Finally, just over a week into camp, one of the two superstar free agents has signed a contract. As a Mets fan, Manny Machado signing with the San Diego Padres is about as perfect of a scenario as I could’ve hoped for (you know, because God forbid I expect the Wilpons to fork over the money for a generational talent). As a baseball fan, Manny Machado signing with the San Diego Padres… is about as perfect of a scenario as I could’ve hoped for (You know, because who watched the San Diego Padres before this?). All jokes aside, Machado’s deal has enormous ramifications for all of Major League Baseball — not just San Diego. For starters, Manny just signed the most lucrative free-agent contract in the history of American sports: A cool $300 million over 10 years (Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year/$325 million deal was an extension). Granted, if we want to get technical, Darren Rovell made it clear that A-Rod still holds the free-agent contract record:
(As an aside; how crazy is it that 2000 was so long ago that we have to adjust for inflation when evaluating that massive deal?)
Anyway, it’s worth noting that the signing is expected to be formally announced later today, so the minutiae of the contract are still unknown, but it includes a limited no-trade clause and an opt-out after the fifth year. A shrewd move by Padres GM AJ Preller, the fifth-year opt-out guarantees that Machado’s prime years align with the emergence of some of the top prospects in the game. With baseball’s best farm system, including 10(!) prospects in MLB’s Top 100, the Padres may have just complemented one of the best young cores the game has ever seen with a 26-year-old superstar. Of course, prospects disappoint all the time, but I’d wager that at least half of those 10 become average-to-good major leaguers and a couple become stars — that’d be the foundation of a perennial contender. Not to mention, the Padres already boast one of the most underrated bullpens in the league and, disappointing on-field performances notwithstanding, have two top-notch leaders in Will Myers and Eric Hosmer. In short, the Padres, who just increased their payroll from $75 million (26th-highest) to around $105-110 million (top-20), are clearly looking to do more than contend for a title after this signing — they have their eyes set on a dynasty.
However, as baseball fans anxiously await the arrival of young studs like Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr., there’s another question that needs to be asked: Where’s he going to play? Initially, my gut told me that the Padres must’ve guaranteed him shortstop in order to seal the deal; after all, he’s made it well-known for a while now that he believes that’s his position — despite pretty much every defensive metric saying otherwise. Be that as it may, Tatis, the Padres’ top prospect and #2 in all of baseball, is a natural shortstop. Admittedly, I’ve read differing opinions on whether he’ll be able to stay a shortstop long-term or not, but one would think they’d keep that spot reserved for their young phenom. On Tuesday, A.J. Preller may have just given us our answer: “We think he’s [Tatis] going to be an impact defender. … Our opinion of Tatis, he’s a shortstop. He’s going to be our shortstop. That’s the way we look at it.” It goes without saying, teams change how they view situations all the time, but if we take Preller’s comments at face value, it looks like Machado’s headed back to third base — even if he keeps shortstop warm until Tatis’ call-up.
Naturally, the next question becomes: What do they plan on doing next? As I mentioned before, the Padres increased their payroll by almost 50% with Machado’s contract, but they still sit below the league average of $125 million. Per Jon Heyman, Preller’s not done yet:
I wouldn’t necessarily expect this scenario to play out, but the Padres certainly have the money to spend. Even if they gave Harper a $35 million AAV (Average Annual Value), that’d push their payroll to around $145 million, which is just ahead of the Mariners and Rockies (11th-highest). As one would expect, there are swarms of reporters throwing out their strong beliefs on whether Bryce-to-San Diego will play out or not, but this is the bottom line: Their tweets are just conjecture; it is possible. With Machado putting pen to paper, the ball’s in Bryce’s court.
Obviously, landing two megastar free agents in one offseason would be incredible for the franchise, but it wouldn’t stop the doubters from questioning Machado’s worth. While I don’t think anybody is seriously debating Machado’s on-field play (he set or tied career-highs this past season in AVG, OBP, SLG, wRC+, BB%, HR and RBI), the vast majority of his detractors — including me — take issue with his attitude. For reference, here are his comments before Game 4 of the NLCS:
“Obviously I’m not going to change, I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”
Needless to say, the quote is a terrible look for him and, frankly, an indication of an immature, selfish player. Having said that, I haven’t heard anybody mention what he said next:
“Should I have run on that pitch? Yeah … but I didn’t and I gotta pay the consequences for it. It does look bad. It looks terrible. I look back at the video and I’m like, ‘Woah, what was I doing?’ You know, just the emotions of the game. … I’m the type of player that has stayed in the zone, I’m playing and I’m just in the zone.”
Part of the issue with the narrative on guys like Machado and Bryce Harper is that the media often cherry-picks moments and quotes out of context. Does the latter half of the quote excuse the former half? No. But he’s human. In the heat of the moment, he hit a ground ball to the shortstop, got pissed, and jogged to first base. If you’ve played sports, you’ve probably been there too. I know I have — the only difference is I wasn’t in Game 2 of the NLCS. Trust me, I don’t doubt Machado has some growing up to do on and off the field (trying to hurt other players in that same series was far more disgusting than the lack of hustle), but the Padres made the right move in giving him $300 million — a move 29 other teams were scared to make and, I believe, one they’ll end up regretting they didn’t make. For a team like San Diego, who just fell victim to a painfully bad contract last offseason (Hosmer’s 8-year/$144 million deal), they needed a home run… and they just hit a grand slam.
Regardless of your opinion of Machado’s character and intangibles, there’s no denying that he’s a damn good baseball player. According to fWAR, he was the 9th-best position player in all of baseball last year. Since entering the league in 2012, his average slash line is .282/.335/.487 and he hasn’t hit less than 33 home runs since 2014 when he played 82 games. Consistency, high average, power, elite defense (at third base) — that’s the type of player the Padres are getting in Manny Machado. I, for one, am glad he’s going to bring eyes to San Diego. I’m glad the Padres’ ownership decided to capitalize on a market that’s theirs for the taking (Rest in Peace, San Diego Chargers). And I sure am glad that I don’t have to watch him hammer the Mets for another NL-East squad. He’s not going to be “Mr. Padre” — no one will be — but I don’t doubt he’ll be worth every penny… just don’t expect him to run out grounders to short.