The San Diego Padres may have surprised some on Tuesday when they reached a record-setting agreement with Manny Machado — ending a lengthy wait for a star free agent — but the match is an ideal fit for the club and player. Machado will receive the biggest deal ever for a free agent, while a club that is traditionally not a big spender and hasn’t reached the postseason since 2006 will add an in-his-prime, superstar-level player to play alongside one of the most enviable collections of young talent in the sport.
Machado’s overall production and youth make him one of the most appealing free agents in baseball history. The former Oriole and Dodger has produced the 26th most wins above replacement among position players through age 25 in baseball history (33.8), according to Baseball-Reference.com. For comparison, fellow 26-year-old free agent Bryce Harper is 41st (27.4). And of those players ranked ahead of him, Alex Rodriguez was the last player who was younger when he entered the open market — coming off his age 24 season in signing with the Texas Rangers in 2001.
In signing for a reported $300 million over 10 years, Machado will break Rodriguez’s 11-year-old record ($275 million) for a free-agent contract set in 2008, his second mega-contract.1 The deal is also the largest free-agent pact in North American pro sports history. Machado’s agreement includes an opt out in the fifth year.
As the Rangers and Rodriguez did with his first free-agent deal, the Padres and Machado prove that not all major contracts are signed by clubs coming off winning seasons, looking for an extra push to get them a title. The Padres recorded 96 losses a year ago and were projected by FiveThirtyEight entering Tuesday to win 73 games this season.
Of the 12 previous contracts exceeding $200 million in baseball history, six were awarded to players by teams with losing records the previous season: Giancarlo Stanton (contract extension) with the Marlins in 2015, Rodriguez with the Rangers in 2001, Robinson Cano with the Mariners in 2014, David Price with the Red Sox in 2016, Miguel Cabrera with the Tigers in 2016 (contract extension) and Zack Greinke with the Diamondbacks in 2016. Only Greinke and Price have reached the playoffs with their signing teams, and the Padres are in a much stronger position than any of those clubs.
|Signing Club||Prev. season record||Player||Years||Guaranteed dollars|
|Red Sox||78-84||David Price||2016-22||217.0|
San Diego has Baseball America’s top-rated farm system, including consensus top-five prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., who figures to slot in at shortstop next to Machado in the not-too-distant future. The Padres have a number of other potential future stars and contributors in prospects like Mackenzie Gore (pitcher), Luis Urias (middle infield), Francisco Mejia (catcher), Adrian Morejon (pitcher), Chris Paddack (pitcher) and Luis Patino (pitcher).
And if Machado makes good or exceeds his 5-WAR forecast for the coming season, perhaps he can help the Padres creep into the postseason picture even sooner. Machado has produced at least 5.7 WAR in four out of his past five full seasons2 and has played in at least 156 games five times since 2013. The four-time All-Star has averaged 31 home runs per 162 games and has won two Gold Glove awards at third base.
Baseball America editor J.J. Cooper speculates that the Padres could further accelerate their timetable by trading for veteran pitching:
Machado’s deal exceeded many expectations. On the eve of free agency in November, the FanGraphs crowd predicted a deal of 8.6 years on average at $273 million for Machado. In January, when asked again, the crowd’s prediction fell to 7.9 years and $233 million, a 15 percent drop in dollars.
Padres chairman Ron Fowler is now a big-spending outlier for a second straight offseason. The Machado deal comes almost exactly a year after the Padres signed Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million deal. (The Padres hope for far more than Hosmer’s replacement-level, -0.1 WAR debut season, according to the FanGraphs metric.) And like Hosmer, Machado could have some of his offensive numbers decline by playing in what is typically a pitcher’s park.
The Padres did figure to have some financial flexibility, finishing last season ranked 22nd in payroll. Machado’s record deal should pause the offseason talk of tanking and collusion at least for a few news cycles.
The Padres are trying to compete with the Dodgers, who appear set for sustained success in the NL West. They now indisputably have what they tried to purchase last year with Hosmer: a centerpiece to build a lineup around. While Machado can hit for power, hit for average and capably play the field, he’s not one for sprinting. Much was made of Machado’s lack of urgency last postseason, when he said hustling is not his “cup of tea” after appearing to not run out a ground ball in Game 2 of the NLCS at Milwaukee:
Some speculated that his lack of hustle could cost him in free agency. But $300 million later, that thinking seems misguided. And there’s reason to believe the lack of hustle is not a recent development or much of a major concern as it relates to his overall value.
In 2017, Statcast began measuring a metric called “sprint speed,” which consists of two measurements: home-to-first times on weakly hit ground balls and speed when advancing two or more bases (except for instances when a runner was on second base at the time of an extra-base hit).
Machado’s top speed, 26.3 feet per second, was the same in each of the past two seasons and up slightly from 2016 (26.1 second). Machado averaged 27.4 seconds in 2015, the first year Statcast cameras tracked player movement. His sprint speed split times, including his initial burst — his first 5 feet (0.55 seconds) — were also the same in each of the past two seasons.
One debate entering this offseason was whether Harper or Machado was the better free-agent bet. But what Machado offers that Harper does not, in addition to consistency, is the ability to play on the left side of the infield.
After playing shortstop last season, when he was the third-worst defensive shortstop in the game, Machado figures to transition with San Diego back to third base, where he has been elite. Machado has ranked as above average in defensive runs saved in every year he has played third. He was second in baseball in defensive runs saved in 2013 (35), trailing only Andrelton Simmons. He won Gold Glove awards at third in 2013 and 2015.
The Padres made a big push late in the offseason to sign one of the best free agents of all time. And even it at record dollar amount, it will be worth the cost if it coincides with the young Padres coming of age.