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Phillies reportedly willing to accommodate Manny Machado by playing him at SS

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

Manny Machado was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft as a shortstop. Due to the presence of J.J. Hardy, Machado spent much of the first six years of his career playing at third base, winning two Gold Glove Awards at the position and accumulating a 62.3 defensive WAR. But with Hardy no longer in the picture and Machado in a contract year, he opted to go back to playing his natural position of shortstop. 

The Philadelphia Phillies are widely considered one of the favorites to land Machado in free-agency this offseason. According to Jon Heyman of FRS Sports, they are comfortable with the idea of signing Machado to play shortstop, where he said in Spring Training that his heart has always been at: 

The thing is, they haven’t gotten much to this point from anyone on the left side of their infield, from J.P. Crawford to Maikel Franco to Scott Kingery. The Phillies are said to be willing to appease Machado by playing him at shortstop, where he looks fine despite so-so metrics.

As Heyman noted, Machado's once-dominant defensive metrics haven't followed him from third base to shortstop. Machado currently has -12 defensive runs saved, -3.8 ultimate zone rating and a -4.9 range runs above average. Between 2013 and 2017, FanGraphs says that Machado, by a fairly large margin, was the best fielding third baseman in the sport. He's had a small sample size at shortstop, but FanGraphs says he's been the 22nd best fielder at the position in 2018. 

It is worth pointing out that Machado's defensive metrics peaked in 2013 when he posted 35 defensive runs saved, a 20.8 ultimate zone rating and a 23.2 defensive WAR. Since then, Machado's defensive metrics have seen some regression. Still, FanGraphs says Machado was one of the 10 best fielding third baseman in 2017. His fielding was still a positive part of his game, which proved to be crucial during the worst offensive season of his career. 

Of course, while Machado has slipped defensively in a move to shortstop, his offensive game is as appealing as it's ever been. Entering Thursday night, Machado is slashing .307/.378/.579 with 18 home runs, 50 RBIs and a 17.7 offensive WAR. Machado won't be 26 until next month, so the Phillies may bet on his offense in free-agency, hoping that his defensive metrics at shortstop improve as he gets reacclimated to the position. 

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The question then becomes, will general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies make a play for Machado this summer or wait until the offseason, when he's expected to reach free-agency regardless of where he finishes the season? Heyman reported earlier this month that while the Phillies had inquired on Machado, they viewed the Orioles asking price to be "too steep." MLB.com's Todd Zolecki added that the Phillies aren't the favorites to acquire Machado before the non-waiver trade deadline. 

So barring a dramatic drop in the Orioles asking price for Machado, the Phillies seem better suited to court Machado in free-agency. 

If the Phillies do acquire Machado - be it in a trade or in free-agency - it would be interesting to see the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the Phillies already-crowded infield. Maikel Franco appears to be headed for a change of scenery after the season. Still, if Machado is at shortstop, it would leave third base for Scott Kingery and J.P. Crawford. The Phillies could trade Cesar Hernandez, though given how highly Gabe Kapler has spoken of him, he seems likely to still be with the team in 2019. Crawford's natural position is shortstop, though since his return from the disabled list, he's seen a majority of his time at third base, where his defensive metrics - in an admittedly small sample size - have been better. Kingery has been playing shortstop, though that position obviously wouldn't be available if Machado is there. 

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