Sustainable? Manny Machado and Padres agree to $350 million contract End-shutdown

PEORIA, Arizona. — Bob Melvin couldn’t have known that puzzle-solving was going to be a vital skill when he signed up to manage the San Diego Padres. But with a fun roster packed with top-tier talent and an almost absurd abundance of shortstops, here he is, with pieces falling out of the box and scattered all over the table.

The arrival of Xander Bogaerts as a free agent this offseason made it clear that one of the trickier parts of the spring would be putting all those pieces together. The Padres have what will be one of the four highest payrolls in Major League Baseball in 2023, according to Spotrac, but the team will frequently play up to four out-of-position players.

They have been so aggressive that today’s plan often changes with tomorrow’s dawn. The most recent example came Sunday when a looming storyline for the team, the early departure of Manny Machado after the season, was scrapped by agreeing to terms of a new 11-year, $350 million deal, the details of which were confirmed. by a person on condition of anonymity because the deal has yet to be officially announced.

Now, Machado (signed through 2033), Bogaerts (2033) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (2034) will presumably grow old together in San Diego, as both Machado and Bogaerts have full no-trade clauses. Those deals, and the potential for an even bigger one for outfielder Juan Soto, who is two seasons away from free agency, have led many to wonder how the Padres can possibly afford all of those stars in the long run.

Padres owner Peter Seidler, noting that “there is also a risk of doing nothing,” is working to avoid criticism about how “sustainable” this plan is.

“People love that word,” he said of sustainability. “Let’s find a different one. Do I think our parade will be on land or in the water or both?

“Putting a great winning team on the field in San Diego year after year is sustainable.”

First, the team will need to put their various pieces in order. The ripple effect begins with the installation of Bogaerts at shortstop, meaning last year’s shortstop Ha-Seong Kim will move to second base. And last year’s second baseman, Jake Cronenworth, will move to first base.

When Tatis, the team’s starting shortstop from 2019-21, returns from his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs on April 20, he is expected to play right field. Soto, who played right field for the Padres after a trade from the Washington Nationals last season, will move to left.

It’s the kind of situation that could lead to confusion, bruised egos, and what can seem like a 1,000-piece box of disgruntled players.

Cronenworth played down that idea.

“We can’t all wear the same glove in the same position, but we can all contribute wherever we are playing that day,” he said.

That attitude is most likely the result of Melvin starting a long series of sensitive conversations many weeks ago. He has been pleased with the general reaction so far.

“They said, ‘Look, we just want to help our team win,’” Melvin said. “And just because Kim’s going to get a lot of reps at second doesn’t mean she won’t end up shortstop on the days Xander’s gone. And then Croney will go back to playing second instead of first.” So in the overall look right now, there’s some talk. But there haven’t been any difficult ones up to this point.”

For years, teams with fancy, athletic outfields have favored the old cliché: “It’s like we have three center fields.” Rarely, the Padres will field a shortstop team. Not only is that the natural position for Bogaerts, Kim and Tatis, but Cronenworth also played shortstop at the University of Michigan. Even Machado was a star shortstop in his Baltimore days.

The glut of on-field options makes Tatis’ move to the outfield feel pretty permanent, and unlike the last time the team tried this, it’s not contentious. In 2021, after a dislocated shoulder popped out multiple times, the Padres sent Tatis to the outfield for 24 games during the second half of that season in hopes of keeping him healthier.

He didn’t seem to enjoy the move, and his normally spirited game toned down.

“I was frustrated with myself because of my health problems,” Tatis said of the notable downturn.

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During his suspension, which along with injuries cost him the entire 2022 season, the 24-year-old Tatis addressed some of his health issues. He underwent surgery to repair his shoulder and a revision procedure on his left wrist, which he fractured in a motorcycle accident in December 2021. He is fully healthy this spring, but hasn’t played in a major league game since October 1st. 3, 2021.

Bogaerts, 30, noted that playing shortstop can take a big toll on the body, citing Tatis’ previous injuries as a good reason to try something new, saying, “This is a guy that the team and the game in general. he wants to see on the field as much as possible ”.

Bogaerts, who endured his own period of being moved from his top position in 2014, said he was initially surprised when the Padres, who already had Tatis signed to a long-term contract, approached him with what became a 11-year, $280 million contract. offer. But Tatis, thanks to his myriad of problems over the past two seasons, had lost any leverage to question where he plays on the field.

“I knew from the beginning that they were trying to improve the team,” Tatis said of the Bogaerts acquisition. “Xander is a great player. He knew he would be key to us winning a World Series.”

Tatis said he was “prepared for anything.” Mostly, he’s working the outfield (Bogaerts cited Tatis’ arm as a big asset in right field) and when asked if he thought he’d return to shortstop one day, Tatis said he didn’t know.

“A lot happens in this game,” he said. You can’t be surprised. I’ll be ready wherever they tell me they need me.”

Machado’s new deal appears to lessen the chances of such a return. Bogaerts, for many, had represented insurance should Machado opt out after this season. Had that happened, Bogaerts could have moved to third base, making room for Tatis at shortstop, but that path now appears to be blocked.

Even with the team’s defensive positioning decided for the foreseeable future, San Diego’s present is complicated by the Padres having several players, including Bogaerts, Kim and Machado, about to leave for the World Baseball Classic. The timeout will limit the opportunity for the Bogaerts-Kim double play combination to gain familiarity. And Kim, who is statistically the team’s best defensive option at shortstop, will pause his development at second base to play his natural position for Korea.

“That’s the part that worries me the most, maybe they’re not doing as many reps together,” Melvin said of his infielders.

However the pieces fit together, the collection of stars has led San Diego to feel that the team, which played in the NLCS in October, is on the brink of something special. The club capped season ticket sales for the first time in history, at approximately 24,000, and has a waiting list. The Padres appear poised to draw three million fans for the second time in club history and could set a club record.

It’s the kind of surge that has the 30-year-old Machado mocking team owners who complain about the Padres’ growing payroll.

“Everyone has the means for it,” Machado said on his first day at the camp. “For me, it’s just if they want or if they want to win. So, Peter has shown an interest that he wants to earn.”

And if that shakes positions or egos, so be it.

“Hopefully everything works out, man,” Bogaerts said. “This is supposed to be a fun and special season. Let’s hope the result is something really special.”

james wagner contributed reporting.

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