In Signing Manny Machado, Padres Make Bold Statement

Image credit: Manny Machado (Photo by Tom DiPace)

The Padres finally made the free-agent splash they’ve been aiming for.

The Padres reportedly agreed with Manny Machado to a 10-year, $300 million deal on Tuesday, the largest free agent contract in North American professional sports history. ESPN’s Jeff Passan was the first to report the deal.

It’s a stark departure from the norm for the notoriously stingy Padres, who ranked in MLB’s bottom 10 in payroll nine of the last 10 seasons.

Machado’s signing comes at a time when the Padres own the second-longest stretch of losing seasons in baseball (eight), but also have a farm system that is the best in the game and poised to provide an injection of talent into the franchise.

For the Padres, the move was needed on multiple levels. Machado gives them a perennial All-Star and face of the franchise-type talent they have not had for the better part of a decade. He also joins the Padres at a time when they have largely failed to capitalize on the departure of the Chargers for Los Angeles and the decline of San Diego State basketball to become the athletic standard-bearer for the city. It also better positions them to capture the significant corporate dollars available as the lone major sports franchise in the country’s eighth-largest city.

On the field, Machado fills the one major lineup hole the Padres projected to have both in the present and future. While the team is flush with outfielders and boasts promising up-the-middle prospects in Luis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr., the club lacked a third baseman for 2019 and had only No. 15 prospect Hudson Potts in their system as a true third baseman.

The Padres will have to decide whether they want to make Machado their shortstop and groom Tatis Jr. for third base or if they want to maintain Tatis Jr.’s status as the shortstop of the future and have Machado at third base, where he played his entire career until last season.

Regardless of how they sort it out, the Padres future becomes significantly brighter having both of them on the left side of the infield together.

While having the No. 1 farm system in the game is a strong indicator of future success, veterans are needed to complement the homegrown players. The Cubs signed Jon Lester right as they entered 2015 with the No. 1 farm system in the game. The Royals, fresh off being named the No. 1 farm system in 2011, traded for James Shields and Wade Davis prior to the 2013 season. Both were integral in ending the Royals’ streak of nine consecutive losing seasons that year and getting them to the World Series in 2014. Davis would be a crucial component of their 2015 World Series championship team.

While the Cubs’ addition of Lester and the Royals’ additions of Shields and Davis immediately resulted in both of those clubs posting winning seasons to end long losing stretches, the Padres have more work ahead if they want to achieve their first winning season since 2010.

Padres’ starting pitchers posted a 5.09 ERA last year, 27th in the majors and a startling feat considering they play their home games at Petco Park and another 19 at Dodger Stadium and AT&T (now Oracle) Park. Their starting rotation entering 2019 currently projects to be Joey Lucchesi, Eric Lauer, Robbie Erlin, Jacob Nix and Bryan Mitchell. Only Lucchesi has demonstrated the talent to have a role with the club once it becomes competitive, although Dinelson Lamet will too, assuming he successfully returns from Tommy John surgery.

Pitching is a strength of the Padres’ farm system, but it is many years away. Three of the Padres’ top four pitching prospects are teenagers yet to pitch above Class A. Only three of their top 12 pitching prospects have seen Triple-A.

In addition to the inherent risk of pitching prospects, pitchers take longer than hitters to acclimate to the majors even once they get there. More often than not, pitchers’ impacts are felt in years two through four in the majors, as opposed to their rookie campaigns.

The Braves, for example, did not go from 24th in ERA in 2017 to seventh a year later because Mike SorokaTouki ToussaintBryse Wilson and Kyle Wright made their debuts. They made the jump because Mike Foltynewicz (in his fifth season) and Sean Newcomb (in his second) made giant strides forward, while veteran anchor Julio Teheran provided a solid overall season, veteran Anibal Sanchez had a rebirth and Kevin Gausman was acquired at the trade deadline.

One of the best young rotations of the decade—the 2015 Mets—also did not push the team to the World Series right away. Jacob deGrom was in his second season, Matt Harvey his third and Jon Niese his eighth. Bartolo Colon, 42 at the time, led the team in innings. Only Noah Syndergaard was a rookie.

Even if the Padres first wave of pitching—Chris PaddackLogan Allen, Cal Quantrill—reaches the majors this year, the natural progression would be for them to need at least another year (and likely another after that), to truly become impact starters in the majors leagues. That would put the Padres at 2020 or 2021 before they can reasonably project to have a worthy starting rotation, and that’s if nothing goes awry.

The mid-90s Blue Jays and late-90s Expos are two illustrative examples of rebuilding clubs that had promising position player cores and talented young pitchers, but because the pitchers took longer to blossom, the timing was off and the teams never were able to field complete clubs.

With Machado locked up for at least five years, when he has the ability to opt-out, as well as Hosmer, Myers and the Padres’ young position players all under contract or team control through 2023, the Padres have time to let that young pitching mature and blossom.

It will be important that it does, because the Padres’ financial flexibility projects to be limited. Myers and Hosmer are due a combined $43.5 million from 2020-2022, and now Machado’s massive salary will go on top of that. Even if the Padres are able to trade Myers, the expectation is they will likely have to eat significant salary to do so.

Signing Machado does not answer all of the Padres’ questions, but it does make them a better team. The Padres now have made the move to bolster their farm system with a veteran standout, the type of move the franchise was long reticent to make.

The Padres made the bold statement that they intend to win, and win soon, with their record-breaking contract for Machado. Now, it’s up to the franchise to deliver.

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