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What if the Padres signed Manny Machado? How about Bryce Harper? What if they traded for JT Realmuto?

MLB: JUL 07 Orioles at Nationals Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s been a quiet offseason when it comes to actual transactions, but the Padres have been active in conversations with just about everyone. Three names have dominated the rumor mill, and rightfully so. The Padres have expressed interest in both of the game’s biggest free agents in Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and they’ve engaged in trade talks involving JT Realmuto. How would each of these moves work with the current Padres roster, and what future impacts would they have?

World Baseball Classic - Pool F - Game 3 - Venezuela v Dominican Republic Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Manny Machado

Why: At age 26, Machado would bring four All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves to a team that has a clear need at shortstop and third base, and the idea of pairing him with Fernando Tatis Jr makes Padres fans weak in their knees. Long considered one of the best defenders at third base, Machado spent most of the 2018 season back at his original position of shortstop and proved that he can still handle the job. He’s coming off the best offensive year of his career, batting .297/.367/.538 with 37 home runs. He’s the complete package, a player who is always a threat at the plate and plays premium defensive positions. Since he debuted at age 19 and played a full season at age 20, he’s unusually young for a free agent, which means that he might still be getting better and he has a great chance of staying healthy and productive through a long contract. Oh, and supposedly Tatis has always idolized him. If you need more arguments for why Machado is an ideal fit for the Padres on paper, please read this piece by AJ Cassavell of MLB.com and this piece by Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com.

The Cost: While Machado had dreams of breaking Giancarlo Stanton’s record $325M contract, the market has fallen as prospective suitors have dried up. Right now the White Sox and the Phillies are the other teams actively involved, and it was rumored that the White Sox offered him $175M for seven years. It looks like he’ll pull somewhere between $25-30M across a 7-10 year contract. The bright side is that, as a free agent, he only costs a ton of cash and no prospects need to be moved to acquire him. A quick look at the Padres future salary situations shows that the team could add $30M to its payroll for the foreseeable future and still remain below MLB average for all but the 2022 season, assuming that $160M would qualify as “above average” by then as MLB revenues continue to trend up. The other “cost” would be the perceived notion that Machado is a dirty or lazy player, which would need to be addressed in some way by the team both internally and publicly. Recently it was reported that he was disappointed by the lack of consideration by the Yankees, and he’ll probably be disappointed by any contract that doesn’t start with a 3. it’s also been reported that his side hasn’t shown much interest in meeting with the Padres. Still, any team in the league would immediately be better with Manny Machado on their roster, so the pros far outweigh the cons.

The Impact: Machado’s right-handed bat would slide into the heart of the order as the team’s best hitter. He would man either third base or shortstop depending on roster moves yet to come, and would probably wind up at third base once Tatis comes up. For the next half-decade, the team would have an infield of Hosmer-Urias-Tatis-Machado, which would rank among the best defensive and offensive infields in the game. A team that is looking at another season of mediocrity would immediately be inserted into “division contender” discussions.

The Fallout: As the depth chart stands right now, the team is looking at some mish-mash of Greg Garcia, Luis Urias, Ty France, and Javier Guerra to cover the left side of the infield, with Tatis joining the club a month or more into the season. Machado’s addition would essentially eliminate playing time for France and Guerra, neither of which are likely to become impact players. Down the road, a player like Hudson Potts or Gabriel Arias or Xavier Edwards might be blocked, but that’s a great problem to have. An elevated payroll would mean that the team probably wouldn’t be going after premium free agents for the next few years, but the organization is set up to support the MLB roster with prospect depth anyway. The fallout here is minimal... unless you’re concerned with a brawl breaking out when Machado steps on Anthony Rizzo’s foot.

MLB: All Star Game-Workout Day Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper

Why: Also age 26, Harper brings more accolades than Machado including the 2012 Rookie of the Year and 2015 MVP along with a fistful of All-Star selections. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in the game and also possesses elite plate discipline, adding up to one of the best hitters in all of baseball. His best defensive position is rightfield, but he saw extended time in centerfield last year so there is some flexibility depending on the ballpark. Since taking the league by storm at age 19, Harper has been one of the most recognizable players in the game with a knack for shining in his biggest moments. On the organization’s side, there aren’t a ton of top-shelf outfield prospects knocking on the Padres’ door right now, so locking a corner down for the next decade would be a plus.

The Cost: The Nationals were reported to have offered Harper a 10-year, $300M contract in late September which he declined. Since declining that offer, the free agent market has been strangely quiet while teams have looked toward cheaper options to fill out their outfield rosters. Like Machado, the teams linked to Harper have been the Phillies, White Sox, and most recently, the Padres, who met with Harper just yesterday. There have been no leaks regarding actual offers, but again the price is likely to be similar to Machado’s, in the $25-30M range for 7-10 years. There is a significant risk attached to Harper, as his production hasn’t had the year-in, year-out consistency that Machado has had due to slumps and injury. As a less well-rounded player, a slide in one skill could cause Harper to decline at an earlier age... but then again we’ve seen slugging corner outfielders remain productive well past their mid-30’s.

The Impact: Harper’s left-handed bat would pair nicely with righties Wil Myers and Fernando Tatis Jr. near the top of the Padres order. Adding in Luis Urias and Eric Hosmer, a Urias-Harper-Tatis-Hosmer-Myers block makes for a nice R-L-R-L-R order that’s platoon-proof. Harper would be the team’s best hitter since Adrian Gonzalez with the potential to post numbers that would break franchise records.

The Fallout: The team’s roster currently has three righty-hitting slugging corner outfielders slated for major time this year in Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, and Franmil Reyes. If Harper was on board, playing time for two of those guys would essentially vanish. Given Myers’ contract status, the team would likely seek to trade both Renfroe and Reyes. Manuel Margot would probably remain the starting centerfielder, with Travis Jankowski serving as 4th outfielder and Franchy Cordero fighting for a piece of the playing time down the road after showing improvement in AAA. All that said, any team in the league would clear space for a player of Harper’s caliber. The team would still have an infield need, so a less expensive option like Mike Moustakas would make sense to round out the roster.

Miami Marlins v San Diego Padres

JT Realmuto

Why: Ever since his first full season in 2015, Realmuto has been one of the game’s most productive catchers with a reputation for excellent defense. He led all catchers with 4.8 fWAR in 2018, which was the first time he was selected to an All-Star team. At the game’s most demanding defensive position, his .277/.340/.484 line looks even more impressive when compared against the collective .228/.301/.380 line that the Padres backstops posted in 2018. Behind the plate he’s known for being very good at blocking pitches in the dirt as well as for a strong and accurate arm. His framing stats don’t impress, but the Padres have had success with improving that skill in the past under catching instructor Riley Westman. While the team doesn’t have a clear need at catcher, this is an opportunity to acquire one of the game’s best at a premium position.

The Cost: The Miami Marlins own the rights to JT Realmuto, who is under team control through the 2020 season. After trading away guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon, Realmuto’s agent made it clear that they weren’t interested in remaining with the team long-term, and Realmuto has been the top name in trade rumors ever since. A trade package that has been tossed around involves Hunter Renfroe, Francisco Mejia, and Adrian Morejon. According to Baseball Pipeline, Mejia is the game’s 26th ranked prospect, and Morejon is 49th, and adding a slugging outfielder with MLB experience makes the purchase price relatively high. Realmuto is under contract for $5.9M in 2019 and he is on track to make significantly more in his final year of arbitration. He is due to become a free agent after the 2020 season. Rumors have suggested that the Padres want to discuss an extension with Realmuto prior to negotiating a trade, which would make sense considering the team’s long-term goals of contention.

The Impact: As noted above, the team’s production at the catcher postion would jump from mediocre to elite. Austin Hedges would shift into a backup role, which matches what some feel is the best long-term fit considering the general doubt that he’ll break out as a productive hitter. An extension would lock Realmuto down for several years, and with Hedges under control as the backup, the team would have stability at the game’s most demanding position for the foreseeable future.

The Fallout: Austin Hedges still has his believers, but a backup role would limit his ability to develop his bat much further. The team’s best defensive catcher would spend most of the time on the bench, but that’s often a sacrifice teams are willing to make to stabilize the offense. With Renfroe gone, the outfield picture is a little bit clearer, opening playing time for Franmil Reyes and Franchy Cordero. The team’s needs at third base and the rotation would still need to be addressed. The departure of Mejia and Morejon don’t create huge voids in the team’s developmental system, but the sting of watching former prospects succeed elsewhere is always bitter and one that Padres fans have known far too often.

What makes sense?

On paper, Manny Machado seems to fit the team’s needs the most. Bryce Harper would need space cleared out for him, but his camp has shown active interest, so he might “buy in” to the Padres organization better as a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. The slim chance that both sign with the Padres would tie some accountants’ hands, but holy moly, what a lineup that would be! JT Realmuto doesn’t seem to match up with team needs as well, but represents an upgrade nonetheless. We all know that the most likely outcome is D) None of the Above, where the team retools again with stopgaps and rehab projects, but it’s still fun to imagine some “What if?” scenarios.