There’s plenty of excitement afoot with news breaking early Tuesday afternoon of Manny Machado‘s agreeing to terms with the San Diego Padres on a 10-year, $300 million contract, the largest free-agent contract in American sports history. Part of that is our collective “It’s about time” reaction after the Machado sweepstakes dragged on into spring training.
In fantasy, don’t let the headline buzz grab hold, as for Machado individually, his value scarcely changes. The ripple effect of his decision has more relevance to us.
For Machado himself, the most significant factors are his new home ballpark, Petco Park, as well as his long-term position within the Padres’ organization. Since the team moved in the fences following the 2012 season, however, Petco hasn’t been quite the pitchers’ heaven it was in its early days. In the past five years combined, it had the 24th-ranked runs scored factor (0.931, meaning it deflated run scoring by 6.9 percent during that time span) and 21st-ranked home run factor (0.929). But in 2018 alone, it ranked 12th (1.055) and 14th (1.020) in those categories.
That still paints the picture of a more pitching-oriented environment than the venue Machado called home for 427 of his first 926 career big league games, Camden Yards, which ranked 13th (1.020) and seventh (1.145) in those categories from 2014 to ’18, but it’s not the kind of dramatic shift fantasy managers might initially expect. Many of us might recall Petco being the most extreme pitchers’ park before 2013, and maybe some still think of the Padres as baseball’s lowest-scoring team in 2017-18 combined (3.77 runs per game on average), fueling a perception that Machado just chose for himself one of the worst hitters’ environments in the game.
Not necessarily so: The Padres also have an infusion of young talent on the way, some of whom are already on the big league roster, should get better years out of Eric Hosmer and perhaps also Manuel Margot and Wil Myers, and kicked their runs-per-game average to 4.08 in the final two months of last season. This arrow is pointing upward.
Speaking of that young talent, top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. — No. 1 in baseball in Keith Law’s most recent rankings, in fact — should have quite a bit of say in Machado’s long-term position. Tatis is a capable shortstop and a superior defender at the position, and the Padres’ greatest immediate need is at third base. My guess is that Machado will be the Padres’ third baseman from Day 1, meaning that he’ll quickly add that to his current shortstop eligibility. If the Padres disagree and go in a different direction, then Tatis as well as currently projected shortstop Luis Urias and second baseman Ian Kinsler could instead see their roles and/or positions altered.
Individually, Machado’s ranking doesn’t change much for me, as he went from my No. 10 to 13 player overall, showing how insignificant I consider the park factors. He’s merely less assured of being my No. 2 shortstop, dropping between Francisco Lindor (now No. 2) and Alex Bregman (No. 4). All three should be similarly valued.
Machado’s arrival injects quite a bit of punch into the Padres’ lineup, which is enough to provide as much as a one-round boost to their key starters — Hosmer, Myers and Hunter Renfroe, especially — thanks to the likelihood they’ll score more and turn the lineup over with greater frequency. Machado was, after all, the No. 1 offseason free agent in terms of offensive wins above replacement (6.7) by two full wins over Jed Lowrie, and the team was previously looking at a Ty France-Greg Garcia–Jose Pirela battle for the third-base position.
Tuck that away as we proceed into the regular season as well, as the Padres are no longer the league’s laughingstock as far as streaming starting pitchers that face them. Between the additions of Machado and Kinsler, the probable rebounds referenced above, a full year from Luis Urias and perhaps Franchy Cordero and/or Franmil Reyes and the eventual arrival of Tatis, this offense is no longer one of the league’s very worst. It’s a righty-heavy team, and the Padres did have a team wOBA 13 points lower against right- (.298) than left-handed pitchers (.311) last season, so that’ll be the side to exploit, but don’t be so quick to assume, “It’s a Petco start, so I need to start my pitcher!”