Manny Machado is one of my favorite players in baseball, not easy to do since commissioner Rob Manfred feels some MLB’s stars don’t “engage enough” to be marketable. (To be fair to Manfred though, Mike Trout can be as engaging as Colton Underwood from this season’s “Bachelorette.”) That being said, most of my affection for Machado stems from having him on my fantasy team for almost seven years now. I was able to acquire Manny Machado in my fantasy league off of waivers when he debuted for the Orioles in August of 2012. The rush for him from other league owners was insane, as nearly every team in the league put in a waiver bid for him. It made sense. He was not only the top prospect in the Orioles system, but he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball at the time, some characterizing him as the next Alex Rodriguez. Machado had the size (he stood six foot, three), the youth (he broke into the Majors not too long after his 20th birthday), the defense (many projected him as a perennial Gold Glove player; they weren’t wrong) and the rare combination of ability to hit for average and power that most middle infielders could only dream of.
I named my fantasy team “Machado, Machado Man” (a play on this famous song) in honor of him for a couple of seasons (before I eventually settled on my current name: “(Chien) Ming Dynasty“; a combo of the Ming Dynasty of China and Chien Ming Wang, a pitcher formerly of the Yankees). And for Orioles fans, baseball fans in general, and me as a fantasy owner, Machado hasn’t disappointed.
Over his seven seasons, Machado has accumulated a WAR of 30.9, has four All-Star Appearances, and two Gold Gloves to his name. He’s hit 162 home runs in his career thus far, an average of 31 dingers per season. And most importantly, he’s helped make the Baltimore Orioles relevant, no small feat considering they’re in a division with traditional MLB powers such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
After back to back ALCS appearances in 1996 and 1997 (which included young Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier interfering with play and robbing a home run at Yankees Stadium which supposedly turned the tide of the series), the Orioles fell into a tremendous rut of mediocrity that probably should’ve been profiled in some way on “The Wire“. The successful days of Mike Mussina and Armando Benitez on the mound, Cal Ripken in the infield, and Brady Anderson and Geronimo Berroa in the outfield became a ghost of the recent past, as the Orioles and the fans in Baltimore suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998-2011. The Orioles became a roundhouse combo of lousiness: they overpaid for veterans who had no impact (Rafael Palmiero and Miguel Tejada), picked poorly in the draft (Wade Townsend, Billy Rowell, Matt Hobgood to name a few), and failed to have any stability in management, whether it was in the dugout or front office.
After drafting Machado in 2010 with the third overall pick, the Orioles fortunes began to change. Just two years after drafting Machado and hiring Buck Showalter as field manager and Dan Duquette as General Manager (both moves were criticized by experts around the league; as many felt they were retreads in baseball circles, failing with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox before, respectively), the O’s made the playoffs with a 93-69 record, which included a win in the AL Wild Card play-in game over the Rangers, and an exciting five games series with the rival Yankees (they lost 3-2). 2012 in many ways could be likened to the 2014 Kansas City playoff run in which the MLB team captured the attention and endearment of the city. Baltimore was no longer dominated just by the Ray Lewis and the Ravens. For a brief glimmer of time, Baltimore became a baseball town again, and Machado was front and center leading the charge.
For five more seasons, the Orioles remained competitive, making the playoffs two more times (2014 and 2016; they were ironically swept by the Royals in 2014, though Machado didn’t play that series due to injury), and only having one losing record in that time span (in 2017, where they went 75-87; most of that was credited to a late-season swoon where injuries hurt the club). As the Orioles became more competitive, Machado developed as a player. He didn’t quite maintain the defensive prowess he displayed early on in his first two seasons, but he did display a stronger power stroke, as he posted three straight seasons of 30+ home runs from 2015-2017. Debates in baseball circles fluttered about what position Machado really should’ve been playing. (Was he a shortstop or a third baseman?) However, as Machado entered his Age 25 and final season of club control, there was no debate that he was one of baseball most high-profile stars.
Orioles fans probably knew that the shoe of this competitive run was going to drop sooner or later. After all, it is Baltimore, where “The Gods will not save you.” Despite Machado being in the midst of one of his best offensive seasons yet (he has 24 home runs, a .963 OPS, and an OPS+ of 164), the Orioles have rekindled their early 2000’s selves (i.e. shitty), battling in the basement of the American League along with the Royals, both on pace for nearly 120 losses. (Such a far cry from their 2014 ALCS matchup, right?) With Machado going to command a big payday in the offseason, and a dire need to rebuild the farm system (the farm system has ranked below league average since 2014, according to Baseball Prospectus), Machado was finally traded, after weeks of rumors, to the defending NL Champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for an impressive haul of prospects.
It sucks. I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan living in Northern California, where hating the Dodgers came as natural as voting for a Democratic candidate in an election. To see Machado, one of my favorite players and the lynchpin of my fantasy baseball team for seven years (because I got him as a rookie keeper, he started off as a 20th round draft pick his first full year and has gone up one round every year since; yes, it’s the deal of the century) now wearing Dodger blue makes me sick. He should’ve been an Oriole for at least one more contract (like five-seven years). He should be up there with legends like Brooks Robinson and Ripken. Instead, he’ll just be another cog in the Dodgers long history of “irritating players of greatness,” while the Orioles and their fans have to suffer undoubtedly through another stretch of losing, hoping that another Machado will come around to save them sooner rather than later.
(To get a sense of the Orioles fan perspective, I embedded this link I found on Twitter. It was tough to watch this video below of Mallory Rubin of the Ringer say goodbye to Machado; it just goes to show you how rough it is for Orioles fans to be the black sheep of the AL East.)
— The Ringer (@ringer) July 19, 2018
And to make matters worse, Machado’s trade and the Orioles’ decline most likely is a sign of the lean years in store for Kansas City as well.
Strangely enough, the Orioles and the Royals have been joined at the hip when it comes to their standing in Major League Baseball since the early 80’s. As the Orioles have risen to competitiveness in the 2010’s, the Royals have followed. The Orioles won a World Series in 1983. The Royals won two years later in 1985. The Orioles made the playoffs in 2012 after a 14-year absence. The Royals made the playoffs in 2014 after a 20-year absence. In their first playoff game after a lengthy absence, the Orioles won the Wild Card play-in game in dramatic fashion over an AL West foe (the Rangers). In their first playoff game after a lengthy absence, the Royals won the Wild Card play-in game in dramatic fashion over an AL West foe (the Athletics).
And of course, don’t forget the epic fight between the two clubs in 2016 which started with Machado and Royals pitcher Yordano “Ace” Ventura (RIP).
To further demonstrate the close Orioles-Royals connection in the 2010’s, baseball fans have to look no further to the 2010 MLB Draft. In what many people considered a three-player draft, the Orioles selected Machado with the third pick after Bryce Harper at 1 (to the Nationals) and Jameson Taillon at 2 (to the Pirates). Who had the fourth? No other than the Royals, who selected Christian Colon, a light-hitting, defense-first shortstop out of Cal State Fullerton. Unlike Harper or Machado, Colon has failed to stay in the Big Leagues, as he was waived by the Royals last season, and currently is in the minors in the New York Mets organization.
Strange how baseball works sometimes, huh?
In the coming days, much like the Orioles, the Royals will lose their third baseman (Mike Moustakas) for a bunch (fingers crossed) of prospects (though the haul won’t be as impressive as the Orioles’ package). And like Machado was the last major remnant of the Orioles’ competitive stretch, Moustakas leaving will also signify that somewhat as well. Instead of being side-by-side competing for an American League title like in 2014, it will instead be a battle for top draft picks on an annual basis, similar to what it was in the 2000’s for both clubs.
It will be different for Royals fans of course. The Orioles got a shot in the head with the Machado trade. It was obvious, high-profile, and expected. By June, Machado’s time in Baltimore was up, and thus, the club and fans have been in this rebuilding mindset for quite some time.
The process to the Royals’ rebuild, on the other hand, has instead been a slow one, not to mention painful. First James Shields…then Ben Zobrist…then Wade Davis…then Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain…and soon to be Moustakas and maybe Salvador Perez, should the price be right (though the latter may not happen this year). For Royals fans, they would have definitely traded places with Orioles fans and their more publicized loss of their beloved superstar.
At least the pain and agony came all at once and they can move on quickly.
Unlike Orioles fans with Machado, Royals fans are still waiting for that final shoe to drop. And like most baseball moments over the past decade between the two clubs, it always comes a little bit slower for Kansas City than Baltimore.