The San Diego Padres are all in.
They signaled their seriousness in 2017, and again in 2018. But their 2019 foray is not a signal—it’s a straight-up announcement that their intentions to contend in the near future are real.
Their reported agreement with Manny Machado, one of the most coveted free agents of the modern era, on a 10-year, $300 million contract is the Padres’ statement. The deal—whose reported terms would make it the largest free-agent contract in franchise and North American sports history—surprised many, disappointed some and could make San Diego a baseball player destination.
For what it’s worth, the Padres have denied that a deal is in place, but that’s likely semantics. Plus, their actions over the last couple of winters are a tell that the Machado deal is really happening.
The Padres signed outfielder Wil Meyers to a six-year extension worth $83 million in January 2017. They followed that by signing free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer to a stunning eight-year, $144 million deal last February.
And now, Machado appears to be on board as the team’s main pillar, and the kind of star who could make the Padres attractive to other free agents now and in the near future—and the city sells itself, as we know.
All the while, the organization has been putting together the best farm system in the game. Baseball America, MLB.com and Fangraphs all rank San Diego's as the best system in baseball, and the benefits of that development could start to show themselves within the next few seasons, with Machado still expected to be in his prime as the team's third baseman.
“If money is no object—and all these teams can afford a contract like this, so it’s not—then this is a really nice deal,” one National League scout said Tuesday. “They may need another quality veteran in there, but their young guys are the real deal. And by the time they all get [to San Diego], Machado is still a productive player on both sides.”
That young talent is already coming. Second baseman Luis Urias and catcher Francisco Mejia debuted last year, and both are in the top 30 of Baseball America’s top-100 list. Top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., the second-best prospect in all of baseball by some accounts, is expected to take over at shortstop this season, giving the team a dynamic infield that can play as well defensively as any other in the majors.
They are covered on the pitching side, too. Baseball America notes, “It’s hard to find many weaknesses in a system loaded in pitching at nearly all levels, that has an elite shortstop prospect … as well as a smattering of talented hitters at nearly all levels of the minors.”
So the next question is: When can the Padres actually contend for a playoff spot?
It’s unlikely this year, but if their pitching develops—that will be helped by their ballpark and defense—it could happen as soon as 2020. They still have a stacked Los Angeles Dodgers team at the top of the NL West and a legitimate contender in the Colorado Rockies to deal with. But San Diego’s window is just starting to crack open, so there’s time, especially given Machado’s age, which is why the length and the cost of his deal are worth it.
There’s a catch, of course. As has become the norm for deals like Machado’s, he has an opt-out. This one comes after the fifth season, when Machado will be 31. If he is productive, or if the Padres don’t turn into the contender they have the potential to become, Machado could bounce back into the open market. However, given his age at that time and the current trends in free agency, exercising that opt-out seems unlikely right now.
The other concern is Machado’s attitude and hustle, which he put on display last postseason by not running out grounders and making his now-infamous “Johnny Hustle” comments. The Padres will want Machado to lead by example. Maybe he will; maybe he won’t. But this also points to the need for another productive veteran in the lineup, someone who can be that leader Machado might not be.
Regardless, this deal makes sense for the Padres because Machado still has plenty of production in his bat and his glove—his value increases as a third baseman. With what the franchise has budding, this deal makes the Padres relevant sooner rather than later, and if the prospects meet their potential within the next four years, they can legitimately become a contender.