steamer projection has, as of this writing, not been updated to account for the move to short, but there was nothing in his 45-game sample at the position in 2016, while filling in for an injured Hardy, to indicate he can't continue to provide elite defense and production.
And while Schoop isn't a household name like Machado, he has a rising profile, having earned some down-ballot AL MVP Award support after a 2017 season in which he made serious strides in selectivity (his OBP jumped 40 points, to .338) while crossing the 30-homer threshold for the first time.
3. Indians:Jason Kipnis (minus-1.4) + Francisco Lindor (36.6) = 35.2
The Indians would rank No. 1 on this list if they wind up with their preferred defensive alignment with Jose Ramirez (who scores a 24.2 in our DP calculations) at second. That was the alignment they had during their 22-game win streak last season, and the fantastic defense up the middle was a backbone of that run. The Tribe has tried to trade Kipnis this offseason, but the $30.8 million remaining on his contract and the step back he took during an injury-addled 2017 have hampered his market.
But as the above indicates, even if it's Kipnis at second and Ramirez at third, Lindor's value is enough to propel the Indians into the upper echelon. Last year, Lindor saw a major power surge, with his slugging percentage jumping from .435 to .505. His advanced defensive marks actually regressed toward something a little more human after his 17 defensive runs saved in 2016, but the fact that Steamer has him nearly as valuable on defense (17.9) as offense (18.7) is in line with the opinion of evaluators.
It's an open question what the Indians get from Kipnis in 2018. It's easy to lose sight of how good he was in 2015-16 (averaging 17.6 in Off, 6.8 in Def) before last year's mess of a season in which he had an 81 OPS+ and two trips to the disabled list.
4. Dodgers:John Forsythe (minus-0.5) + Corey Seager (32.6) = 32.1
The formula bears what it bears. You can quibble all you want with how we got here, but this is an opportunity to remind the world that Seager (21.2 projected Off, 11.4 projected Def) is really good.
Seager's .876 OPS dating back to his Sept. 3, 2015, debut in the bigs is first among qualified shortstops in that span, and he's a graduate of the Cal Ripken Jr. school of big-bodied shortstops who move well. Would it surprise anybody if he's in the National League MVP Award conversation this year?
The Dodgers have moving parts at second base, with Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez also expected to get time there, but Forsythe is a bounceback candidate after his OPS dropped 100 points (from .778 to .678) last year.
5. Nationals:Daniel Murphy (9.3) + Trea Turner (19.9) = 29.2
Separated by eight years and bonded by the win-now Nats, Turner and Murphy are obviously very different players. We can agree Murphy didn't make this list with dazzling D, and he'll enter Spring Training recovering from offseason knee surgery. But in his first two years in the District, he's produced a .334/.387/.569 slash line with 48 homers and 90 doubles. That'll play. Steamer projects him at 14 in Off and minus-4.7 in Def.
With Turner, it's all about upside. Steamer is bullish on strong recovery from a disappointing 2017 in which Turner fractured his right wrist and was limited to a 102 OPS+ in 98 games. Turner the Burner can change games with his legs (46 steals in only those 98 games last year), but he needs to improve his on-base rate to really maximize that skillset.