This is your chance, Padres. This is the moment, if you land Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, to show a grumbling fan base with the patience of craft beer-drinking saints that things truly are different.
This is your opportunity, your gaping doorway, to trample the “no way they’ll sign someone like that” pessimism that lingers over the franchise.
There are plenty of your fans — those still buying tickets, those who surrendered already and those weighing their next discretionary-spending moves — who simply refuse to buy into this long organizational rebuild until they see the big spend on a truly big name.
We’re not talking about flailing after Matt Kemp or James Shields, 30-somethings chasing aging performance ghosts. We’re not talking about Eric Hosmer, snapped up for the spot where you already were playing an All-Star — gifted, but hardly generational.
Machado is 26, a sublime talent who forgets to run out a ground ball now and again but finished in the top-six among position players for Wins Above Replacement three times since entering the league. He can anchor third base, the position of need for the Padres, for a very long time.
Harper, also 26, is a former MVP who is so dangerous offensively that a season with 100 RBI, 130 walks and .889 OPS can be characterized by multiple outlets as a “slump.” He’s the less savvy option for San Diego, because he’ll cost more and primarily plays right field — the team’s deepest position.
All of this hot-stovin’ is splashed across the backdrop of a story on the organization’s finances by U-T reporter Kevin Acee. The team, after eight consecutive losing seasons, says it has clawed out from under crushing debt left by previous owner John Moores.
Chairman Ron Fowler told Acee that the team is now positioned “to field a team worthy of fans’ support with the goal of competing for a World Series championship each season.”
Those are words. In truth, words Padres fans have heard. Show them that you want to shake up their dusty reality and shatter their assumptions. Make it clear, after smartly constructing an unmatched farm system, that this process sincerely owns a finish line.
The Padres also are talking again with the Marlins about J.T. Realmuto, arguably the best catcher in the game. He’s the complete package that Austin Hedges isn’t and likely never will be. The Padres recently told the Union-Tribune they ducked out of discussions because the asking price was too high, but now claim Miami has circled back.
“It went silent,” a source with direct knowledge said. “Now it started up again. Things change.”
No target, though, feels more important or makes more sense than Machado.
Rarely do you find someone so talented, so young, so contract-controllable at the position you direly need. Word came from Machado’s camp, a highly-placed source said, that he’s willing to play third base rather than his preferred spot at shortstop — opening the door for the eventual arrival of Fernando Tatis Jr.
Those whispers about potential character issues?
A source said the Padres “wouldn’t pursue him” if they thought those reached any kind of concerning level. Plus, if Hosmer is the clubhouse leader the teams claims him to be and pays him to be, he’s the perfect teammate to bend Machado’s ear.
I realize I was in a very small minority when I wrote that the Padres should not have signed Hosmer. At least not for that much, for that long, at a position already where it’s easier to find defenders and already manned by All-Star Wil Myers.
All of this, however — the player, the position, the Padres financial situation — is different.
If the price for Machado lingers around $25 million per season, as many assume, you can snag him and still not exceed baseball’s payroll average. It could get tricky when players like Hedges, Hunter Renfroe and Manny Margot become arbitration eligible. But you simply pick and choose and trade when that bridge peeks over your organizational horizon.
Payroll relief is on the way, too, when Hosmer’s contract (if he remains a Padre) drops by $7 million per season in 2023.
The Padres wisely continue to eye other third-base options. Mike Moustakas could be serviceable, or more than that. Marwin Gonzalez could be serviceable, or more than that. Neither, though, would feel indisputably special and needle-shifting.
Padres General Partner Peter Seidler, General Manager A.J. Preller and manager Andy Green met with Harper on Thursday. The team originally hoped to connect with Machado this weekend, but early next week looks more realistic.
So Padres, what’s the move? Whatever it is, you need to make sure there is one. Otherwise, the fans who haven’t caught a whiff of the postseason will feel proven right. Painfully and again. You still need a front-line starter in the short term, but that’s another discussion for another spring day.
You’ve raised the bar on expectations, through the sterling work on the farm system and stirring up possibilities with Machado, Harper and Realmuto.