Manny Machado’s injury and the importance of depth

By now, you’ve probably seen Manny Machado‘s freak knee injury on Monday. If not, Google “Manny Machado knee injury” and it shouldn’t take you long to find. If you ate recently, I’d recommend waiting a few minutes. Legs are not supposed to bend the way his did.

It’s a devastating injury that could have effects far-reaching beyond the scope of this season. It came at the end at the end of an epic four-game sweep at the hands of Tampa, one that included an 18-inning affair. The combined magnitude of entering a series like this one game off the pace but leaving with your season over and watching your franchise’s future get carted off the field are the things of baseball lore. These are the kinds of devastating series that dads tell their kids about decades later, dreaming about what could have been.

Machado’s injury was horrific and is a shame to anyone who is a fan of the game, but it has little effect on this year’s race. The Orioles are, for all intents and purposes, out of it. It’s too early to know the extent of the injury, but the gruesome nature of it does, at least for the time being, call into question his 2014 season.

Whether or not Machado misses a day of next season, his injury, both because of its magnitude and randomness, shows the importance of organizational depth. No one is irreplaceable, because we know that if Machado is not at third base for the Orioles, someone else will be, but there is perhaps no organization more ill-equipped to handle finding such a replacement internally as are the Baltimore Orioles.

Injuries are a heart-wrenching part of the game, and of sports in general really. You can’t anticipate them; after all, Machado blew up his entire leg stepping onto first base at half-speed. But you can plan for them.

Prospect guys like me do rankings of all sorts, including organizational rankings. They are, by default, completely pointless, but they give us a good look at not just a few players but the depth of an organization as a whole. Despite having two of the game’s better pitching prospects coming into this season (Dylan Bundy, who was still healthy at the time, and Kevin Gausman, who is now in the majors), the Orioles ranked near the bottom of most of these lists because the dropoff after those two was as steep as the road back now in front of Machado.

We love the top prospects. We’re infatuated with them, and rightly so. Seeing things like Bryce Harper‘s power, Mike Trout‘s speed, or Byron Buxton‘s everything is why we prospect guys do what we do. But things like a freak injury to a 21-year-old star can happen at any time, and it’s the less-heralded prospects who are left to fill the void.

Depth is why the Pirates farm system is so strong right now, and a part of why they clinched a playoff spot on Monday night for the first time in a generation. Everyone knew Gerrit Cole would come up and contribute, but when injuries ravished their starting rotation mid-season and sent Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett to the DL at the same time, it was Brandon Crumpton, an unheralded prospect with a moderate back-end ceiling and underwhelming stuff, who came up and helped steady the ship. When Clint Barmes Clint Barmes’ed his way out of the starting lineup, it was Jordy Mercer who took over and has provided above-average play. Neither was the type of prospect to make a top-whatever list last offseason, but both were good enough to contribute when called upon.

Perhaps no organization in baseball is better at preparing itself well past the limits of the 25-man roster than the Tampa Bay Rays. Looking past even the six starters in their rotation who have made over 20 starts, two of whom began the season in Triple-A (Chris Archer and Alex Cobb), the Rays also reached down to Durham later in the season to use Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome for a handful of starts when needed. And they still had Enny Romero in reserve for Sunday after their marathon game over the weekend challenged their depth further.

It’s that kind of organizational depth that the Orioles lack, and it makes the effects of an already gut-wrenching injury even worse. We all hope Machado won’t miss any more time than the few games remaining in the Orioles 2013 season. We hope he’ll be back at third base on Opening Day 2014, flashing the million-dollar smile and multi-million-dollar glove that hav e made the Charm City fall in love with him. But if he isn’t, the Orioles are ill-prepared to replace him.

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Comments

  1. Jim said...

    I thought WAR identified the replacement.  How can you compare someone to a replacement without a replacement?  I’m confused.

  2. Dave Cornutt said...

    On the flip side, we had the Yankees’ organizational weaknesses exposed this year.  They did a credible job of working the waiver wire and putting a competitive team on the field in spite of everything, but it definitely was not the ‘90s Yankees.

  3. David P. Stokes said...

    @Jim:

    As I understand it, replacement level, as used in WAR and other stats, is the assumed talent level of of hypothetical, freely available replacement player (think a career minor leaguer who hasn’t ever even had a cup of coffee in the bigs and who has nothing in particular to offer a MLB team).  (If I’m mistaken on that, someone please correct me.)  Obviously, there are guys in the minors who are more talented than that, but who aren’t in the majors because they’re blocked by a big star at their position, or they’re a prospect who’s still developing and the organization isn’t sure they’re ready yet, etc. 

    Obviously, in an organization with a lot of depth, there are going to be a lot of minor league players whose talent levels are above replacement level.  In an organization without much depth, there won’t be.

  4. Crazy Horse said...

    I was expecting some detail in this article concerning the Orioles’ depth, specifically at the 3B position.  As it was, not only was there no evaluation or analysis of the major league or minor league rosters, the obvious available replacements – Valencia, Schoop, or Flaherty – weren’t even mentioned.  (not that any are likely saviors over 162 games, but if asked to cover 30-60 games, how badly would this hurt the Os?).

    I think the story here is that the Orioles seemed to have some organizational pitching depth 2-3 years ago – yet none have developed as hoped for.  (an unfortunate pattern).  This is somehow better than position prospects for Orioles, which I do admit have been a very rare commodity.

    At any rate, I think the article’s title is very misleading since it talks with greater specifics of the Pirates’ great overall depth than that of the Orioles’ lack of 3B depth.

  5. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    I understand the importance of depth, but the Orioles need to fill out 13-14 starting positions (if you include the closer), and it is hard for any team to have depth that broad.  Particularly when you already have a young blossoming superstar at 3B, I would forgive them for not drafting much in position.  Seems more like luck of the draw if anything. 

    You even touch on that with Crumpton, though you didn’t follow through, because if you wrote this article before the injuries, you would have wrote that the Pirates had no depth at pitching, all they had was prospects like an unheralded prospect with moderate back-end ceiling and underwhelming stuff named Crumpton.  That’s the beauty and pain of baseball, when guys rise up and do well, but then the league figures them out and they crash in their sophomore year. 

    If, say, the Pirates lost their Manny Machado, lets say McCutchen, would you blame them for not having the depth to replace someone like him?  Or if the Rays lost Longoria?  Or the Giants when they lost Posey?  Nobody has that type of depth.

  6. Johnston said...

    I’ve had that knee injury and done the long, painful, miserable rehab/physical therapy work required it to recover from it. Two years later I just get a twinge now and then, mainly when I pivot on that knee too quickly.

    My heart goes out to the guy. He has no idea how much Hell and misery he is looking at yet.

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