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.