For the past three seasons, Manny Machado has been an outstanding baseball player. He hit an MLB-leading 51 doubles in his first full season in 2013, then hit 35 home runs with 20 stolen bases in 2015, making appearances in the MLB All-Star Game on both occasions.
Now, though, the 23-year-old Machado has finally been liberated. It took a foot injury to J.J. Hardy for the Orioles to make the move, but Machado can finally play the position that he came up playing: shortstop -- which also happens to be the position on the diamond most starved for elite talent in Major League Baseball.
Add it all up and the conflation of Machado's incredible offensive talent, his highlight-reel defensive ability and the position scarcity that he enjoys makes the young Oriole not only a superstar -- he certainly is that -- but also the most valuable player in the game.
"This is crazy," you might say. "Trout and Harper are obviously the two best players in baseball."
You would be correct -- Trout and Harper are once-in-a-generation talents -- but this argument isn't about Machado being the best, it's about him being the most valuable.
To prove it, let's go through a little exercise: name all the shortstops in baseball who'd you want to build your team around.
My list is incredibly short: Carlos Correa and Machado. Troy Tulowitzki is having a brutal year at the plate, Francisco Lindor doesn't hit enough yet to be labeled a cornerstone type of player and Xander Bogaerts is close but there yet. Trevor Story had a phenomenal start to his rookie season, but he has cooled off considerably in May and I'd like to see his final stat line before anointing him an elite shortstop.
After Trout and Harper there are several other terrific outfielders -- Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Mookie Betts and Lorenzo Cain, to name a few. Similarly, Kershaw is undoubtedly the best starting pitcher on the planet, but it's not like there aren't replacements for him.
Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta and Chris Sale are only a few of the plethora of arms in baseball that could replace Kershaw. However, when you look at shortstop -- arguably the most important position on the field -- there simply isn't that much depth.
That is why Machado is now the most valuable player in baseball. He just does things that other shortstops cannot -- hitting for power being paramount among those. More than likely, Machado is going to lead all MLB shortstops in home runs, slugging percentage and wRC+ when the season ends. And it probably won't be all that close.
Machado finished fourth in last year's AL MVP voting following his 35-homer campaign where he racked up 6.8 wins-above-replacement, sixth in the majors.
Machado's value goes beyond the stats -- although his stats are very impressive -- he also has an indefatigable work ethic that has continued even through his success.
“One of the greatest compliments I can pay a guy is when I say he’ll be as good as he’s capable of being,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter told Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post. “Manny wants to be as good as he’s capable of being. And he’s appreciative of the talents that have been bestowed upon him. He wants to do things that help the team so that he gets recognized as a byproduct of that. He doesn’t have the cart in front of the horse. He’s got it down. He’s got a real maturity about his preparation.”
From here on out -- assuming that the Orioles make the intelligent decision of keeping him at shortstop -- Machado has the potential to be a perennial contender for the MVP award. He has always had the great offensive numbers and been one of the best defensive infielders in the MLB, but now he is a shortstop. For now.
Only Showalter knows how long Machado will stick at short when Hardy returns from injury, but everyone knows that Machado is a legit star when he is a third baseman -- one of the game's very best players.
What some people don't know but should is that when Machado is at shortstop, his value becomes even greater. He goes from a fantastic player at a pretty deep third baseman position to the best player in the league at an even more important defensive position.
In other words, the most valuable player in all of baseball.