No one should have been surprised when Orioles third baseman Manny Machado came out of surgery Monday and the timetable for his recovery suddenly was extended into the 2014 season.
When you're dealing with a young man who is expected to be one of the greatest players of his generation, slowplaying his return from a reconstructive knee operation makes perfect sense. The only reason that the outlook seemed so much rosier three weeks ago was because of the natural inclination of everyone involved -- the player, the team and the medical staff -- to project the best-case scenario until there is compelling evidence to the contrary.
Nobody did anything wrong here. Machado went through an exhaustive, multi-phase evaluation involving some of the best doctors in the world and came out on the other side with the best solution for himself and the team. It was not the first time he had injured that knee, and there was enough reason to believe that it would not be the last time if he went through with the original plan to try and rehabilitate the injury without surgery.
Now, everybody knows exactly what they are up against. Machado can get about the business of his post-surgical rehab knowing that he should be completely healthy in time to play most of next season. And the Orioles need to make the necessary adjustments during the offseason to replace him for the time that he will not be available.
What no one should do is talk about what a terrific physical specimen Machado is and how he might be able to recover faster and get on the field for Opening Day. This is no time to fantasize about Machado pulling a Terrell Suggs and defying the normal recovery process. There is way too much at stake for that.
This isn't the NFL, where careers are shorter and contracts are not guaranteed. Machado is 21 years old and has a chance to play baseball for the next couple decades. He could end up competing with Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson for the title of best Orioles player ever if the team can find a way to keep him in Baltimore for his entire career. But he will only have a chance to do that if he is the full Manny -- not a guy bouncing in and out of the lineup with a balky knee.
The Orioles already got lucky with this injury. It happened at the very end of a successful season for both Machado and the team, so the negative fallout from it already has been minimized significantly. The loss of April or even May next season will be a small price to pay to get him back to full strength with the best chance of this particular issue not reoccuring. Considering Machado's tremendous athleticism and competitive drive, the biggest challenge for the team may be keeping the All-Star infielder from pushing himself too hard to get back.
This may sound like an odd thing to propose, but the Orioles can get lucky again with this injury if it prevents the front office from surrendering to any inclination to stand pat with the current offensive lineup.
The Orioles need to improve their on-base potential to exact the most run-production from the big boppers at the heart of the batting order. If the Orioles want to be a playoff team next year, executive vice president Dan Duquette has to go into the trade and free-agent markets and find a quality everyday player who gets on base and puts the ball in play in those runner-on-third, one-out situations the Orioles squandered way too many times last year.
If the front office can find a way to accomplish that, the Orioles will be able to offset the loss of Machado's offensive production during the early weeks of the 2014 season and compound it when he is able to return.
The organization has made some great strides -- both competitively and economically -- over the past couple seasons. It can afford to make a dynamic acquisition and the temporary loss of Machado provides a perfect excuse to do just that.
This could be a great opportunity to make the best of a bad situation.