Harper/Machado/Realmuto: Why the Padres should take the first step towards contention

Ken Rosenthal tweeted the following on Thursday:

This report comes days after rumors closely connecting the Padres to two of the other biggest names of the offseason:

So, the Padres are, after doing very little for much of the offseason, are now engaged with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the two biggest free agents in recent history, and discussing a trade with the Miami Marlins for the top trade target of the offseason, J.T. Realmuto. The Padres seem like a somewhat weird landing spot for all three given their current position in a rebuild, yet somehow this still makes sense. Here’s how:

1. The Padres are nearing the end of their rebuild

It is widely accepted that the Padres’ contention window will start to open in 2020. That is the earliest they are expected to compete. It makes sense in the timeline: top prospects Fernando Tatís Jr., Chris Paddack, and Cal Quantrill are all expected to make their debuts in 2019 while other top prospects Luis Urías and Francisco Mejía are expected to play their first full seasons in the majors. As young cores establish themselves in the majors, clubs add veteran talent around the core to maximize the window for a World Series Championship. By this logic, the Padres will be in a position to spend next offseason.

But who’s to say the Padres cannot at least start to be competitive this year? Just last year, the Braves (with the help of the breakout of Ronald Acuña) made the playoffs a year earlier than expected after their latest rebuild. The Cubs did the same in 2015 with Kris Bryant. Could Tatís be the guy who does the same for the Padres?

Further, the NL West has been the least active division in baseball this offseason. Beyond the Dodgers, it’s not a formidable division. Here’s what the division is projected to look like according to Fangraphs:


Could the Padres add six wins (and thus be in a similar position as the Rockies) to their projections by adding one of their star targets? Maybe. Could the Padres add six wins by adding one star plus a little more? Yes. Could the Padres add six wins by adding MORE than one of the above stars? Definitely. Do any of these scenarios make them a lock for the playoffs? Not at all. Were the Braves or Cubs a lock for the playoffs? Not a chance. All-in-all, adding Harper, Machado, or Realmuto does not put the Padres in a position to compete with the Dodgers. Nor does it really put them in a position to compete for an NL Wild Card spot. However, it would put them in a position similar to last year’s Braves and 2015’s Cubs. After that, who knows what could happen.

Additionally, these acquisitions are not just about 2019. Adding one of these players puts the Padres in a respectable position that they can continue to build on in the future. It’s a great first step back toward contention. Since they are nearing the end of their rebuilding, it’s time. Take the first step, Padres.

2. Harper, Machado, and Realmuto are rare players

Now, the only reason the above argument makes sense is the caliber of player available. Harper and Machado are both young superstars. They both hit the open market at age 26, which for a hitter is just before their prime. Harper has accumulated 30.7 fWAR in his career, an average 4.4 per season. Machado has average 4.3 per season, for a total of 30.2 fWAR. Both are projected (and remember projections are conservative) to post 5 fWAR next year. Not only are they really good but they also have not performed to their peak abilities yet. Realmuto posted the highest fWAR of any catcher in the league last year (4.8). The 27-year-old catcher is projected at 3.8 for 2019, second to Buster Posey.

In other words, these are three of the best guys in the league at their respective positions and regardless of position, they are all still before their expected prime. It’s not often players like this become available. That’s why timing does not matter. All three are once in a blue moon acquisitions that can change the Padres’ current trajectory. Take the first step, Padres.

3. Roster fit does not matter

I discussed recently the state of the Padres’ roster. Offensively, the main takeaways were a need at third base and a glut of outfielders. How does Harper, Machado, or Realmuto change that?

While Machado could easily slide in at third (Imagine Machado-Tatís-Urías-Hosmer), the fits of Harper and Realmuto are less clear. The Padres have as many as six major-league caliber outfielders and a solid platoon of Austin Hedges and Mejía behind the plate (NOTE: Mejía is rumored to be a part of the package going back to the Fish, which would alleviate the roster crunch). Yet, none of this matters. Adding any of the three would be a vast improvement over the current positional situations. The Padres could move any of the outfielders or catchers to address needs in other areas of the roster (like the rotation). As stated before, an acquirable young 5 WAR player is a rare opportunity. The Padres can move whoever it takes to fit them in. Take the first step, Padres.

4. Financially, the Padres are in a good place

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Padres currently sit with $80 million in financial obligations for 2019. The 2019 tax threshold is $206 million. They could add any of the three and still be way below the threshold. Further, their future obligations are small; the only players signed for after 2020 are Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers for a grand total of $32 million. However, let’s take this argument a step further.

Let’s assume a scenario where the Padres sign all three players (which, before we get ahead of ourselves, is not going to happen). Let’s also assume that both Harper and Machado get the absurd 10 year/$400 million contracts that were rumored to receive as recently as a year ago. Let’s also assume that Realmuto gets an 8 year/$200 million extension (an exaggerated contract based on Posey’s 8 year/$159 million extension he signed in 2013 at age 26). Their financial obligations in 2020 would be $137 million plus arbitration and team control players (that’s $40 million each for Harper and Machado, $25 million for Realmuto, and the $32 million owed to Hosmer and Myers). The tax threshold for 2020 is $208 million. They would be $71 million under the tax threshold in 2020 assuming they sign all three players to ridiculous contracts. Thus, the Padres can easily afford to give out the biggest contract of the offseason as they did with Hosmer last year. Money should be no issue in the pursuit of these three young stars. Take the first step, Padres.

The Padres, who refinanced their debt to allow for more spending, are in a great financial position. They are close to the opening of their contention window anyway. Their division is top heavy. Three stars, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and J.T. Realmuto, are available. They can join forces with the strongest farm system in the majors to create a powerhouse that will compete for years to come. Take the first step, Padres.

Featured Photo: Joe Giglio, NJ Advance Media

Jared Enochs

Jared Enochs writes about the Padres and Fantasy Baseball at Diamond Digest. Find him on twitter @jaredhenochs

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