WASHINGTON, D.C. — For Manny Machado, it was, perhaps, his final ovation in an Orioles uniform, stuck in the unexpected limbo that was the 2018 All-Star Game.
Trade rumors floated across Nationals Park for most of the afternoon. Machado, batting seventh in the American League lineup and starting at shortstop, was still Baltimore’s representative at the Midsummer Classic, but for how much longer, no one knew. All the news pointed toward a deal that would send him across the country to the powerhouse Dodgers. On Tuesday night, though, nothing was official. Machado was Schrodinger’s Oriole: Simultaneously with his team and already gone.
The expectation around the league is that, once the commissioner’s office approves it, the trade that will send Machado to Los Angeles for an unannounced package of minor league prospects will happen. But before that could happen, there was an All-Star Game to play. So Machado was paraded out in front of the 43,000-plus fans—many of whom, having made the short trip from Baltimore, were decked out in Orioles white or black, even in his very jersey—for what may be the last salute he gets in the colors of the only team he’s ever known.
To get to that point, though, Machado had to weather an awkward afternoon full of questions. Within a minute of the American League clubhouse opening earlier that afternoon, reporters of every stripe had formed a pack three-deep around his locker, waiting for him to emerge and predict his own future. What they got was two minutes of Machado, barely audible over the din around him, professing ignorance.
“I haven’t heard anything,” he said, buried deep within a ring of TV cameras and anxious beatwriters straining to get their recorders over the scrum. “I’m just worried about the game today. Whatever happens will happen.”
Whether Machado actually knows his fate is open to debate; it’s hard to imagine that, if a deal were as close as reported, he’d be as in the dark as everyone else. But with the move unofficial, that kind of quiet response—of knowing nothing and focusing instead on an exhibition that means nothing—is just about all Machado could do.
Instead reaction was left to those who, if reports are correct, will be Machado’s next teammates, over in the National League clubhouse. The response there was nothing but positive.
“Manny is one of my favorite players in the world,” said Dodgers leftfielder Matt Kemp. “That’s my boy. To add a guy like that to the team we have, of course that would be pretty exciting.”
“If it’s us, it’s hard not to be psyched about it,” added Dodgers righty Ross Stripling. “Plug him in in the middle of our lineup, you’ve got [Max] Muncy, Kemp, Machado, Justin Turner, that’s a heck of a lineup. And it’d be demoralizing to our division for sure.”
For proof of that, all you had to do was walk to the other end of the clubhouse. At his locker, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford offered a quick and perfect summation of what the addition of Machado would do to a tight NL West race and the respective psyches of its non-Los Angeles teams. “He definitely would shift the division, but we hope not.”
If it comes to pass, Machado will do just that, one way or the other. But all that was left to an uncertain future. “There’ll be a time and place for everything,” Machado told reporters. It wasn’t Tuesday night, when the would-be Dodger had to jog out of the visitors’ dugout at Nationals Park and join his AL teammates, maintaining the pretense.
It’s fun to imagine the alternate universe in which Machado simply was given a new uniform and told to report to his temporary new team. The All-Star Game has dealt with such in-between weirdness before. Back in 2014 in Minneapolis, Athletics righthander Jeff Samardzija was assigned to the NL squad, as he’d been selected for the game while still a member of the Cubs; he was traded from Chicago to Oakland on July 4, 11 days before the game. As such, he sat in the NL locker room and stood on the field with the NL reserves wearing a generic cap that read “All-Star Game,” like an NPC in a video game. Ineligible to pitch, he was nonetheless there.
But there’s no precedence for someone being dealt the day of the game, and it would’ve left the Orioles without a player there had Machado been traded. Whether that was the main hangup or simply one of many remains to be seen, but regardless, it meant a strange status quo. There was Machado, in an Orioles jersey at shortstop, celebrating the AL’s first run on an Aaron Judge homer, standing behind second base and taking a selfie with Kemp after the latter doubled to start the bottom of the second with a big smile on his face.
While a choir in the outfield belted out the national anthem, Machado stood between Judge and Jose Abreu on the third base line. Across the field in front of the home dugout stood a few of what may soon be his new teammates: Kemp, Stripling, Kenley Jansen. Had he wanted, he could have walked over and joined them. A new season, team and chance to be part of a contender all awaited him. For now, though, all he could do was remain in his spot and enjoy his last moments as an Oriole.