Last week’s big news on the Manny Machado free agency front came when it was revealed that the San Diego Padres were the previously rumored ‘mystery team’ to enter the race for the young superstar free agent infielder.
Now today comes word from perhaps the most reliable MLB insider in the business that the Padres are tossing their hats into the ring for Bryce Harper as well.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted out the following message this morning:
Per source, meeting is tonight. https://t.co/LQgI9jceJD
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 31, 2019
Early in the off-season, San Diego was considered a long-shot to land either of the big names. The logic behind that thinking was that the Padres were probably at least a couple of years away from contending status in the National League West Division.
However, as this off-season has developed their organizational strategy has clarified. The Padres selling point is that they are considered to have one of the top, if not the very top, group of minor league prospects in the game today.
Harper or Machado would theoretically be signing long-term, possibly as long as a decade. So the superstar(s) would be part of an incremental improvement right away, and then become the centerpiece of a genuine long-term contender that would emerge over the next couple of years.
Just yesterday, Jack Dickey at Sports Illustrated described that San Diego system as follows: “The farm system is as flush as any in recent memory; just days ago, MLB.com ranked 10 Padres prospects among the game’s top 100, with five of them, including No. 2 overall prospect Fernando Tatis, Jr., expected to contribute as major leaguers in 2019.”
Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, president of baseball operations Erik Greupner, and executive vice-president/general manager A.J. Preller are now exploring every avenue to turn around the fortunes of a franchise that hasn’t won the division since back-to-back NL West crowns in 2005-06.
The Padres have not experienced a winning season since 2010, and have finished no higher than third place in the division since that point. The club finished in the NL West basement twice in the last three years. They have experienced just 14 winning seasons in the 50-year history of the franchise.
Believing that the gems in their minor league system are for real, that San Diego brain trust appears ready to make a sincere attempt to write a better story for their future. They began this off-season jumping into the free agent game back in December by signing pitcher Garrett Richards and second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Landing Harper and/or Machado and adding them to a core group that also includes first baseman Eric Hosmer (29), outfielders Wil Myers (28) and Hunter Renfroe (27) and those talented, emerging prospects led by Tatis, Francisco Mejia, and Luis Urias would theoretically make the Padres at least a dangerous team in the short-term.
In the longer term, improving the pitching staff will be the key to San Diego getting and staying competitive. That will be true even if they are able to somehow reel in both Harper and Machado. Fortunately, nine of the top dozen prospects in what is considered baseball’s #1 system are all pitchers. That group should reach the bigs at various points over the next 2-3 years.
We’ll learn how serious the San Diego bid for the two free agents was as the process finally draws to a close at some point. It is entirely possible that allowing the Padres into the process this late in the game is simply a ploy by the agents to drive up the final contract value for their clients.
Many Phillies fans have begun expressing extreme frustration at the lengthy process. That frustration draws partly on the club’s collapse last summer, partly from the losing of the last half-dozen years after a decade of huge success, and partly from the Phillies genuine interest in pursuing the two talents.
What we somehow need to keep in mind is that these are two 26-year-old young men who are likely trying to make a decision that will affect the major portion of the next decade of their lives, both on a professional and personal level.
Whichever organization either Harper or Machado choose to sign with is likely going to become the place they perform during the entirety of their prime playing years. It will become the team with whom they are likely to become most identified for the rest of a potential Hall of Fame history.
Tonight’s meeting in Las Vegas between Harper and the Padres contingent is, for now, just one more step in what has been a long off-season negotiation process. Why anyone ever thought that actually signing one of two generational talents was going to happen quickly is anyone’s guess.
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