Machado Will Bring Eyeballs, But Not Playoffs

When it's the second week of February, and the "hot stove" market in Major League Baseball has been as frigid as it gets, it can be hard to find a topic worth spending time and type on.

But just when your every day fan writer is at a loss for what he's going to produce to meet a deadline, the sporting gods come through with a juicy story.

For those who spent their day in a bomb shelter, one of the biggest shoes left to drop in the MLB offseason had its date with the floor this Tuesday, as the San Diego Padres backed up the Brinks truck for Dodgers free agent Manny Machado. It's the largest free agent contract in the game's history, but that's not really the story. We've known since the middle of last season that Machado or Bryce Harper would be receiving record-breaking free agent contracts, and as of this writing it remains to be seen if Harper's eventual deal will surpass that of the 26-year-old Miami native.

That said, this writer still considers the 13-year, $325-million dollar contract held by Giancarlo Stanton as the true largest contract in American sports. Were he to decide to stay with the Yankees beyond his opt-out year, Stanton is locked up through age 38. He's currently 29.

But contract numbers really aren't what's most interesting here. What's most interesting is how a superstar like Machado will affect a traditionally also-ran franchise like the Padres. San Diego has made just five postseason appearances in 50 seasons, winning just two pennants and no world championships in their franchise history. In fact, the San Diego metropolitan area has yet to win a single major sports championship.

Recently abandoned by their beloved Chargers, who truly owned the world of San Diego sports, the barren pro sports landscape in one of America's premier transplant cities has been left with the hum-drum Padres, who have recorded exactly one winning season in the last 11 years, and have not won the NL West since 2006. Excitement is one of the last adjectives one would use to describe a typical regular season game at Petco Park, and that reality has scarcely changed even as the Pads have picked up some big name pieces in the last five years.

The 2015 team featured names like Justin Upton, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel, Wil Myers, and Matt Kemp, all who had recently been major impact players with other clubs. The result was a 74-win season and a fourth place finish, followed by a tear down and three consecutive seasons of 71 wins or fewer. Last offseason, they inked first baseman Eric Hosmer to the what had been largest free agent deal in team history, and the immediate result was 96 losses and a last place finish, with Hosmer posting mediocre numbers in spite of 158 games played.

Fact is San Diego is one of the least relevant franchises in baseball, and have been for some time. So while it may seem strange for a seemingly bright-lights-seeking superstar like Machado to land with one of baseball's most innocuous teams, the signing shines an instant light on the Friars. The star third baseman will now be the cornerstone piece for the club to build around in hopes of getting back into postseason contention for several years to come.

So what does that mean for 2019, the season we're just days away from getting underway? Unfortunately for the 25-30 Padres faithful out there, not much. The reality is this is a long-term play for San Diego, and part of GM A.J. Preller's grand master plan to reshape the club's farm system into one of the best in baseball. The Padres system produced 10 of the top 100 prospects for 2019 according to MLB Pipeline, the most ever for a single team. While just a handful will potentially crack the major leagues this season, with Machado secured for the long-haul, the Friars look to be major impact players in 2020 and beyond.

For 2019, it's difficult to see San Diego beating out the Rockies or the Dodgers in the NL West. However with the Giants in an identity crisis regarding whether or not they still want to contend or begin a rebuild, and the Diamondbacks declaring their two-year playoff window to be closed, there stands a chance the Padres could see themselves well above the cellar this year, albeit likely outside the playoff race.

Wil Myers looks to return to full-health and the form that led to consecutive seasons of 25+ homers in 2016-2017, and he'll be joined in the middle of the lineup by Machado, Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe, who's launched 56 homers in 250 games over the past two seasons. The team hopes center-fielder Manuel Margot will continue to develop into a long-term starter in the outfield after slightly regressing in 2018 following a solid 2017. Margot is still just 24, and fits in well with the multi-year plan of the club.

Kirby Yates will likely takeover as the team's primary closer following two successful campaigns which saw him post a 1.01 WHIP and 13K/9 over 127 games. He'll be joined in the bullpen by veterans Craig Stammen and Aaron Loup, with the 25-year-old Phil Maton likely in the mix along with veteran swing man Robbie Erlin.

The major question mark for San Diego lies in the starting rotation, where they will return relatively unproven youngsters in Joey Luchessi and Eric Laur as the only starters with 20 or more starts in 2018. The team lost veterans Clayton Richard and Tyson Ross this offseason, and to date no major starters of note have been added to the wide open rotation.

Aside from the handful of big-name position players and solid bullpen outlook, the Padres will look to see development from a slew of top-tier prospects this season, starting with middle-infielder Luis Urias. The No. 23 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, the 21-year-old Mexican native got his feet wet for a dozen major league games in 2018, and will likely start the season on the major league roster, potentially as the starting shortstop.

With Machado at third, Hosmer at first, and veteran acquisition Ian Kinsler manning second base, Urias would be a logical choice to slide into the 6-hole until mega-prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is ready to make his ascension into the big leagues where he will likely begin his reign as the starting shortstop. Urias would then slide into a middle-infield back up role.

Another youngster the team is very high on is No. 26 overall prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia. The 22-year-old was traded to the Padres in July of last year as part of the Brad Hand deal, and appeared in 20 games at the big league level for the club. Veteran Austin Hedges will likely land the starting catching role, but Mejia could get valuable major league experience as the set backup.

Heading in to 2019, the Padres plan of stock piling a plethora of young talent and complimenting it with a core of veteran stars seems to be taking place. And Manny Machado could be one star whose light could actually break the Pacific marine layer that has blanketed the Padres franchise for the better part of the past 20 years. Expect a few more tickets sold to sleepy Petco, but the real jump to the forefront a few years down the road.

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