SAN DIEGO — In a suite at the Delano Hotel in Las Vegas during the 2018 winter conference, the Padres’ front desk grew increasingly frustrated. They don’t like the price tag of third baseman in some free agents. Trade markets also fluctuated more slowly than usual.
Late one night — or early morning, when everything was a little hazy — general manager AJ Preller called assistant general manager Josh Stein with a very obvious idea.
“Let’s sign Machado,” Presser famously said.
And, really, that’s when it started. all of these.
On Friday night, the Padres host the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS, the first playoff game in front of San Diego fans in 16 years. It’s worth thinking about: would this all be possible without Manny Machado?
It’s been a tumultuous season for the Padres, and Machado has been a constant force. There’s no denying that he posted one of the best seasons in Padres history — leading the National League with a 7.4 fWAR while hitting .298/.366/.531 defense in his usual Gold Glove caliber. The last cleric with a higher WAR — Ken Kaminiti in 1996 — was the last to win the MVP.
Machado’s teammates insist the numbers are only half the story. When Machado suffered a serious ankle injury in late June, the team wondered if he would miss a few months. He came back after 10 days. Machado was injured and his numbers took a hit — his 0.694 OPS in July was easily his lowest of any month. But with Fernando Tatis Jr. in IL and trade deadline reinforcements yet to come, the Padres need every bit of Machado’s contribution.
Then, in early August, the Padres brought in Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at the deadline. Changing clubs mid-season can be tough, but Soto said he always felt welcome.
“Manny is the most important because he is the captain of the team,” Soto said. “So if the captain makes you feel comfortable, that’s a big deal. He just told me how things work out there and how we have to do it. I think I basically agree with what’s going on there and I feel good .”
The priests didn’t confer the title of “captain”, but make no mistake – it was Machado.
“He’s our leader,” said Game 3 starter Blake Snell. “He’s the guy everyone looks at.”
Manager Bob Melvin said: “He’s very That rascal, so to speak, in the clubhouse. …Being that guy on the pitch and having to perform is tough enough. It’s even harder to be in the clubhouse. And he does it like he does on the pitch – it’s easy. “
They paid a premium for it during the 2018-19 offseason. The priests were not the same at that time. They just finished their eighth straight losing season. They’ve paid to re-sign Will Myers and sign Eric Hosmer, but they’ve never — in their entire history — signed a player like Machado.
In the months following the revelation of the Winter Sessions, the priests turned the wheel. Ownership signed the pursuit of Machado and in mid-February signed a 10-year, $300 million deal that was at the time the richest free-agent deal in American sports history.
Then there’s A’s manager, Melvin, sitting up and taking notes.
“I remember those years and dollars, and then I was like, ‘Wow,'” recalls Melvin. “But that’s the price you pay. When you look at long-term contracts like this, you’re not sure how they’re going to play out. But what he’s done here – what he’s continued to do and what he’s done this year, he The contract is deep – one of the best out there.
“When you’re going, ‘Wow, how can someone actually perform at that level?’ But he definitely has.”
Four years into the contract, it feels like Machado’s team. And, all of a sudden, it feels like a Machado moment. The Padres enter the NLDS as underdogs against the team with the most wins in baseball. If they need an MVP-level Machado, it’s now.
“We knew they were the division champions,” Machado said. “They have the best record in baseball. They’ve played well with us all year. But at the end of the day, we’re going to compete. We’re going to keep it on the field.”
When San Diego lost Game 1, David Ortiz declared on national television that the Dodgers were the Padres’ “daddy.” Then, a night later, Machado opened the scoring with a laser homer in Clayton Kershaw’s first inning. He watched the ball land on the seat in left field, then stared at the Padres’ dugout. The message is clear: he has this. They have this.
In the Padres’ second game, after Machado went 2-for-5 with a homer, double and some great glove work, he texted Ortiz, who noticed San Diego’s in the air. The third baseman hit back with two simple words: “Now what?”
Machado spent the 2018 playoffs with the Dodgers before becoming a free agent four years ago. His experience was markedly different. His batting average was just .227 and grabbed the headlines for controversy rather than his performance on the field.
It feels like ancient history now. If Machado was a volatile presence that October, he feels the opposite in 2022 — a stable presence for a team bent on shaking the baseball world.
“You’re just evolving,” Machado said of learning from his past postseason experience. “That’s the human nature of things. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from the good and you learn from the bad. It’s all about evolution.”