Ever since Manny Machado debuted in the majors at the age of 20, Orioles fans have been dreading the year 2018. It's the final year before the team's new franchise player finally hits free agency, in the absence of a long-term contract extension to keep Machado in the land of steamed crabs and pit beef until sometime around 2025 or so. No such extension materialized over the years, and with the exception of his career blip resulting from his 2013-14 knee surgeries, the price of a long-term deal has gotten more and more expensive.
Without that contract extension, 2018 has now taken the character of a farewell campaign for Machado in Baltimore. One big change this year is that after a half-decade of the Orioles not playing Machado regularly at his natural position, shortstop -- and cementing that spiritual lineage with Cal Ripken Jr. -- Baltimore has finally taken that plunge. It might be more to increase Machado's value as a trade chip than as a prelude to retaining him.