Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado 2016 MVP Favorite?


Baltimore Orioles Third Baseman Manny Machado is poised for an MVP season in 2016 after a breakout 2015. He also has the highest career ceiling among the best players in Major League Baseball.

In the midst of a stunningly exciting 2012 season for Baltimore Orioles fans, a triumvirate of talent burst onto the scene in Major League Baseball in the form of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado. It was already decided by pundits that Trout and Harper would be battling it out for the right to be considered the biggest superstar in the league for years to come at that point. However Manny Machado had plans to crash that party to make it a trio. After a breakout 2015 season that solidified Machado as one of the best all around players in baseball, his inclusion in this once in a generation triple threat of young talent is not only warranted, he may just be the best pure baseball player in the group.

When it comes to Trout, Harper, and Machado, many fans can likely recall where they were when the greatness of each player first became evident. For me, it began in late July 2011 when I saw Trout hit his first career homerun when the Angels were playing in Baltimore. It was a no doubter 3 run shot and what I remember the most was the sound. It had a thunderous echo that announced his skill with authority. With his prodigious power, blazing speed, his buzz cut blonde hair, and aw shucks smile, like many I thought, “Micky Mantle”.

My first real glimpse of Harper’s greatness was also while watching an Oriole game in a May 2012 beltway series game in Washington. Harper hit a grounder up the middle and Adam Jones charged it hard. Everyone in the stadium was thinking “single” except for Harper who rounded first hard, and dashed towards second base. Jones came up throwing and Harper slid headfirst under the tag. It wasn’t speed that got him to second, it was heart and grit. Immediately my mind told me, “Pete Rose with power”.

Finally, after a surprise August call up, Manny Machado was an Oriole. With much less fanfare than his counterparts in LA and DC, he became the piece of the puzzle that put the O’s over the top to make a return to the play offs after a long absence. I was in attendance at an important mid September Divisional match up against the Tampa Bay Rays when Machado made one of the best defensive plays in a crucial situation that I’ve ever witnessed.

In the 9th inning with a runner at Secondbase and Oriole killer Evan Longoria at the plate with two outs in a tied game it seemed inevitable that the Rays would take the lead. On a 3-2 count versus Jim Johnson, Longoria hit a tapper to third that Machado charged and bare handed. In an instant, the just turned 20 year old Third Baseman calculated the speed of Longoria, his own throwing arm, and the location of the advancing base runner from second base. After quickly processing this information he faked a throw to first and whirled to face third base, where the equally adroit J.J. Hardy was just reaching the base as the runner, American Ninja Warrior Rich Thompson, rounded third.

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As cameramen, fans, and announcers all adjusted their view from where they thought the ball would be going at first base, to the real play at third base, Thompson, the third base coach, and the entire Rays bench likely uttered the same, unprintable word. Seconds after a futile rundown ensued, Catcher Matt Wieters punctuated the standout defensive effort with a heavy tag to Thompson’s back that almost knocked him down. Ten minutes later Machado crossed the plate with the winning run after starting the ninth inning rally with a single. The next night the Orioles completed the sweep on a Machado hit in the 14th inning and the Orioles guaranteed their first winning season in over a decade. After watching the play the night before I thought, “This is what it must have felt like to see Brooks Robinson play Third.”

Three players, three franchises transformed. The comparisons to Mantle, Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Conigliaro, Brooks Robinson, and Adrian Beltre continue when these three players are the topic of conversation. Although there has been a tremendous run of young talent over the past several years, the difference with these three players is their age. While most rising stars begin to reach their potential in their mid 20’s, Trout, Harper, and Machado were All Stars by age 21.

Trout is easily the leader of the trio at this point in his career, finishing first or second in MVP voting each the past 4 seasons, winning the award in 2014. At just 24 years old, he’s already won two All Star MVP awards as well. With a .304 career batting average and over 100 Stolen Bases and Home Runs, Trout is well on his way to Cooperstown.

Harper arrived in the Major Leagues with more ballyhoo than any player since Bo Jackson. Many thought him to be overrated due to this hype but his brash playing style led to several injuries that slowed his rise. That all changed in 2015 when he put it all together and won the National League Most Valuable Player award. Harper played in over 150 games for the first time in his career and he delivered in the stat department, leading the league in Home Runs, Runs, On Base Percentage and Slugging, and hit an impressive .330 on the season.

Machado, who had a breakout season in 2013, became a bonafide superstar in 2015. The Baby Faced Assassin finished 4th in AL MVP voting after posting career highs in almost every offensive category. Playing in 162 games, Machado posted his first 20/20 season with 35 Home Runs and 20 Stolen Bases. He also played spectacular defense earning his second Gold Glove, although highlight reel defensive plays have become routine for the Third Baseman.

Although all three players have exhibited improvements in certain areas over the first few years of their careers, Machado remains the most fascinating of the group because it seems evident that he’s yet to approach his ceiling. Trout will likely be as good as he is right now for a long time but he’s slowed down on the base paths as he’s increased his power. Harper will be a source of power for Fantasy Baseball owners for years to come but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll approach a .330 batting average again. That’s not to say that Trout and Harper will decline. Both are among the best everyday players in Baseball and should remain as such. It’s just that I think Machado is the superior talent of the three players and we’ve yet to see his best baseball. Heck, he’s not even playing his natural position yet and he’s easily a top 3 defensive player in MLB!

What sets Machado apart from Trout and Harper is that baseball seems to come somewhat easy to him. He’s a naturally gifted player in all facets of the game and his instincts are off the charts. Even as a 20 year old Rookie, Machado was the best bunter on the Orioles, ran the bases with veteran intelligence, and had an in game awareness that not even the most seasoned veterans possess. As evidenced by his deke move against the Rays, he plays with a calmness that is uncanny. That is until something goes wrong….

The one knock on Machado is that he is quite emotional. As much as Orioles fans love him, they cringe when he argues with umpires, throws his helmet after a strikeout, or takes inside pitches personally. His sparring with opposing players is well documented and he has a reputation for being arrogant. With superior talent though comes superior confidence and he’s in the right organization to manage any immaturity he might exhibit.

Add it all up and you get an AL MVP favorite for the 2016 season. Machado spent most of 2015 hitting in the leadoff spot and he still put up his best numbers yet. Once he is hitting in a more natural spot in the order, perhaps the 2 or 3 hole, his opportunities to drive in runs will increase and he should show marked improvement in production. Plus, with Trout and Harper winning the award in 2014 and 2015, respectively, it just seems like it’s Machado’s turn.

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Beyond 2016, Machado also has the highest ceiling of the three superstars because eventually he’ll move to his natural position of Short Stop in his offensive prime meaning he should rack up plenty of All Star game invites, Silver Slugger awards, and possibly challenge power records for the position.

Although it is early in their careers, it is not exactly a long shot to predict Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado will someday be enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Their names might even be spoken with the same baseball reverence as Mantle, Rose, and Robinson. What will be debated though for generations is which of the three was the best. In Baltimore we’ll already know what they’ll reluctantly come to accept in Los Angeles and Washington, DC…that Manny Machado is on another level.