Because he is from Miami and has a large frame for a natural shortstop, Machado is frequently compared by talent evaluators to Alex Rodriguez — who happens to be a mentor to him, having worked with Machado in Miami in past offseasons. But in Baltimore, the comparisons, with growing frequency, are to another big-framed shortstop who broke into the majors as the Orioles’ third baseman before being moved back to shortstop midway through his rookie year: Cal Ripken Jr.
“He reminds me of how I think Cal would have been if he had played third base his entire career,” said Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher and current Orioles broadcaster who was nearing the end of his playing career when Ripken broke in.
Machado simply shrugs off the comparisons: “I’m Manny. I’m not A-Rod. I’m going to play the game the way Manny plays and be myself.” His defense is already Gold Glove-caliber — some advanced defensive metrics, such as those compiled at Fangraphs.com, rate him as the best defensive third baseman in the game so far this season, by a wide margin — and his bat has come along sooner than expected.
Machado’s long-term positional projection is a bit of a sensitive subject. The company line is that he remains the Orioles’ shortstop of the future, but with Hardy — a first-time Gold Glove winner in 2012 — under contract through 2014, that future is still a ways off in the distance. And besides, some in the organization felt all along that Machado’s larger frame would be a better fit at third.
Asked last week about Machado’s long-term future, Duquette, perhaps fittingly, reaches back to the franchise’s glory days for his answer, quoting the late Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver — the same man who moved Ripken back to shortstop in 1982, altering the course of baseball history:
“ ‘Like Earl said, ‘Sign all them shortstops, and then we’ll worry about where to play them when they get to the big leagues,’ ” Duquette said.
In Baltimore, you don’t go around quoting Earl Weaver or invoking the Iron Man casually. But when it comes to Manny Machado, such nods to the richest parts of the franchise’s history seem entirely justified.