The Orioles’ quiet offseason got quite a jolt on Thursday night. After Manny Machado’s frightening injury on Sept. 23, the worst was feared.
A day later, everyone was assured that he wouldn’t need surgery on his left knee, and that if everything checked out four weeks later, Machado could begin preparation for the 2014 season.
Just over halfway into the initial rehab came the news that Machado would indeed need surgery on the knee which he originally injured playing for Delmarva in 2011 and reinjured running over first base at Tampa Bay.
When the Orioles had a briefing about the knee, athletic trainer Richie Bancells talked said that even if Machado needed surgery, he was confident that the 21-year-old third baseman would be ready by mid-March.
While spring training begins a little over four months from now, position players can miss the first two weeks of games and be ready to play with about 30 at-bats.
That’s the formula Nick Markakis used in 2012 after he underwent abdominal surgery in early January.
Machado’s surgery will be performed in Los Angeles on Monday, and the recovery time is four-six months.
Manager Buck Showalter is extremely protective of his players, and we can assume that Machado, even if he recovers in four months, won’t be playing games in late February. There’s just no need.
While Birdland gasped when the news came out, this is hardly the worst news. Doctors found no new injury. It’s just that they felt he was better advised to get this taken care of now.
Machado’s injury came with the Orioles nearing elimination for postseason. After losing the first three games of the series to the Rays including the tedious 18-inning affair that ended after 2 a.m., the Orioles were leading 4-2 in the seventh inning when Machado was hurt.
Alexi Casilla ran for him, and he suffered head and thumb injuries diving for a ball in the bottom of the seventh.
The Orioles lost that game, too. After the injuries, the team was shaken, and they were officially eliminated the next night.
The good news is that the injury occurred at the end of the season as Markakis’ did in 2011. Had he hurt his knee the last week of spring training as Wilson Betemit did in 2013, Machado’s season would be ruined.
Does this change the Orioles offseason strategy?
It probably does, but just a little. Even if it’s a sixth month recovery, Machado should be back playing early in the season.
Danny Valencia, who cemented a role for 2014 with a strong last month, can play third. Ryan Flaherty, whose usefulness as a utility player has been well documented, would play third, too. Rookie Jonathan Schoop, expected to compete for the second base job can play there, too.
It’s unlikely that the Orioles would add a third baseman to a 40-man roster that will likely be pretty tight. It may increase the likelihood that Brian Roberts returns for another year since Flaherty and even Schoop could conceivably be involved at third.
Perhaps the Orioles, who will refuse the $3 million option on Casilla for next year, try to bring him back at a lower figure. That’s unlikely, but Showalter had nice things to say about Casilla before the last game of the season. The 28-year-old is unlikely to find a robust market after a year where he hit .214 in just 125 plate appearances.
It’s more likely that they’ll sign a couple of minor league free agent infielders. Last year, they had Yamaico Navarro and Niuman Romero in the minors. Navarro batted .286 in eight games for the Orioles, but was taken off the 40-man roster in early June and never returned. Romero, who has 12 games of big league experience spent nearly all the season at Bowie.
The Orioles also acquired Alex Liddi from Seattle in July. He has major league experience at third base, but he was never close to being recalled and was also removed from the 40-man in September.
In other words, there aren’t a lot of good infield alternatives in the higher minors.
Machado played in every game until he was injured. Next year, it’s likely that Showalter rests him occasionally, or at least rotates him into the DH spot.
It was a wondrous year for Machado, who didn’t turn 21 until July 6, the day he was named to the All-Star team. The next day, he made perhaps his signature play in a year full of them, picking up a ground ball near the third base stands and throwing to first.
Orioles fans understandably held their collective breath when Machado was injured, rejoiced when assured the news wasn’t so bad. Now, anxious again, they won’t be reassured until they see Machado running down that orange carpet on March 31.