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Orioles Should Avoid Contract Breakdown with Machado

Maryland GovPics/flickr

We begin today’s program with a question that is part existential, part practical. Are you the type that largely ignores the check engine light when it flashes on your car’s dashboard?

If you are, then you can understand what appears to be the Orioles’ approach to getting third baseman Manny Machado signed to a long-term, big money contract.

The Birds’ front office seems willing to let Machado enter next season without a deal that would keep him in Baltimore black and orange well into the next decade.

And Machado, on the surface, gives the impression that he’s OK with things as they presently stand, too.

And why shouldn’t they both be copasetic with the way things are? Machado, who is a couple of months short of his 25th birthday, is earning $11.5 million this season, a pretty nice chunk of change for his age or any age for that matter.

The Orioles, meanwhile, effectively control Machado’s whereabouts not only for the present season, but next year as well.

If they cannot reach agreement with Machado for next year, they can lock him up through a process called arbitration, which would see the team and Machado present salary figures for 2018 and a neutral third-party choose between the two.

The Orioles can wait to see if Machado, a lifetime .281 hitter, will turn in a stellar 2017 before they commit to big numbers for 2018.

It’s all quite logical, but potentially quite dangerous to the long-term health of the franchise.

After years of pleading poor mouth, the Orioles have shown more of a willingness in recent seasons to spend money to retain talented players like center fielder Adam Jones, first baseman Chris Davis and outfielder Mark Trumbo.

But they’ve also been willing to part with players they didn’t deem worth the gamble, like Nelson Cruz, who won the home run title with the Birds in 2014, and has hit 87 home runs in the two full seasons since he was allowed to walk.

Unlike the other players mentioned here, Machado is home-grown. He has come up through the Baltimore farm system and has become a superstar here, with three All-Star Game appearances and three Gold Gloves for his fielding.

Fans here have watched him grow and mature into the team’s best player. He has a chance to be a cornerstone of the Orioles franchise in the same way that Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Jim Palmer once were.

Machado is engrained in Baltimore the way 24-year-old Bryce Harper, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player is in Washington.

The Nationals last week signed Harper to a $21.6 million deal for 2018, essentially buying themselves goodwill with Harper and their fans for the coming year.

It seems like the Orioles should be able to do Machado one better by at least offering Machado something in the neighborhood of seven years and $175 million.

Even that may not be enough, but it gets them in the ballpark. What Orioles management cannot have happen is to see Manny Machado get to the end of next season and leave as a free agent for, say, the New York Yankees.

That would be critical engine failure.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.