PEORIA, Ariz. -- Wearing a dark blue suit over white high-top basketball sneakers, Manny Machado strode to the podium in the Colonnade Room at Peoria Stadium on Friday morning.
He sat for a moment, while he was introduced as the new third baseman for the San Diego Padres. Then, Machado stood, removed his jacket and buttoned a fresh No. 13 jersey over his dress shirt. After posing for a few pictures, he spoke.
"It's finally over," Machado exhaled, reflecting on four months as a free agent. "I'm finally a Padre."
Over? Hardly. In the Padres’ eyes, a new era in San Diego baseball was just beginning on Friday morning.
"And it's been a long time coming," general manager A.J. Preller said.
Indeed, Machado's record-setting 10-year contract seemed to fit flawlessly into the vision Preller began laying out three years ago. After an ill-fated run at contention in 2015, the Padres began their reboot the following offseason. They spent an unprecedented sum in the international amateur market. They traded seven key veterans for prospects in the span of a few months.
All the while, Preller stockpiled the best combination of young talent in the sport. Before long, the Padres were widely regarded as having the game’s best farm system. Some of those young players began to arrive in 2018, but the Padres still lacked a long-term solution at third base and a big-time middle-of-the-order bat.
At the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas in December, Preller began to grow frustrated that his trade discussions for other third basemen weren't gaining any traction. He woke up at 5 a.m. one morning and called assistant general manager Josh Stein.
"Let's just sign Machado," Preller recalled telling Stein, though he admitted Friday that, "It was a little more of a pipe dream at that point."
The wheels were in motion. Preller spoke with Padres ownership and convinced them it'd be worth checking in with Machado’s camp. In mid-January, they did so for the first time. Earlier this month, Preller flew to Miami to meet with Machado and his wife. Two weeks later, the two sides had a deal -- the largest for a free agent in American sports history, worth $300 million over 10 years, with an opt-out after the fifth year.
"We were searching for third basemen," executive chairman Ron Fowler said. "We'd tried a lot of trades, and they weren't coming together. ... The more we checked on [Machado] and the more we looked into him, the more excited we got."
That excitement wasn't purely based around Machado. The Padres have a group of position players almost entirely under team control for the next four seasons. They have arguably the best collection of pitching prospects in the sport (though most of those arms aren't quite big league ready). Financially, their presumed stars of the future -- Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias and Chris Paddack, among others -- are still years away from reaching arbitration.
The Padres vowed that when the time was right to complement those young players by making a splash, they would do so. Those comments were met with skepticism. After all, the Padres had never done anything like this.
For a while, the club's decision-makers planned for the 2019-20 offseason as the time to make that splash. But Machado, a 26-year-old superstar entering his prime, was available now. His career trajectory, Preller said, "fit like a glove" with the organization’s long-term plans.
"It's about bringing a championship to San Diego," Preller said. "A lot of people over the last few years have been very patient as we've tried to build something that's going to stand up long term. Obviously, it's an exclamation point here today with the signing of Manny."
Judging solely by Friday's introductory press conference, it's pretty clear Machado did his homework. He's well-versed in the Padres' farm system, and he's willing to move back to third base to accommodate the pending arrival of Tatis, the top shortstop prospect in MLB and the No. 2 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline.
"It was just a perfect fit for us," Machado said. "Those young prospects that are in the top farm system in the game ... I know what they're going through. Whatever I can do to help them out in any way, that's what I'm going to do."
But the Padres' future isn't solely about the prospects. Big league vets like Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Austin Hedges are in San Diego for the long haul, too.
Machado is now easily the biggest star of that group, and he's probably the biggest offensive star in San Diego since Tony Gwynn. In seven big league seasons, Machado has already amassed 33.8 Wins Above Replacement -- higher than any other Padres player in history not named Gwynn.
"I'm truly blessed to be here. I'm truly blessed to be a part of this organization," Machado said. "Since day one, since we met you, we knew it was the right fit for me and my wife to be here. We're very excited to be here and start this new journey of our baseball career, our lives -- to take on that San Diego weather and take on this team."
As his introductory press conference came to an end, Machado was asked how much better he can get. He's only 26, after all. How much longer might the star third baseman be able to extend his prime?
"Ten more years," Machado said, breaking into a wide smile. "This is just the beginning. I still haven't reached my ceiling."
Historically speaking, neither have the Padres. But with Machado on board for the next decade, they just might.