The ink is dry.
After months of rumors and speculation, superstar third baseman Manny Machado has signed a ten year, $300M contract with the San Diego Padres. It is the largest free agent contract in MLB history. For the second year in a row, the Dads have made the biggest surprise of the offseason (last year, they signed Eric Hosmer to a mammoth eight year, $144M contract, which was the largest contract in franchise history at the time). Early in the offseason, Machado had insisted that his preference was to play shortstop, but he is going to return to the hot corner for San Diego, per Jon Heyman. In Machado, the Padres are acquiring a dynamic hitter who offers superb defense at third. He is trying to put the “Johnny Hustle” comments behind him and prove his doubter wrong; the Padres share that sentiment.
The contract does have an opt-out clause after the fifth year, and the $300M is guaranteed. That’s right. He gets the full $300M even if he opts out after his age 31 season. Machado reportedly turned down a contract from the White Sox which was worth $250M over eight years, and with incentives and bonuses, could have been worth upwards of $350M. Still, Machado preferred to go with the larger guarantee, despite the White Sox offer being worth more annually.
This move begs the question: what are the Padres trying to do here? Aside from last season, they have never spent money like this. In fact, they haven’t even fielded a competitive Major League roster in quite some time.
Somehow, I think the Padres front office believes that they are close to contending. They have had the best farm system in baseball for the last few years, and those prospects are ready to make a splash in the majors. Infielder Luis Urias is set for his first full year in the majors. He’ll likely play shortstop this year before moving to second base in 2020 after Fernando Tatis, Jr debuts. Tatis, Jr is ranked as the best prospect in the Padres system, and the number two prospect in all of baseball. Urias is a lifetime .306 hitter in the minors but hit just .208 in only 58 PA’s last year.
Catcher Francisco Mejia is set for his first full season as well after being acquired in the Brad Hand trade last year. Mejia, the number two catching prospect in baseball, should split time with Austin Hedges behind the plate. Mejia, like Urias, disappointed in the bigs in 2018, hitting just .179 over 62 PA’s split between the Indians and Padres. Of course, this is a very limited sample size, so I wouldn’t put too much on that. He has historically performed stronger in the minors (he’s a career .293 hitter there) and he and Urias should both fare much better in 2019.
Looking at those two prospects, with Tatis, Jr expected to debut either in September 2019 or at the start of the 2020 season, the Padres have their young core locked up, and guys like Machado and Hosmer offer a veteran presence to build around. In Machado, they have found their new face of the franchise. The only thing that they are missing is pitching. With just $110M in payroll going into 2019, they still have enough cash to make a run at Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez to lead their rotation and could even explore a reunion with Craig Kimbrel to close out games.
Another option would be to trade for a starter. San Diego has a surplus of outfielders; they have approximately 80 of them on the Major League roster. That may be a slight exaggeration. They currently have Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Travis Jankowski, Manuel Margot, and Franmil Reyes on the 25 man roster, and I’d be shocked if that remains the same come Opening Day. I would definitely expect a few of them to be moved in trades to bolster their rotation. A trade with Toronto for Marcus Stroman is a possibility, as he has been rumored to be on the trading block since last year.
Assuming they add to the rotation and bullpen, as those are their clear weaknesses (their starting rotation screams “who the hell is that?!”) they could be primed to compete in the coming years. They currently have Wil Myers, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges under contract for the next four years. This is their time to contend, and their window is wide open. Management is hoping that their youngsters can pan out and their veterans can lead the way. Let’s just hope they add some pitching. If they do, there could be a new competitive culture in San Diego going forward.
By: Chris Perkowski