Machado megadeal gives Padres' rebuild $300M of credibility
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And we all thought Eric Hosmer signing with the San Diego Padres last winter was shocking. It was a simpler time.

This offseason, despite the constant rumors linking the Padres to superstar infielder Manny Machado, Tuesday's mammoth agreement - $300 million over 10 years, the largest free-agent contract in American sports history - took the shock to another level.

"It's not going to happen," a source familiar with the Padres' thinking told The Athletic's Dennis Lin in November.

And why would it? Why would Machado choose to play for baseball's equivalent of the Washington Generals? Here's a look at the Padres' recent resume:

  • Lost 96 games in 2018, finishing last in the National League West for the second time in three seasons.
  • No winning season since 2010, when the Baltimore Orioles selected Machado third overall in the amateur draft.
  • No postseason appearance since 2006, when Bruce Bochy, the outgoing San Francisco Giants manager, helmed the club.
  • They haven't won a playoff series since before Fernando Tatis Jr., their most highly touted current prospect, was born.

Most assumed that only against the backdrop of collusion could Machado be enamored of the Padres, the climate be damned. (If you're still wondering how broken baseball is, consider that the New York Yankees didn't even make Machado a formal offer.)

But market realities notwithstanding, the Padres - undeterred by the discouraging early returns on Hosmer's eight-year, $144-million deal - obviously believe they're close enough to contention to justify an unprecedentedly outsized investment. And they may be. The algorithm at Baseball Prospectus projects them to finish 77-85, a significant year-over-year improvement even with a negligible contribution from Tatis Jr. Their outlook beyond 2019 looks even rosier, thanks to a farm system widely regarded as baseball's best.

Now, San Diego's bright future has a face everyone can recognize. Now, the rebuild has some credibility - $300 million of credibility, to be precise.

Though he won't be able to singlehandedly drag the Padres into the 2019 postseason, Machado will be instrumental in propping open that competitive window the following year, optimistically, and then keeping it open. Therein lies the beauty of signing a 26-year-old star, whose arrival also takes some pressure off the Padres' top youngsters to develop into surplus-value machines. It's easy to fantasize about Tatis Jr. and Mackenzie Gore and Francisco Mejia steering San Diego into a prosperous future. It's much easier to envision the team getting there with its newest face of the franchise leading the way.

Machado, after all, is a bona fide superstar - he's on the Cooperstown track as both a shortstop and a third baseman - in the prime of his career. In fact, he's only getting better.

Last year, Machado set or matched career bests in virtually every offensive category, including OPS (.905), wRC+ (141), home runs (37), isolated power (.241), walk rate (9.9 percent), expected weighted on-base average (.377), and hard-hit rate (48.). He finished the campaign with "only" 6.2 fWAR because advanced metrics deemed his defense at shortstop to be substandard.

And since the start of the 2015 campaign, Machado's accrued more fWAR than all but eight position players, including 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper, whose forthcoming deal is expected to surpass Machado's in overall value. Ultimately, whether he continues to flounder defensively at shortstop or soon returns to third base to accommodate Tatis, Machado will remain an elite talent. (As such, it really shouldn't matter that he's not a huge fan of performative hustle.)

'The tipping point'

The Padres' trek back to relevance has been arduous, to say the least, with little more than repeated reassurances from the front office that the franchise was indeed trending in the right direction.

In fact, Ron Fowler, the club's 76-year-old chairman, bristled earlier this offseason when general manager A.J. Preller once again stressed the importance of "gradual improvement."

"I leaned over to him (Preller) and said, 'You know, I'm an old guy. Let's get to the tipping point sooner versus later,'" Fowler recalled in November, according to Lin. "And he laughed and sort of said he thinks we're closer than people think. Whether that means sometime next year or sometime in 2020, I think we've got the talent."

Clearly, Preller wasn't simply blowing smoke. And while there's no guarantee that the perpetually moribund Padres reach that tipping point, their chances very much improved - and in decidedly shocking fashion - on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen whether Machado will get to play with any other elite talents over the next decade. In recent years, the Padres have rarely converted prospects into big-league contributors - their only first-round pick since 2009 to amass more than five career WAR is Trea Turner, who was traded to Washington less than six months after San Diego drafted him.

So, a lot still has to go right for the Padres to eke any glory out of this massive investment. And there's always the possibility that Machado's deal could backfire, saddling the team - hardly a financial juggernaut - with an(other) albatross. Still, a preemptive $300-million signing at least suggests the Padres think they're on the right path, and that they believe in the personnel they have.

If nothing else, it buys them the benefit of the doubt.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

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Machado megadeal gives Padres' rebuild $300M of credibility
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