As put best by whomever was running the Beyond The Box Score Twitter account at the time, “Our long, national nightmare is halfway over.”
On Tuesday, the San Diego Padres and infielder Manny Machado agreed to a ten-year, $300 million contract, the largest free agent contract in the history of American sports, Jeff Passan of ESPN and Mark Feinsand of MLB.com were the first to report.
Perhaps in the same breath, it’s a franchise-and-city-altering move that could allow the Padres to contend for a playoff spot as soon as this year, something that they have not accomplished since 2006. On Opening Day of that year, Khalil Green was their shortstop and Vinny Castilla was their third baseman. It’s clearly been quite some time.
Yet even if Machado and the Padres don’t sneak into the playoffs in 2019, the team clearly has the firepower in the farm system to become a perennial contender in the near future; after the 2018 season, FanGraphs ranked the Padres as having the best minor league system in Major League Baseball. If anything, the contention window hasn’t even opened yet, and, with this long-term deal, Machado will be in uniform for all of it.
As the Padres do make these strides to contention, Machado will serve as their marketable superstar. Last year, he played in all 162 games, slashing .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs and 107 RBIs. His 141 wRC+ was a career-high, and his 6.2 fWAR represented his third 6+ WAR season in the last four years. Oh, and Machado is also just heading into his age-26 season.
In just a couple of years—perhaps as soon as this season—Machado is going to be in the same infield as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias, the Padres’ two prized infield prospects, who both ranked among the best prospects in the game. By Baseball America’s pre-2019 rankings, Tatis Jr. sat at No. 2 in all of baseball; Urias ranked 31st.
While the future of the Padres organization remains bright, a lot of uncertainty still surrounds the entire free agent process, even after Machado seemingly got the contract that he so deserved. Some protection against Machado’s next potential foray into free agency is built into this contract with an opt-out after year five of the deal that allows for Machado to evaluate where the free agency process stands after the current CBA expires on Dec. 1, 2021.
It’s still a little bit of a shock to many that the Padres are indeed the destination, especially after Machado has indicated throughout the offseason that he wanted to play for the team he grew up watching and rooting for: the Yankees. While the Yankees did indeed meet with Machado, no traction ever came of it. They went in a different direction, opting to sign DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki to shore up their infield instead.
Other teams, like the White Sox and Phillies, also showed varying degrees of interest in the infielder, with Chicago even going as far to bring in two players who have close relations to Machado. Yonder Alonso is his brother-in-law; Jon Jay is a good friend. All of these efforts, though, were to no avail.
Of course, we’ll never know whether any of these teams made the right decision in passing up on a once-in-a-generation-type talent like Machado. Nonetheless, the Padres should be lauded for being the team to make the move. There’s a lot to like about their future, and with the Chargers now out of San Diego for good, they effectively control the entire professional sports market in the area.
It was time for the Padres to become relevant, and the front office, led by general manager AJ Preller, knew this. So I’ll just go out and say the obvious: there’s no better way to become relevant than signing a future Hall of Famer to the largest free agent contract in American sports history.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.