Manny Machado wanted to play shortstop and join a winner. In the end he fulfilled neither desire, but still landed one of the biggest deals in MLB history
MANNY MACHADO doesn't know where he will live next month. He doesn't know the name of the town he resides in now, for that matter. He doesn't know when the first check will clear on his 10-year, $300 million contract or the first thing he will buy with his new riches. He doesn't even know what day it is.
He cocks his head. Nine seconds pass. "Monday," he says, finally. "Because it's our second game."
He lost track of time during a four-month stretch of free agency laced with questions, doubts and uncertainty. When did his deal with the Padres begin to seem real? When he found himself sitting in his Miami home and imagining San Diego? When his wife, Yainee, woke up and said, "This is it. This is a fit for us, babe"? When his agent, Danny Lozano, called Padres general manager A.J. Preller and asked him to draw up a term sheet? When Machado slowly buttoned a white number 13 jersey over his white dress shirt at his press conference in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 22?
On this afternoon, Machado speaks from behind Tom Ford sunglasses, dressed in an Air Jordan tracksuit and diamond chain, showered after his third workout of the spring. "I love baseball," he says over and over. And: "I'm excited to be a Padre." Behind him sits a media-relations official from the team; in front of him sits media relations from his agency. Their presence was a condition of the interview. Machado has declined to talk one-on-one since October, when he told Fox Sports, "I'm not the type of player that's going to be Johnny Hustle and run down the line.... That's not my cup of tea."
The comment not only raised red flags about his commitment as he entered free agency but also overshadowed his status as MLB's third-best player, behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. He has accumulated 33.8 WAR, better than Joe DiMaggio, Barry Bonds or Willie Mays at age 25. He has topped 30 home runs in each of the last four years and increased his walks while decreasing his strikeouts in the past two. He struggled defensively at shortstop in 2018 but has won two Gold Gloves at third base. He has missed just 11 games in the last four seasons.
The six teams that wooed Machado intensely this winter—including the White Sox, who traded for Yainee's brother, first baseman Yonder Alonso—asked what led him to throw his bat toward third base after being brushed back as a 21-year-old on the Orioles, or to kick Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar during the 2018 NLCS. Preller says Machado admitted to those and other lapses of effort, then explained how he would help lead his new teammates. "Some people thought he was disrespecting the game," Preller says. "But respecting the game is playing as much as he did the last few years at such a high level."
Lozano had informed teams that Machado wanted to play shortstop. Preller checked his depth chart, highlighted by 20-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr., Baseball America's No. 2 prospect, and said a Padres offer would be contingent on Machado's playing third. Machado had met Tatís, who is also represented by Lozano, during the All-Star festivities last year in Washington. He has kept an eye on the young shortstop ever since. When he weighed San Diego's offer, Machado recalled his years learning from veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy in Baltimore. That's when he decided he could be a mentor to Tatís.
Machado researched his suitors thoroughly—Googling executives, watching videos of prospects—just as they scrutinized him. In the Padres' case, that meant questioning Machado's friends and family. "They were getting calls from all over," he says. "It's awesome hearing this, because teams actually want you. Teams want you to come be part of their franchise, their organization, their family. That's what we've always dreamed about."
San Diego needs a sports star. The Chargers decamped in 2017 to Los Angeles. The Padres have not won a postseason series since 1998, when the Yankees swept them in the World Series. The team says it has already added more than $1 million in ticket sales since the announcement. A man showed up outside the team's office holding a cardboard sign: OWNERS I'M SORRY THANK YOU.
This might seem an odd match. The Padres sought a sparkling franchise icon and signed a player clouded by controversy. Machado sought a perennial contender and joined a team that lost 96 games last year. If he blows up or the team struggles, it could all fall apart. We will start to find out on the only date Machado has committed to memory: March 28. Opening Day.