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Manny Machado’s ripple effects, Part 2: The Player

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Now that we know that Manny Machado will be joining the Padres, let’s consider the impacts that his signing will have on current and future team rosters.

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Baltimore Orioles v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Manny Machado will be a San Diego Padres for the next five to ten years. He is a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. A franchise-defining talent. His presence on current and future Padres rosters has long-reaching implications that immediately bring the organization into focus for the rest of the league.

Manny appears to be a perfect fit for the Padres

The Padres entered the 2018-2019 offseason with major question marks on the left side of the infield. Fernando Tatis Jr is expected to debut at some point in 2019, but in the meantime we were looking at some mish-mash of aging veterans, middling utility players, and flawed fringe prospects to handle the role until Tuesday’s news broke. Now the team has much more clarity. Manny Machado has been one of the most consistent players in baseball, averaging over 159 games each of the last four seasons. He’s one of the game’s best defenders at third base, and last year he re-established himself as a quality shortstop. His right-handed bat will play well at Petco Park, and his propensity for the “high drive” fits not only the dimensions of Petco Park very well, but should work well in Los Angeles, Denver, and Phoenix too.

While his perceived immaturity has been played up, past teammates speak glowingly of Manny Machado as a person and as a teammate. Eric Hosmer was brought on board in part to establish a veteran presence in the team’s clubhouse, but expect Machado to be an emotional leader for the team, especially the Latin players.

Fernando Tatis Jr has a mentor

MLB: San Deigo Padres-Workouts Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I mentioned Fernando Tatis Jr as Machado’s teammate, but he will be a protege as well. Tatis has long idolized Machado and the two struck a friendship several years back. The two are from the same town in the Dominican Republic, they play the same positions with much of the same style, and the two share an agent in Dan Lozano. The Padres’ top prospect now has a leader who can take him under his wing and hold him accountable as he matures into the superstar we all hope him to be.

If the team places pressure on Machado to set an example for Tatis, it may serve as a maturing process for the mentor as he takes on a leadership role. San Diego is a laid back town, and the media tends to be much more complimentary than their more aggressive counterparts on the east coast. But the attention that Machado has drawn related to a lack of hustle and a propensity of kicking/stepping on the feet of first basemen has cast a reputation as a dirty player. With a protege to tutor, perhaps Machado will become more aware of his actions and how they are perceived with his teammates and his peers.

Padres position players are set for a LONG time

San Diego Padres v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

Wil Myers is under contract through 2022 with a team option for 2023. Eric Hosmer is under contract through 2022 with an option that could keep him in San Diego through 2025. The rest of the team’s core position players are under team control for several years before they reach free agency. Austin Hedges, Manuel Margot, and Travis Jankowski are scheduled to become free agents after the 2022 season. Hunter Renfroe and Franchy Cordero are on track to hit free agency after the 2023 season. Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia, and Franmil Reyes follow them a year later. For the first time in a long time, we can look at the players on the field and expect to see this same group rise together and compete as a unit for years to come.

Fernando Tatis Jr’s debut date

MLB: San Deigo Padres-Workouts Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Before Manny Machado was even a thing, people were looking at Fernando Tatis and wondering when the wunderkind would make his MLB debut. As we stand here today, it seems all but certain that we will see Tatis some time this year, and sooner is likelier than later. Many are calling for him to be on the field on Opening Day. Without going down a rabbit hole about service time (read here for that time I tried to break it down the other day), here are a few possible debut date possibilites and their impacts on the team’s future with Tatis:

  • Opening Day: The idea of a Hosmer-Urias-Tatis-Machado infield for the next half-decade is so exciting that we want to see it ASAP. If Tatis cruises through Spring Training and looks ready for MLB action, the team might just bring him up on Day One. But if they do so, they could be risking the loss of a year of team control and costing themselves a big chunk of salary when he eventually tips the heavy end of the arbitration scales.
  • April 15th: The Padres start their second homestand on this day, and it would make sense from a marketing standpoint to bring the team’s top prospect up for the first time in front of a home crowd. By waiting a couple of weeks into the season, the team would ensure that Tatis couldn’t accrue enough service time for 2019 to count as a full year, thereby retaining his services for an added year of team control. The machinations behind this are generally known as “service clock manipulation” and if you want to know more about this, please check out what the Cubs did with Kris Bryant a few years ago as well as what the Toronto Blue Jays are likely to do with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It’s kind of a crappy way to handle a human being, but from a business case it makes sense. The Padres will want to retain their most valuable prospect for as long as they can, so in my opinion this is the most likely case.
  • June 17th: If the team waits until roughly the halfway mark of the season for Tatis’ debut, they will ensure that he won’t attain “Super Two” status. Some players qualify for arbitration a year early based upon their service time accrual compared to their peers. For a player who has a chance to become a superstar and therefore would demand top-end money in arbitration, this extent of service clock manipulation could save the team tens of millions of dollars down the road. But if he’s crushing AAA pitching and the team is starting Ian Kinsler on a daily basis it’ll be a bad look and would create the opposite of goodwill with Tatis and his representation.

If the team has serious plans on signing Tatis to an extension before he hits free agency, all the service time manipulation business is a non-factor. While Tatis may be looking at his own “Manny Machado the free agent” situation six years from now, the team might be able to do what the Angels did with Mike Trout by buying out his final years of arbitration to keep him on board beyond his anticipated free agency date. Considering that Tatis’ agent, Dan Lozano, has a history of signing his players to insane long-term deals, this is unlikely, but there’s always a chance.

Lost opportunities in Machado’s shadow

MLB: Texas Rangers at San Diego Padres
Javy Guerra’s stellar glovework won’t be enough to earn him a roster spot with Manny Machado around.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Every silver lining has a touch of grey, and it’s worth noting that there are several players who must have been at least partly disappointed by the news of this franchise-changing signing. Several players in the Padres organization will see less opportunity for MLB time this year as a collateral impact. A week ago, we were looking at Ty France as a possible Opening Day starter at third base. Javier Guerra was likely to see some time at shortstop or possibly elsewhere around the infield. Esteban Quiroz, Jason Vosler, and Seth Mejias-Brean are all in big league camp right now, and each had a dark-horse track to make their MLB debuts this year. With the durable Machado planted on the left side of the infield, most of the opportunities for all of these players have dried up.

Stability in the current and future Major League rosters also means that minor league prospects may have more obstacles in their way toward their eventual MLB goal. Hudson Potts has been making steady progress at third base, but he’ll have to be something special to earn playing time down the road with Machado in town. Esteury Ruiz, Allen Cordoba, Gabriel Arias, Xavier Edwards, and Owen Miller are only a handful of the players whose paths to The Show may be blocked down the road. This is a good problem for a franchise to have, but it will also affect the organization’s decision-making processes, as some of these players may need to be moved via trade to support future MLB rosters.

The countdown to contention starts today

This move isn’t just the addition of a player to fill out a roster. This move signals a change in direction for the entire organization. The Padres are done with seasons where “rebuilding” or “development” is a common theme. This team is looking to win, early and often, with the goal of World Series Champion clearly in their sights. There’s still a ton of work yet to be done to get there, but as we stand here today we are looking at a core of players on the Major League roster and a pool of talent providing depth behind them that will lead San Diego into contention. The future is here. Claim your seat now, because the bandwagon will soon be “standing room only.”