PEORIA, Ariz. — The San Diego Padres, celebrating one of the most glorious days in franchise history Friday with the signing of Manny Machado, couldn’t help but pinch themselves in utter disbelief.
Oh, sure, when you drop $300 million, you shouldn’t be surprised when you can sign a player of Machado’s talent.
Still, up until Machado’s camp leaked the word Tuesday morning that he was signing with the Padres, they were actually preparing plans to pursue another free agent, or even a trade.
They were caught off guard, unaware he even accepted their offer, and until that morning, were never convinced he was coming to San Diego.
It took nearly three weeks for them to even get an audience with Machado’s representatives. They were told that unless they were willing to talked about a deal for at least $250 million, there was no point in talking.
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And, until mid-January, they never seriously entertained any thoughts of signing Machado, believing he’d be out of their price range. They instead were active in the trade market. They had extensive talks with the New York Yankees about Miguel Andujar, who was runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting, hitting .297 with 27 homers and 92 RBI. Yet, he also had a .948 fielding percentage, tied for the second-lowest among third basemen who played 100 games.
The Padres wound up passing on Andujar, but recognized the irony Friday that if they had acquired him, Machado easily may have been having a press conference this same day, only in Tampa with the Yankees, who were believed to be Machado’s first choice.
“We had a lot of trade talks with different teams,” Padres GM A.J. Preller said, “but it’s not as if we ever got to the two-yard line with any team.”
Besides, this was move that cost only a whole lot of dollars, not prospects, helping the Padres go from a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2010 to one that has playoff visions.
“We have a bit of realism, there’s a lot of growth in our young players that’s still yet to come,” said Peter Seidler, Padres managing partner, “but what I can promise you that when that ballclub takes the field on March 28, they will expect to be a playoff team.”
Hello playoff expectations, it’s Manny.
Machado is among the greatest all-around third baseman of his generation, and certainly showed off his shortstop prowess last season, but the dude can’t pitch, no matter how many fish tacos and margaritas on the beach he can now buy.
Machado, 26, won’t make any promises about how quickly the Padres can reach the postseason. It’s a been a dozen years and counting. But he did vow in front of a dozen TV cameras and networks that despite his infamous FOX interview that he’s not “Johnny Hustle,” will indeed be giving everything he possibly has each and every day he puts on a Padres’ uniform.
“I’m a winner, I’m a gamer,” said Machado, who will play third base in San Diego. “I’ve loved to play the game since I was a little boy. I leave it all on the field. That’s only thing we can control.”
This will be the first time in Machado’s young career that he will now be asked to be a mentor. When he was in Baltimore, the clubhouse leaders were Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy. He had Chase Utley during his three-month stint with the Los Angeles Angels.
Now, he is the man, with young prized prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias looking up to him for leadership.
“I just want to come in here as a 26-year old veteran, try to give my knowledge to these guys,” Machado said, “and hopefully get back to the playoffs for the city of San Diego and bring a championship.”
The Padres wouldn’t have dished out $300 million – $30 million annually through 2028 – if they didn’t believe in Machado. They did their homework. They talked to about 60 people in the Orioles and Dodgers organizations about Machado. They talked to his friends. Family. Clubhouse attendants. You name it, they talked to them.
“The more we checked on him,” Padres chairman Ron Fowler said, “the more excited we got. They knew a lot about us, too. They knew about the organization. They knew where our priorities were with family. I think that helped us sign him.
“Obviously, $300 million didn’t hurt.”
Realistically, it likely will still be years before the Padres can knock off the Los Angeles Dodgers, winners of seven consecutive NL West titles. Ideally, they would have waited a year before jumping in with the largest free-agent contract in baseball history.
“In a perfect world he would have been available next year,” Fowler said, “but he’s not. So, you have to do what’s for your team long-term. He’s a generational talent.”
And the Padres, who weren’t even a factor in the Machado sweepstakes a month ago, couldn’t sit idly by and watch Machado sign with the Chicago White Sox, whose final offer was eight-years, $250 million, with two $35 million options for years nine and 10.
“I’m much happier as to where we are now,” Fowler said, “than where the White Sox are.”
Machado certainly was aware of the White Sox’s interest from the get-go. They brought him into Chicago to meet. They traded for his brother-in-law Yonder Alonso, his best friend. They signed Jon Jay, his close family friend. And they wound up increasing their original seven-year offer by $75 million.
It wasn’t enough.
“Since Day 1, we knew it was the right fit for me and my wife to be here,” Machado said. “We’re very excited to be here, and start this new journey of our lives, to take on that San Diego weather and take on this team.”
Said Fowler: “Yeah, and $300 million didn’t hurt either.”
California may have the highest taxes in the country, but perfect weather year-round has a way of making you forget about those checks sent to Uncle Sam.
There will be pressure, lofty expectations, and a whole new set of demands put on Machado. The baseball landscape is filled with free agents who sign massive contracts, and badly struggle the first year, simply because of the internal pressure.
Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, who signed a franchise-record eight-year, $144 million contract a year ago, lived through it himself last season with his worst full season since 2012. Yet, he believes Machado will overcome it simply because he’s had a bulls-eye on him since he broke into the big leagues.
“There might be a little pressure,” Hosmer concedes, “because you want to impress your teammates, you want to show everybody that you’re worth the contract you signed. I think the hardest thing is just getting comfortable and learning everybody, and getting into your routine.
“But I think what really will help him is that he was traded last year, so he already got the experience of something new. He’ll come in here, he’ll be adopt, and he’ll be just fine.”
And, if the Padres start to win, look out.
“This,” Machado said, “is just the beginning. Ten more years. Ten more years.”