GLENDALE, Ariz. — Manny Machado was on his way to San Diego on Tuesday night. While this transaction — the $300-million contract, not the flight — undoubtedly will be dressed up a hundred different ways, it’s not really so complicated.
A baseball team that was not very good last year, or the year before that, and we could keep going, signed a good baseball player in the hopes of not being not very good again. Because not being good is also not the point of being a baseball team — funding it, running it, managing it, playing for it, watching it. At all.
Being a good baseball team won’t always cost an extra $30 million a year. In fact, there’s no guarantee Machado will make the San Diego Padres good at baseball. They will, however, be better and maybe on their way to being good and everyone, from commissioner Rob Manfred to union chief Tony Clark to all the carping ballplayers and ballwriters and fans, can probably agree, again, that that is the point.
See, a plan to win tomorrow is fine, but there are plenty of markets flat tired of counting the tomorrows that will be required to get to whatever wispy tomorrow is being promised. So, today, that being Wednesday, when Machado presumably undergoes his physical and approves final language on the contract that makes him a Padre, can be relevant again. Not the solution, necessarily. Not the occasion to sketch out the parade route. But, feathered in with some fine, young and rising ballplayers and a few existing veteran ballplayers, Machado to the Padres for the largest free-agent MLB contract ever awarded is as wonderful for its simplicity as it is for whatever strategic maneuverings await dissection or even for what it means to an industry that tends to swallow its poor.
The Padres decided to get better. Today. That’s it.
A.J. Preller, the enigmatic general manager of the Padres who has packed a few organizational journeys into his 4 ½ years in San Diego, on Tuesday afternoon arrived at the Glendale Civic Center to what he had to know would be a scene. Tuesday was media day, the one day of spring when Cactus League general managers and field managers sit behind tables and before big placards with their names on them, and the timing — for the Padres — couldn have been better. They let all the reporters in. First Manfred spoke. Then the team officials arrived. The Padres were scheduled for the second hour. They were maybe 20 minutes late.
Preller, walking shoulder to shoulder with manager Andy Green, passed through the lobby, down the hall, made a right into the ballroom and discovered dozens of cameras and notepads pointed at the chair beneath his name. His expression did not change. He raised his eyebrows, let them fall, then entered the fray.
The owner, Ron Fowler, provided the money. But this is — or will be perceived to be — Preller’s plan. He speaks softly and intelligently. He is at once disarming in his humble appearance and somewhat intimidating in his self-assuredness. He doesn’t always think like everyone else, which, perhaps, is why in consecutive third-week-of-February moves, his little ball club by the sea has walked away with Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado.
He looked up and said to the mass of people before him, “What do you want to talk about?”
His eyes smiled. The rest of him gathered to address the unaddressable topic, that being Machado after the handshakes but before the deal was official.
In the very room where a couple hours before Manfred had defended his sport’s gains on parity and rejected the notion of tanking or anything quite so harmful, Preller said, “We don’t have any details. We aren’t going to comment on anything specific from a free-agent standpoint … until we have news to impart.”
He turned to his left.
“Anything to add, Greeny?” he asked his manager.
“Nope,” Green said. “Great job.”
And so for the next half hour or so Preller fielded questions that gnawed on the edges of the pending Machado deal, which he answered guardedly. Broadly, it is probably safe to conclude that the Padres had accomplished what they — a year ago — had set out to do, which was to build a minor-league system of heft. It is beginning to provide players to the major leagues. Some of those players, with any luck, will be great. Others won’t be. Some are slower to develop. There will be holes. There has never been a farm system so perfect that it would fill an entire 25-man roster, at least not since free agency became a real thing, and looking out over the next decade or so it appeared the Padres could use a third baseman.
“The key is … to turn that into a winning product on a big-league field,” Preller said of his shiny farm system. “Ultimately the goal from a big-picture standpoint is to bring a championship to San Diego.”
It’d be very difficult to do that without a good number of good players. Not that it hasn’t been tried before. But it hardly ever works.
So, the San Diego Padres signed Manny Machado for $300 million. The hope is he plays well and isn’t alone in that. The plan is to have the Padres do more than survive, do more than give the Los Angeles Dodgers a game now and then, do more than stack plans atop plans and tomorrows atop tomorrows. The plan is to win more baseball games. Starting today.
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