If the 2018 regular season started today, it appears the Baltimore Orioles would have two starting shortstops.
Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has assured the representatives of both Manny Machado and Tim Beckham at different points this offseason that they'll be the team's starting shortstop in 2018, major-league sources told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. Ultimately, though, manager Buck Showalter will make the final call.
Machado was drafted out of Brito Miami Private School in Miami as a shortstop with the third overall selection of the 2010 amateur draft, but has only appeared in 45 games at the position during his big-league career. Despite winning two Gold Gloves at third base, he has expressed a desire to play short since he joined the organization.
"He always has, since the day he signed,'' Showalter told ESPN's Jerry Crasnick in December. "To say that Manny and I haven't had conversations about it over the years, I wouldn't be truthful.''
The 25-year-old has spent the offseason preparing to play shortstop, according to Rosenthal's sources, but the Orioles may have a problem on their hands.
If they grant him his request, what will they do with Beckham, the 2008 first overall draft pick, whose .782 OPS matched Machado's last season?
Careers at SS
Careers at 3B
Beckham could move to third, but he's only played 52 innings during his major-league career at the hot corner and 108 innings in total since becoming a pro. He could potentially move to second base, too, but that would force another one of Baltimore's top players, Jonathan Schoop, to switch positions.
Baltimore could try Machado at short and Beckham at third and shift them back to where they were previously playing if things don't go swimmingly, but playing in a highly competitive AL East is already expected to be difficult, so losing games due to defensive miscues wouldn't help matters.
There's no way to predict whether a switch would work out, but the chances of one of them slipping up at a new position are obviously higher than if they stayed put.
Keeping Machado at third appears to be the easiest scenario, but it still comes with complications.
Machado is in his last season before hitting free agency. The 2018-19 free-agent class is stronger at third base (Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre) than at shortstop (Freddy Galvis, Jose Iglesias), and he's going to want to cash in.
By playing short, he might open up more possibilities of earning a big-ticket contract, as teams could view him as either a third baseman or shortstop. He could also be choosier about his options.
If the Orioles decline his request to play shortstop, they could upset their star player - who could demand a trade or play with a poor attitude - and spoil any chances of making one last run with their current team. Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach are all set for free agency at season's end, too.
The Orioles are facing a dilemma - and that's before addressing their starting pitching. The decision may not appear drastic at first glance, but could change the direction of Baltimore's season.