MILWAUKEE — If the All-Star break is a transformative experience for some, perhaps that has never been so literally the case than it is for Manny Machado, who entered the break as an Oriole and exited it a Dodger.
Machado joined his new club Friday in Milwaukee, where the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Brewers in a three-game weekend series. He singled in his first at-bat, a couple hours after addressing the media for the first time in his new blue L.A. threads.
“I’m relieved,” Machado said. “Relieved it finally got done. It’s exciting to be here. It’s a great group. Great organization, with a lot of baseball history. I’ll just come here and be myself and try to fit into the club around here.”
The Dodgers acquired Machado from Baltimore on Wednesday in exchange for five prospects, one day after he went 0-for-2 as the American League’s starting shortstop in the All-Star Game — wearing an Oriole uniform. Now, it’s a new league, a new team, a new uniform and a new beginning.
To underscore the fresh start, Machado selected uniform No. 8 rather than negotiating for the No. 13 he wore in Baltimore, which is worn by Dodgers slugger Max Muncy. Machado chose the new number for a very L.A. reason that won’t do anything to harm his relationship to his new fans.
“No. 8 was I wanted to change it up,” Machado said. “New beginning, new journey, new team. I wanted to grow that route. I was a huge Kobe [Bryant] fan growing up. My dog’s name is Kobe.”
For the Dodgers, the addition of Machado is the latest midseason splash for a franchise that has won the National League West in each of the past five seasons. After a slow start, L.A. rebounded to nab a narrow half-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks atop the division. Yet with starting shortstop Corey Seager out for the season with an elbow injury, the Dodgers were one star short, narrowing their chances to snap a championship drought that has stretched to 30 years. No longer.
“I’m here to play baseball,” Machado said. “I’ve been there quite a few times. My wife loves it; my family does as well. We’re just looking forward to enjoying the beautiful weather that’s out there. Going out there to play and try to win a championship.”
With Machado heading into free agency after the season, and the Orioles sinking to franchise-worst levels, it seemed to only be a matter of time before he was moved. In the meantime, he fielded daily questions about his prolonged state of limbo, especially when Baltimore passed through cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Chicago — all with teams thought to be interested in nabbing the young All-Star. And don’t forget about Milwaukee, Machado’s first opponent with L.A.
“We think Manny was really the most impactful player that was on the market at the time,” Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said. “I think any contender could see that he could make a positive impact on them. So there was a lot of teams involved. We just tried to stay engaged.
“As I mentioned a couple of days ago when the deal went down, this has been in the making for over a month, and I know conversations with those other teams were taking place, too. For a player of Manny’s caliber, you know you’re going to have to give up a lot, and we did. That speaks to what we think this team can accomplish and how great a player we think he is.”
Machado remained open and gracious with his time throughout the process, but by the time the midseason break arrived, he seemed to be growing weary of the constant questions. Now, while the questions won’t stop, at least the intent behind them will be refreshingly different.
“From now on, every game counts,” Machado said. “We’re trying to win games, trying to win the division, trying to get to the postseason. It’s a team sport. I’m just coming here to try to help the team however I can, whether it’s defense, offense, third, short, wherever it is. I’m here to just play.”
Machado entered his Dodgers debut hitting a career-best .315 with 24 homers and 65 RBIs despite toiling in a Baltimore lineup that afforded him few run-scoring chances. All 96 of his appearances for the Orioles came at shortstop, where he moved full time before this season. He’s played the majority of his career games at third base, however, and despite his preference for playing short, the Dodgers plan to move Machado around — eventually — just as they prefer to do with all of their position players.
To begin his L.A. tenure in Friday’s game, Machado played short and manager Dave Roberts penciled him in as the No. 2 hitter, between Chris Taylor and Muncy. Machado has batted second more often than any other batting order slot through his career, so that is familiar terrain.
“It’s kind of the 2 and 3,” Roberts said. “We’re going to kind of bounce him around. Haven’t really honed in exactly where, but a player of his caliber, obviously, we’re going to give him some consistency. His reception to [playing third] was very open. He hasn’t taken any grounders this year at third base, so you have to appreciate that and understand that he hasn’t done it all year. We want to put him in the best position to have success.
“For him to be open to it is one thing, but for the foreseeable future, I think we’re going to give him a lttle runway to play short and see how it looks for us. Just having him open to play third base if needed will only help us.”
What wasn’t familiar for Machado was the blue hat, the National League teammates and the quantum leap from Baltimore’s 39½-game deficit in the American League East at the break and the Dodgers’ half-game advantage in the NL West. No wonder Machado was all smiles.
“I want to win,” Machado said. “At the end of the day, I want to win a ring. Everyone in there wants to win a ring. Whatever I can to do to make the process better or easier for the team, I’m all for it.”
While Machado can now look forward to a World Series chase with his new team rather than trade-related questions on a daily basis, that doesn’t mean inquiries about his future will cease altogether. Machado will be one of the prized teammates on the market this winter, and the high-dollar Dodgers will surely be one of the teams that seek to lock him up. Naturally, as the rest of the season unfolds, people will wonder if he wants to stick around Chavez Ravine. During his first press conference as a Dodger, the subject did come up.
“Honestly, this has been going so fast — everything has been so crazy, right? — I haven’t really thought about it,” Machado said. “Just trying to live in the moment, enjoy this, coming here. I was excited to put the blue on and I’m just looking forward to putting on my jersey tonight.”
What would certainly help sell Machado on his new club would be a championship experience, one that L.A. hasn’t given anyone since 1988. It didn’t happen in 1998, the 10-year mark of the last championship, nor at the 20-year mark, in 2008, when the Dodgers nabbed another trade-deadline Manny — the irrepressible Manny Ramirez, whom L.A. acquired from Boston.
With 11 days until the trade deadline, the Dodgers still have time to put the finishing touches on a roster that Vegas now favors to win the National League for a second straight year. Like most contenders, the Dodgers could use another arm or two in the bullpen. But the heavy lifting is done after landing Machado, easily the most transformative player on the trade market. L.A. landed the big one — now it’s just a matter of him fitting in. No one seems to think that will be a problem.
“This is a player who has been with the same organization his entire career,” Roberts said. “To come to a different team, a new league, as we talked about the No. 8, the new beginnings, I think that is a great way to look at it. He is a veteran player who is on the verge of free agency, but to embrace this as a new journey for himself and his wife, I think it’s a good way to kind of go about it.”