Buster Olney says Padres crazy

By: Troy Story.



If Manny Machado signs a deal for something in the $250 million range with the Padres, you would completely get it from his perspective. The market for him hasn't been as robust as once expected, but even when you factor in California taxes and any deferrals, that is a life-changing amount of money for any person.

Whether he signs with the Padres or the White Sox, or perhaps pivots to the Phillies, Machado will do just fine in free agency, it appears, after a long winter's wait. Good for him.

But once again, the pertinent question is: What in the world are the Padres thinking?

It's the same question asked when they went all-in in the winter of 2014-15 and then managed to win fewer games in the season that followed. It's the same puzzle as last winter, when they spent more on a free agent than any other team to land first baseman Eric Hosmer for $144 million, and then went 65-97.

 

Small-market teams aren't watching rich teams sign all the top free agents anymore. They're watching rich teams sign all the top free agents -- at discounts.

 

Machado is a really good player, and he'll make them better with his excellent defense and his power. From the perspective of the players' association, this will be a good indication that a team that tanked and slashed its payroll to the bone would have three pricey players on its roster, in Machado, Hosmer and Wil Myers (who is set to make $22.5 million annually from 2020 to 2022, per the terms of his very backloaded contract).

But as was the case last winter with Hosmer, the timing of a Machado signing seems strange because San Diego, while teeming with prospects, does not seem close to contending. The Padres finished in last place in the NL West, 25½ games behind the Dodgers, and while they have a lot of promising prospects graduating from their teenage years, they really haven't done much to augment a pitching staff that ranked 13th of 15 in staff ERA (4.40). Their starting pitchers had the worst ERA, at 5.09.

For now, their rotation looks like this, according to the team's website:

Joey Lucchesi, 25 years old; 4.08 ERA in 2018 Eric Lauer, 23 years old; 4.34 ERA Robbie Erlin, 28; 4.21 Jacob Nix, 23; 7.02 in nine starts Bryan Mitchell, 27; 5.42

Soon enough, the promising MacKenzie Gore, who turns 20 this week, will ascend to the big leagues, but he'll start this year in Class A.

 

It's still possible for Padres ownership to address that area this winter because of how slowly the free-agent market has played out. San Diego could still sign Dallas Keuchel to be an anchor at the front of the rotation, or Gio Gonzalez -- or heck, if they're willing to invest that kind of money in Machado, they could sign both Keuchel and Gonzalez, at the cost of perhaps $30 million annually.

Unless the Padres inject that kind of capital into their rotation, it appears Machado would be destined to be in the same kind of situation as Alex Rodriguez after Rodriguez signed his 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez did everything possible to make good on the Rangers' investment in him -- in three seasons, he batted .305, clubbed 156 homers, won one MVP award and finished second and sixth in the voting in the other two years. He was awesome.

And yet it changed nothing for the Rangers, because they failed to install a group around him that was good enough to win -- and in particular, they didn't have close to enough pitching. That's exactly where the Padres appear to be.

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With the signing of Hosmer and this strong flirtation with Machado, Padres ownership is again signaling a desire to goose the long, slow rebuilding process that began with the teardown of the 2015 team. San Diego has a great farm system, for sure, with highly rated prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr., but as the Phillies and White Sox have learned in recent years, it can take time for that talent to translate to the big league level. The path didn't turn out to be as seamless as expected for Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford and Yoan Moncada. Stuff happens.

 

Building a pitching staff to run down the Dodgers might take another couple of years, and yes, adding a premium defender like Machado will help the pitching. But by the time the Padres are really ready to turn the corner, Machado might be a couple of years into his deal, and Hosmer could be 31 or 32.

Once the Padres took the path of a complete teardown and began adding a lot of teenage prospects, the ownership had to be wholly committed -- and still needs to be committed -- to a patient wait for those players to develop. Like kids waiting through the early days of December for Christmas morning.

Eight years have passed since the last time the Padres had a winning record, and it's been 13 seasons since San Diego last reached the postseason. Maybe ownership is just flat-out sick of waiting. It's the Padres' money, it's the Padres' prerogative.

But signing Machado would feel a whole lot like ripping open Christmas packages on Dec. 16 without any family around. The timing just isn't right, the moment isn't right, and it would seem destined to fall flat.

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