Let me be clear from the start that I'm glad the Padres are reportedly signing Manny Machado. I'm glad anybody is signing Machado. This is obviously a deal long past due.In the current climate, in which the mere act of "trying" sometimes feels like a free-agent market inefficiency, it's hard
Let me be clear from the start that I'm glad the Padres are reportedly signing Manny Machado. I'm glad anybody is signing Machado. This is obviously a deal long past due.
In the current climate, in which the mere act of "trying" sometimes feels like a free-agent market inefficiency, it's hard to fault any club for improving its roster. The Padres have plenty of financial wiggle room in the present-day payroll picture and an opening on the left-hand side of their infield. So from those standpoints, Machado is an ideal fit.
• Sources: Machado to Padres on record deal
And while Machado didn't acquit himself particularly well last postseason with his "Johnny Hustle" remarks, the dude has been worth north of 30 Wins Above Replacement through his age-25 season.
:: Manny Machado's deal with Padres ::
Machado is good, in other words. And Padres fans should be genuinely excited to have him.
With all of the above said, this reported 10-year, $300 million deal with Machado (which, once completed, will stand as the largest in free-agent history for at least a few hours or so, until Bryce Harper gets his money), is oddly timed for the Friars -- and not just because free-agent record-breakers don't typically get done in late February. Though teams have been known to surprise us -- hello, 2018 Oakland A's -- this Machado addition sure doesn't look like a finishing touch to a contending Padres team in the year 2019.
And you wonder if, by the time the Padres are really ready to contend, the Machado contract will hurt more than it helps.
The Padres do appear close to turning a corner, thanks to an inordinately deep farm system with premier prospects aplenty graduating to the big leagues. We saw middle infielder Luis Urías at the tail end of 2018, and catcher Francisco Mejía arrived in the midseason swap that sent Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to the Indians. Shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., rated the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, is not far behind.
These guys will no longer be green by the time the Padres start wearing brown again in 2020.
It will be like leftover guacamole, but in a good way.
Still, no reasonable person or projection system is bullish on the Padres for 2019, even with Machado in tow, because of a pitching staff that ranked 13th out of 15 National League teams in staff ERA (4.40) last year. The starting rotation, in particular, is very much in flux. It will be infiltrated in the coming years by an army of interesting arms (San Diego has seven pitchers on Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list), but in the interim, a group fronted by Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer is short on bankable results. The Padres' lone offseason upgrade to this group was Garrett Richards, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and might not throw a pitch this year.
Maybe the Padres aren't done. Maybe they'll go the extra mile and spend big bucks on Dallas Keuchel and others in a market that still has a lot of options. Maybe they can still use their prospect pieces and outfield depth to pull off an impact trade. But after the 2015 experience -- the Spinal Tap-like disaster that followed A.J. Preller's "rock star" first winter in San Diego -- the Padres should know better than to try to fix everything at once.
So Year 1 of the Machado deal, much like Year 1 of last offseason's Eric Hosmer deal (which currently stands as ample evidence of the dangers of the big-ticket item in free agency), does not look promising on the standings front. And that's totally fine, if you can afford it (and the Padres can).
But come 2020-22, when the Padres ought to be in their prime, Machado, Hosmer and Wil Myers will be consuming roughly $70 million of the player payroll (and two of those contracts currently rate as unmovable). Thanks to the bump from Machado, the 2019 season looks to be just the second in Padres' franchise history in which their Opening Day payroll for the 25-man roster exceeds $100 million, per the data at Cot's Contracts. Machado's deal will push them right around their payroll peak of $108 million from that aforementioned 2015 season. How willing are they going to be to blow past that previous peak?
Granted, the Padres will have cost control elsewhere -- especially if Tatis, Urias and Mejia are everything we expect them to be -- but unless they are willing to seriously ramp up their spending ceiling from past levels, they will not have much financial capital to inject into the area or areas that need it. The hard truth is that not all of the prospects will pan out.
So that's the chief worry here. Not that Machado won't hustle. Not that he'll suffer a steep and sudden regression, a la Hosmer in 2018. Not that he won't look good in brown (they're all going to look awesome in brown). It's that the Padres have expended the vast majority of their free-agent financial resources upfront -- prematurely, even -- rather than giving their young talent the time to mature and then assessing and addressing remaining needs with a proper pool of funds.
Patience isn't always sexy, but it is sensible. Heck, Machado's patience landed him what is -- temporarily, at least -- the biggest free-agent contract ever. My sincere hope is that the impatience that compelled the Padres to go all-in on Hosmer and Machado in the midst of a long-term rebuild project doesn't come back to bite them later.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.