The MLB’s February Domino Fall

The Padres signing of Manny Machado to a ten year, $300 million contract is the type of move I wish teams made more.  It’s a win-now, grab-it-by-the-balls move that’s risky but holds massive reward.  More importantly, it’s a move that had to be made no matter what.

It reminds me of the Raptors trade for Kawhi Leonard last Summer.  Toronto had to do something, and they did that by landing one of the six best players in the league.  If he leaves, it was still worth it, as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had to be broken up.

Machado works in a similar way.  The Padres banking on this many prospects to turn out, no matter how high they may be ranked, was a risky proposition.  Getting Machado gives the team, and more importantly the fan base, something to hold on to if the worst-case scenario comes about.  That though, is very unlikely to happen.

Given that, if the Machado contract looks like holy hell in four years, then San Diego still has a very, very solid team.  All of the prospects they have now will be hitting their primes.  Machado becomes a player rather than a star.

Perhaps the most shocking part about the Machado sweepstakes wasn’t how long the process dragged out, but that he got the contract he did at this point in time.  The longer the stars held out, the lower their value goes (Cough, Bryce Harper).  That wasn’t the case for Machado.  Contracts for Machado that we read or heard throughout the Winter went anywhere from seven years, $175 million to eight years, $250 million.  The $200 million to $250 million range seemed like the sweet spot.  Machado leaped over it.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal by San Diego.  Overpaying Machado feels much safer than overpaying Harper, who’s shown more inconsistency over his seven seasons and has severe limitations defensively compared to Machado, who’s a wizard.  The attitude issues between the two cancel out, though Machado’s recent antics don’t help.  Still, that feels more like a recency bias issue.

You could also frame it this way: Would you overpay for Manny Machado if you could put him and Fernando Tatis Jr. on the same side of the infield?

I think so too.  The Padres are loaded, and while it may not come immediately, Machado’s signing brings upon baseball’s next contender much sooner than we anticipated.  Tatis Jr. won’t be there Opening Day, but Ty France has shown promise in the minors, batting .267/.355/.464 with 22 home runs and 96 RBIs between AAA and AA last season.  He could be a nice asset for the Padres to float out there along with their other 80 pitching prospects, but for now serves as a fantastic middle-man between Tatis Jr and the big leagues.

Whichever of the two play shortstop is a big but not problematic question for the Padres.  Machado marketed himself in free agency as a shortstop, but a lot of his defensive gems have came from plays at third.  The numbers back that up too.  Since his MLB debut, Machado carries a DRS of 84 at third base and a DRS of -11 at shortstop.  But, DRS is an accumulative stat, and Machado has played 4,780 and two-thirds more innings at third rather than short, making up for the huge difference.  Still, Machado’s best defensive season at shortstop was in 2016, where he posted a lousy total of three DRS.  At third, the numbers are consistently better and higher.

Despite that, if the Padres decide to fulfill Machado’s wishes and play him at shortstop, it’s not that big of a deal.  We could easily attribute the shortstop numbers to a lack of sample size.

Elsewhere, San Diego is in just as good of a place.  Luis Urias slides to 2nd base, and has insurance with Ian Kinsler behind him.  The concerning Eric Hosmer contract sits at 1st base, but that hasn’t reared its ugly head yet, and at only 29-years-old, it shouldn’t for a couple more years.  San Diego’s outfield is more than serviceable, though it’d be nice if Manuel Margot could develop his bat a bit more.

And then there’s the pitching, that, while like everywhere else, the Padres have options and will be fine no matter what, but is probably the biggest barrier this team has to break to become a contender, and that barrier will exist almost no matter what they do.

The Padres have three options.  First, they could keep everyone, hope they all develop and probably still be pretty well off.  Second, they could move almost everyone, but that requires other teams to have to make top guys available (Who?  The whole Indians rotation?  If the Mets don’t pan out and want to rebuild?).  Or third, a combination of both, where San Diego picks and chooses guys to move and keep (Because they can) and assembles a rotation that way.

The third is most likely because while the first is probably the preferred option, it’s just not realistic, especially considering this number of guys.

So who do the Padres move?  Mackenzie Gore is off limits, same with Chris Paddock.  Anderson Espinoza is a tough case.  He’s somehow only 20-years-old still, but just underwent Tommy John Surgery and wasn’t great in High-A before it. Espinoza is someone who’s terrifying to trade away but because of that could net a high return.

Then there’s the lower tier of guys, who in any other farm system are among the top prospects.  These are the Luis Patinos (Who I like!), Adrian Morejons and Logan Allens of the world.  Any combination of those two players land you a solid, win-now starter.

The market of pitchers who San Diego could target has to develop of course.  That market is not clear or even available now, but come late July, when San Diego could be much higher in the standings than we think they’re going to be, it will be.  And even if the Padres are on track, don’t count them out.  Never count AJ Preller out of any potential trade.

The Padres could also find that market to be within themselves too.  While the current rotation overall is a complete disaster, there are a couple bright spots.  Joey Lucchesi wasn’t terrible last season; the high-ish ERA, home run and walk numbers cause speculation, but Lucceshi mows down hitters when he’s firing (10.0 strikeouts per nine last season!).  He’s only 25 too, and 2018 was his debut.  I’m less high on Eric Lauer, but he’s even younger than Lucceshi at 23.  Jacob Nix is another name that has potential as well.

But so many questions comes out of the Padres current major league talent, which is why trading certain prospects, or even those guys above, for solid guarantees makes the most sense.

If the Padres do that, stick to the plan and don’t rush like they did when Preller took the job, then they will be fine.  As in 2020 World Series contender fine.