PEORIA, Ariz. -- A.J. Preller was in his office last February when he learned, via Twitter, that Manny Machado had chosen to sign with San Diego. The Padres' general manager broke into a grin and briefly started dancing.
Fernando Tatis Jr. was in the batting cage when he received that message. The rookie shortstop pressed pause on his hitting drill for a moment and started dreaming of playing next to his longtime role model on the left side of the Padres' infield.
Owners Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler were preparing to speak with reporters in their annual pre-Spring Training media session. They had not yet heard from Machado's camp directly, so they decided not to address the report. Instead, they spent most of the interview doing their best to contain their excitement.
It's been a full year since that fateful morning at the Peoria Sports Complex. Machado's decision changed so many things for the Padres -- most notably their expectations. Thus far, it has yet to change the on-field results.
Machado's first season in San Diego started strong. The Padres were in contention for a playoff spot into July, and Machado was widely regarded as an All-Star snub. But the year ended with disappointment. The Padres fell 22 games below .500 and Machado finished with a .209/.305/.348 slash line over the season's final two months.
Machado clearly isn’t one to dwell on past struggles, however. Asked whether he feels he needs to prove anything after last year's disappointing finish, he was quick to answer in the negative.
"I don't need to show anybody," Machado said. "They know who I am. They're still afraid of me when I step in that box."
Later, Machado was asked to clarify. “They know who I am,” he says. So who is he?
"Who they gave $300 million to," he said.
Machado finished last season with a .796 OPS and was worth 3.1 WAR. That's solid production, but it certainly doesn't befit a $300 million contract. The Padres paid for a superstar.
Then again, they made that investment with the goal of a long-term payoff. The Padres believe they're entering their window for contention in 2020. If Machado bounces back and helps open that window, his early struggles will be forgotten very quickly.
To that end, Machado spoke about the importance of a focused offseason. A year ago, he spent the winter uncertain where he'd be playing. The Padres didn't even begin expressing interest until January.
"This was a regular offseason for me," Machado said. "I was able to work out, have a full offseason and not worry about business. I could worry about taking care of my business on the field."
Machado arrived in camp last week, and he addressed reporters for the first time on Tuesday morning before the team's first full-squad workout. One reporter intoned that Machado looked slimmer. Machado took issue.
"I'm swole as hell," he quipped.
In a way, the Padres furthered their investment in Machado this winter. The former Oriole thrived under the tutelage of coaches Bobby Dickerson and Wayne Kirby in Baltimore. So, San Diego hired Dickerson and Kirby to serve as bench coach and first-base coach, respectively.
The Padres might have had interest in Dickerson and Kirby anyway. But they made those hires, in part, with a desire to get the most out of Machado. Dickerson, in particular, worked with Machado for nine seasons as his defensive guru, and he helped Machado develop into a two-time Gold Glove Award winner.
On the whole, Machado said he was pleased with the team’s offseason. The addition of Tommy Pham brings another potent bat for the top half of the San Diego order. But there are still questions at the bottom of that lineup, and Machado noted that he felt the team might be “a couple moves away.” He went on to clarify that statement by saying, “you can always make every team better.”
Of course, there’s one way the Padres can get a lot better: Machado could turn back into a perennial All-Star and one of the best third basemen in the sport. He seems determined to do just that.
“Last season is in the past,” he said. “You've just got to learn from it. … That's how you become a better baseball player.”