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Manny Machado could be the greatest player in Padres history

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The superstar third baseman is on pace to have a better career than Tony Gwynn.

MLB: San Deigo Padres-Workouts Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, the Padres signed Manny Machado to the largest contract in North American sports history. The surprising thing about that event wasn’t the size of the contract or that Manny Machado received—it was that the Padres were the ones handing it out. Throughout their 50-year-history, the Padres have seriously lacked for star power.

Baseball Reference features a banner of the top-24 players in that team’s history. Ordinarily, these banners include Hall of Famers or soon to be Hall of Famers. The players on these lists have generally made a profound impact on the team.

The Padres’ banner begins with Tony Gwynn, naturally. Gwynn played all 20 years of his Hall of Fame career in San Diego. Trevor Hoffman, one of the best closers in history, is fourth on the Padres all-time WAR list, and he played most of his career with the Padres.

Aside from that, it’s a smattering of great players who were mostly great with other teams. Dave Winfield put together 32 bWAR in his first eight seasons before spending the next nine with the Yankees and the following eight as a journeyman. Jake Peavy similarly had his best years in a Padre uniform, but most of his career was spent elsewhere.

Beyond those names, it’s a smattering of Chase Headleys, perfectly fine players who never made an All-Star team with or without the Padres. You know the bar for being a Padre great is low when Will Venable cracks the Top-24.

Unless he opts out (or is traded), Machado will spend the next ten years donning Padre brown. Soon, his portrait will be creeping up the Baseball-Reference banner. In three or four years, he’ll blow past Benito Santiago and Ryan Klesko. He’ll be chasing down Nate Colbert for the Padres all-time home run record. Even if he opts out in five years, he’ll crack the top-10 WAR list mostly because Machado is great, but also because Padres players haven’t been.

Here’s who currently comprises the Padres Top-10:

Top-10 Padres Players

Rank Player Padres WAR Career WAR
Rank Player Padres WAR Career WAR
1 Tony Gwynn 69.2 69.2
2 Dave Winfield 32 64.2
3 Jake Peavy 26.8 39.2
4 Trevor Hoffman 25.8 28
5 Andy Ashby 22.6 21
6 Adrian Gonzalez 20.4 42.2
7 Andy Benes 20.2 31.6
8 Randy Jones 19.9 17.9
9 Gene Tenace 19.8 46.8
10 Gene Richards 19 18.7
Baseball-Reference

Machado is currently at 33.8 WAR, so he’s already among the most talented of players to put on a Padres uniform even if he hasn’t actually put on a Padre uniform yet. Machado won’t surpass Gwynn’s WAR as a Padre even if he plays until he’s 40. Machado doesn’t have the advantage of being able to play his entire career for the Friars, but he could very well outdo Gwynn’s career total. Through age 25, Machado has accumulated twice the WAR of Gwynn, and in their first seven seasons, they’re about even.

Baseball-Reference
Baseball-Reference

Switching to fWAR, Gwynn’s 65 career WAR is 34.8 ahead of Machado’s 30.2. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections predict that he’ll just barely edge out Dave Winfield’s Padres WAR and come right up against Gwynn’s career mark.

Combined, that’s 34.2 WAR that Machado is expected to produce over the course of his contract with the Padres. All Machado would have to do to beat Gwynn is to outperform his ZiPS projections by 0.9 wins. Machado will only be 36 when his contract ends, too, so he could continue to add on. If Machado’s career continues as it should, it’s quite possible that Machado will be the greatest player to stay with the team for a significant portion of their career.

Accumulating the most WAR would be but one definition of greatness. Machado has other avenues he can follow if he is to supplant Gwynn as the greatest Padre.

Machado might not be able to throw the first no-hitter in Padres history, but he could win an MVP, something Gwynn was never able to do and something no Padre has done other than Ken Caminiti in 1996. He could also help the Padres to their first World Series title. Helping Padres fans forget about a missed called strike in the 1998 World Series would go a long way toward cementing himself in the pantheon of Padres.

It seems like an inevitability that Manny Machado will be the new home run king of San Diego, too. Nate Colbert hit 163 homers as a Padre, so Machado would only have to average at least 16.3 homers over 10 seasons to overtake him. Considering Machado has averaged 25 homers in his first seven seasons, so that should be easy for him.

At the very least, Machado would be a Hall of Famer who spent over half his career with the Padres. San Diego hasn’t had many of those. It was hard to find fault with the Padres going big for Machado without the historical context. It’s even harder considering they may have just added their best player ever.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.