I’m being sarcastic, of course, but with the super-stud shortstop/third baseman agreeing to a 10-year, $300 million contract with the San Diego Padres, he has the $30 million-per-year deal he has been seeking for more than 3 months since the World Series ended (with him on the losing team). There is also an opt-out clause, meaning Machado can choose to terminate the contract and become a free agent again after the 5th year, or after the 2023 season.
The Padres have been a crummy team for several years now, as they have been trying to stockpile up-and-coming players through the draft and their minor league system. Every person who specializes in this sort of thing thinks they have been wildly successful, ranking the Padres minor league system as the best in baseball. Several sites publish a “top 100” list of the best potential baseball players currently in the minors. Most of these rankings have anywhere from 7 to 10 Padres prospects on them. Everyone seems to think that as long as the team doesn’t botch anyone’s development, then probably by 2021 or so, the Padres may have the best team in either league. But that’s a couple years down the road. For 2019, very little is expected, as the younger players are still learning to play at the highest level, and they are still working with a few veterans past their prime. Here is what the Opening Day lineup may look like with the big signing:
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Manny Machado, 3B
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Wil Myers, LF
Hunter Renfroe, RF
Franchy Cordero / Manuel Margot, CF
Luis Urias, SS
Austin Hedges, C
Machado has said he prefers to play shortstop, but is probably headed back to third base with the Padres. Their top prospect is a shortstop, Fernando Tatis Jr., who many think is the top prospect in all of baseball, let alone the Padres system. It’s hard to imagine Machado blocking him from coming up.
A side note: MLB has some very quirky and hard-to-explain rules about player service time. Generally, the team is allowed to assign the minimum salary to players in their first 3 years of service. After the 3rd, 4th and 5th years, the player is eligible to go to an arbitration hearing to determine his salary for the following season if he and the team don’t reach an agreement ahead of time, and after that 3rd arbitration year, the 6th of his career, he becomes an unrestricted free agent, as Machado has been since the end of the 2018 season. There is an exception to this timeline, called the “Super 2.” It allows a player to be eligible for the arbitration process after their second year instead of the third, based on the amount of playing time he accumulates in those 2 years. Teams have figured out that as long as a rookie doesn’t join the big league club until anywhere from 1-3 weeks of the season has been completed, he cannot reach the Super 2 status, and the team gets an extra year of being able to dictate the salary to the player. Teams are very brazen about using some of the sorriest excuses a human being can create for delaying the top prospects’ debuts to manipulate service time. Kris Bryant of the Cubs in 2015, Ronald Acuna of the Braves in 2018 are 2 prime examples, as their teams claimed the players needed more work on their defense before being ready for The Show. Tatis, along with another famous Junior, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Blue Jays, are going to be the 2019 versions of this manipulation. Neither of them have anything left to prove in the minors and will dominate their leagues once they play in their first major league game. But both of them will be sent to the minors for “further development,” and will have magically conquered the imagined shortcomings as soon as their Super 2 eligibility evaporates. That’s the only reason Tatis is not in this Padres Opening Day lineup.
In addition to Tatis, Francisco Mejia will soon arrive to be the Padres catcher. The Padres traded two of their better relief pitchers, Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, to my Cleveland Indians last summer for Mejia. There are numerous pitchers among those rising minor league stars in their system as well.
Most prognosticators have been expecting the Padres to do no better than a 66-96 record this year, and the Machado signing may bump them up to 67 or 68 wins. I’m a little more bullish on them; I don’t think they will lose 90 games now that Machado is on board, and if Mejia arrives and excels as expected, I could see them winning 75 games.
The Padres signing Machado is viewed as at least a mild surprise. San Diego isn’t a huge media market, the team has only had pockets of success in its 50 years of existence (they’ve only been to the World Series twice, losing 4-1 in 1984 and getting swept in 1998), and it’s been well-known that his wife wanted him to sign with the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers, however, were reluctant to give him $30 million a year because they are trying to keep their payroll under $206 million to avoid paying a “luxury tax,” a component designed to keep the teams in the biggest markets from gobbling up all the best players and leaving smaller-market teams unable to compete with them for talent. That tax threshold has been used as a salary cap by the teams the past 2 offseasons, leaving superstars like Machado out on the open market far longer than usual.
Machado is also taking a big gamble here. If the Padres and all the talking heads are wrong, and this huge stable of top-level prospects doesn’t produce a winning team, then Machado is stuck in a smaller market on a bad team with a contract no other club will want to add to their payroll. He would then be stuck waiting for 2023 so he can opt out, and then be forced to take a smaller contract, as no one is going to pay a 31-year-old player $30 million a year for 5-8 years. So both Machado and the Padres had better be right, of things could turn ugly quickly.
In the meantime, he can enjoy the perpetually fabulous San Diego weather and the ability to take the whole team out for lunch one day. With a $2.3 million direct deposit every 2 weeks, I’m sure he can swing it. Best of luck to him and the team.