Though it seemed more and more like a possibility the longer the free agency period dragged, the San Diego Padres were a long shot to land prized free agent Manny Machado. After months of speculation has crept all the way into the beginning of spring training, they did just that, signing the third baseman to a 10-year, $300 million deal on Tuesday.
Hopefully — seriously, I can’t stress hopefully enough — this will be the initial domino that allows all the others to fall, most notably Bryce Harper. Machado and Harper were the two mega stars tasked with setting the market and the pay scale for everyone else this winter. There have been charges of collusion between teams with nobody yet stepping up with the offers the players and observers anticipated. But in the end, Machado got basically what was expected. Yet the destination is a surprising one on its surface, though it makes a ton of sense.
The Padres were a bad baseball team in 2018. Going 66-96, they finished only ahead of the Marlins in the National League. The team had little to no star power and were in the first year of an eight-year, $144 million contract they gave to Eric Hosmer last winter, which already looks like an albatross around the franchise’s collective neck.
The team’s most valuable pitcher was likely Kauai’s own Kirby Yates. The reliever was outstanding out of the bullpen in 2018, striking out 90 batters in 63 innings pitched and finishing the season with a WHIP of 0.92. Yates may be familiar to us, but he’s hardly a household name even in baseball circles.
But while the Padres seemed to be bottoming out, there was a plan festering below the surface for some time. They weren’t built to win yet, but they were doing a good job at setting themselves up for future success. ESPN’s Keith Law has San Diego ranked No. 1 on his list of MLB farm systems heading into this 2019 season, with Fernando Tatis Jr. the biggest star candidate. Tatis is universally considered one of the top five minor league prospects in all of baseball.
Now with Machado in the mix, the Padres can combine those two as the left side of their infield (one way or the other) for the next decade and feel pretty secure that no other team can match that combination. The younger Tatis has even been compared to Machado in terms of talent and skill set, so the duo could be poised for historic potential.
Other prospects like catcher Francisco Mejia and second baseman Luis Urias can now be used to build around the pieces already in place, or they may be used as bait to lure more proven talent in trades from teams ready to rebuild, themselves.
Getting Machado doesn’t make the Padres a contender or even a winning baseball team right away. With the right combination of good fortune and realizing potential, they could be very sneaky and begin to sniff 80 wins this season. But two or three years from now seems like the timeline that San Diego is eyeing to be back in the playoff mix.
Machado, despite seeming much older since he’s been in the bigs since 2012, will be turning just 27 this season. That’s typically the magic age when baseball players begin to hit their peak. It would be quite something to see him jump to another level of production, but that’s exactly what the Padres are banking on. If it happens, the $300 million they signed him for on Tuesday will seem like a bargain five years down the road.
It wasn’t the White Sox, Yankees or Phillies who landed the first of the two mega stars. The Padres were given a chance to remain in the mix and made a fantastic splash with Machado, setting them back on the proper path.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.