Machado ponders future in Baltimore, at short

February 17th, 2018

SARASOTA -- Shortly before 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, Manny Machado entered the Orioles' clubhouse at Ed Smith Stadium. All eyes were on him, sporting a new haircut and a huge smile as he went locker to locker, exchanging hugs and pleasantries with teammates new and old.

It has been a whirlwind offseason for Machado, whose named swirled in trade rumors since December's Winter Meetings. The headlines continued at last month's FanFest, when the team -- still listening to potential offers for the All-Star -- announced he would officially move to shortstop, a year away from free agency.

"[Shortstop is] where my heart has always been," Machado said of the move, which will shift over to third base. "It's my natural position. It's where I think I can [best help the team]. ... I know a lot of the talk has been, 'Oh, is he going to be worth more there? More money.' It's not about the money. It's not about going out there and signing a 20-year deal.

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"This is where my heart has always been, this is what I've wanted to do. This is what I've always wanted to do. This is what I came into this world to do -- to play shortstop at the big league level. Finally, [manager] Buck [Showalter] and the Baltimore organization are giving me the opportunity to go out there and do what I can at that position and show myself. That's been my dream all along. I'm really looking forward to it."

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In his new position, Machado will pair up for a lethal double play combo with close friend, second baseman . The pair aren't totally foreign with that as Machado -- who got 43 starts there in '16 -- has some idea what to expect from filling in for former teammate J.J. Hardy.

"I think the challenges of playing Major League shortstop is up his alley for this year. He needs a new challenge, I think. I think he prospers off of that," Showalter said. "I think he really is engaged, not that he got bored at third base, but I feel good that he had a month or so for us at shortstop to really remind him, and Bobby [Dickerson has been] showing him some of the tape and been talking to him about the total engagement you need to have at shortstop in order to play that position again.

"He was a shortstop we moved to third base because we had one of the best shortstops in the game. Anybody we play at third base is not going to be Manny. Nobody. And I've seen them all. There's some good ones, but he's the best one. Of course, I'm biased. But he has a chance to be that same guy at shortstop. He's capable of making plays that nobody else will be able to make there."

Machado reiterated there was nothing new, as far as he knows, regarding his camp and the Orioles potentially reaching an agreement on a new deal beyond this season. It's been almost a foregone conclusion that Baltimore won't be able to afford the young superstar -- who could command a record deal in free agency, though Machado doesn't want that to be a distraction.

"You know what, it shouldn't be a distraction. I don't work in the front office. I'm not an agent. I play baseball," Machado said. "That's the only thing I know how to do. It's the only thing I really know how to do, to be honest -- just go out there, play baseball and answer the questions I need to answer and go about my business. My job is to go out there and produce -- and if I don't do that, none of the other stuff will come with it."

There was a time, the 25-year-old admits, when the trade rumors were flying, that the thought of him leaving his teammates crossed his mind.

"At one point, it was kind of a little sad. Thank God, nothing went down -- and I was able to come back and see my guys that I've been with for seven years. It's just going to be a great experience that I went through at that time -- a learning experience this whole offseason -- that I'm putting in the back of my mind going forward [while] getting ready for this year."

To that end, Machado's offseason routine has changed considerably from his days at third base. He said he's added more plyometrics to his routine, less heavy lifting and a lot more resistance and flexibility work. He started making changes after the '16 season while preparing for his stint with Team Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic last spring. Machado -- who ended up playing more third base than shortstop for that team -- still uses that bag, with his spring equipment unloaded from it on Saturday morning.

"This game's about playing 162 games, not just three months or four months out of the year," Machado said. "I did change [my routine] a lot and I'm going to continue doing what I've been doing in the offseason [up] to now."

It's a grind Machado plans on enduring for the foreseeable future. If he does hit the free-agent market as expected, he wants to continue playing shortstop.

"Once I do it this year, it's not something that's just switching off," he said. "I'm making the transition. Hopefully, I want to stay there and continue doing it. This is where my heart has always been. [I'm] finally getting an opportunity to do it for a full season. I'm looking forward to it, and hopefully I can continue playing [short] for a long time."