SAN DIEGO – In a suite at the Delano Hotel in Las Vegas during the Winter 2018 meetings, Padres’ front desk was increasingly frustrated. They didn’t like the price tags on some of the basic mid-level players in the free agency. The trade market was swinging slower than usual as well.
Late one night — or early one morning, it was all a little hazy — General Manager AG Briller called GM assistant Josh Stein with a crystal clear idea.
“Let’s just sign Machado,” Brillier famously said.
And in fact, that was when this started. all of this.
On Friday night, the Padres host the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS, the first playoff game against fans in San Diego in 16 years. It is worth asking: is any of this possible without it? Mane Machado?
In what has been a turbulent season for Padres, Machado has been a stabilizing force. He undoubtedly posted one of the best seasons in Padres history—leading the National League with a 7.4 fWAR while hitting .298/.366/.531 with his usual Gold-Glove defense. The last Padre with a higher war – Ken Kaminiti in 1996 – was the last Padre to win the MVP award.
Machado’s teammates insist that these numbers only tell half the story. When Machado suffered a horrific ankle injury in late June, the team wondered if he would be out for several months. Returned after 10 days. Machado played a sore spot, and his numbers took a hit – 694 OPS in July was easily the lowest in any month. But with Fernando Tates Jr. on IL reinforcements and a trade deadline not yet in the way, the Padres needed every bit of Machado’s contributions.
Then, in early August, Padres greeted Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury on Deadline. It can be tough to change the venue for a mid-season club, but Soto said he always feels welcome.
“Mane is the most important thing, because he’s kind of a captain,” Soto said. “So, if the leader makes you feel comfortable, that’s great. He was just telling me how things were going there and how we should be. I think I mostly agreed with everything that was going on there, and I felt good about it.”
The Padres aren’t given the nickname “Captain”, but they’re not mistaken – it’s Machado.
He’s our leader,” said Blake Snell, writer of the third game. “He’s the guy everyone looks up to.”
Head coach Bob Melvin said, “It’s too much the guy, so to speak, in the club. …it’s hard enough to be the guy on the court and have to perform. It’s even harder to be the guy in the club. And he does it as he does on the field – there is ease in that.”
In the 2018-19 season, they paid a premium for it. These were not the same Padres at the time. They just completed their eighth losing season in a row. They’ve spent money to extend Will Myers and sign Eric Hosmer, but never – in their entire history – have they signed a player like Machado.
In the months since the Winter Meetings was revealed, the Padres family moved the wheels. The property was signed to pursue Machado, and in mid-February, he signed a 10-year, $300 million contract, the richest free agent contract in American sports history at the time.
Then A’s manager sat down, and took notes.
“I remember the years and dollars and I went, ‘Wow,’” Melvin recalls. “But that’s what you pay for. When you look at long-term contracts like this, you’re not really sure how they will go. But what he’s done here – what he keeps doing and what he’s done this year, deep into his contract – this is one of the best contracts available.
“While you’re saying, ‘Wow, how can anyone really lead to that level?'” “But he certainly did.”
Four years into that decade, this looks like a Machado team. Suddenly, it seemed like a Machado moment. The Padres entered the NLDS as an underdog against the team with the most victories in baseball. If they needed an MVP-caliber Machado, it was now.
“We know they’re the band’s heroes,” Machado said. “They have the best record in baseball. They have played very well against us all year. But at the end of the day we will be competing. We will leave him on the field.”
When San Diego lost the first game, David Ortiz announced the Dodgers as “dad” Padres on national television. Then, one night later, Machado opened the scoring with a laser shot at home in the first half from Clayton Kershaw. Watch the ball settle into the left field benches, then glow in Padres’ bunker. The message was clear: He had this. They had this.
After going 2 vs 5 with Homer, a double gauntlet and some great action in the Padres’ Game 2 victory, Machado texted Ortiz, who noted on air that the third baseman in San Diego had responded with two simple words: “Now what?”
Before hitting free agency four years ago, Machado spent the 2018 postseason with the Dodgers. His experience was definitely different. He hit only 0.27 and made more headlines than was more controversial than his play on the field.
This seems like old history now. If Machado’s presence is volatile in October, he feels quite the opposite in 2022 — a stable presence for a team so bent on shocking the baseball world.
“You’re just developing,” Machado said of learning from his previous playoff experiences. “That’s just human nature of things. You learn from mistakes, you learn from the good, you learn from the bad. It’s all about evolution.”
“Student. Incurable problem solver. Amateur baconaholic. Introvert. Infuriatingly humble music fanatic.”