Manny Machado Was Just Given the Biggest Free-Agent Contract Ever. Did He Deserve It?

Manny Machado was always going to get paid. Since his breakout season in 2013, everyone who followed him at all knew he was going to break the bank of whatever team decided to sign him. What people may not have expected, however, is that he would become the highest paid free-agent in American sports history, which is what happened Tuesday when the San Diego Padres locked Machado up for the next 10 years for $300 million(Giancarlo Stanton’s contract is technically larger, but it was an extension, not a free-agent contract). The only problem with a contract this large is that, from now until it’s completion, it will always be accompanied in conversation with the question, “Was it really worth it?’

There is no question that Machado has been one of the best players in the league since his emergence half a decade ago. HIs 146 OPS+ and .905 OPS ranked 8th and 11th in the league last season, respectively. The 2.8 Wins Above Replacement(WAR) that he gave the Los Angeles Dodgers last season after his trade from the Orioles, which occurred immediately after the All-Star break, proved to be crucial for their late-season playoff push. The most telling stat, though, is that Machado has the 21st highest WAR of any player entering his age 26 season since the Live-Ball Era started. There are four players ahead of them who are not in the Hall of Fame. Vada Pinson, Andruw Jones, and Cesar Cedano all managed career WAR’s of over 50, and were each likely Hall of Famers before injuries took away their careers. The only other who is not in is Trout, who is number one and would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer even if he didn’t get another hit in his entire career. That history certainly seems to suggest that Machado will be able to provide exceptional value for the Padres for the better part of that contract.

Machado’s ability on defense may be what really separates him from the rest of the pack. His ability at the hot-corner is historically good. He has won a pari of Gold Gloves and even a Platinum Glove at the position. The stats back up the accolades, as his 11.8 dWAR is the second highest among active players, behind only the great Andrelton Simmons(yes, I said great). Combined with his exceptional offensive ability, this certainly makes Machado one of the best all-around players in all of Major League Baseball.

One of my arguments for Machado is also one of the largest against him. The biggest issue with Machado’s defense at third is that he doesn’t want to play it. Despite the fact that Machado’s numbers at short were significantly worse than at third, he refuses to shift back over. Last season, Machado posted the worst dWAR of his entire career. Maybe this is for the best for the Padres, as their biggest prospect, Fernando Tatis Jr., may not be able to stay at short given his larger frame, so shifting him to third and Machado to short might be the best defensive alignment in the coming years. Regardless, this shows a selfish mindset where Machado is prioritizing himself over winning, and that won’t fly when this team begins trying to contend.

Of course, the third base issue is only a microcosm of Machado’s biggest flaw. He has been known his whole career for issues such as dirty slides, a lack of hustle, and a disinterest in being any sort of clubhouse leader. Maybe the new position he’s in will change him, but a franchise player can’t have those sorts of characteristics. This team is giving this money with the expectation that he will help them win both on the field and off. Whether or not he will, though, certainly has yet to be proven.

Finally, it can’t be ignored that Machado struggled in the post-season last year. He has a .213/.268/.382 slash line in his career in the playoffs, and his .182/.208/.182 line in the World Series last season did not help. It isn’t a very large sample, so it could be a fluke. There is no question that it matters, though. The Padres need him to be the cornerstone of their franchise for most of this contract, and that means performing when it matters most. If he fails to do that, it will be hard believe he was really worth the money.

The truth is that only time will tell whether or not the Padres made a mistake. While he has a lot of question marks, a lot of those issues are things that players can grow out of, and there’s no question that Machado is young enough to experience growth. With a career well on track for Cooperstown, as well as the hope that his best years are even still ahead of him, this contract seems much safer than any previous 10-year deal. The next decade could go any number of directions, but it still feels like most wind up with the Padres not regretting the deal too much. Who knows, maybe this is the turning point in Baseball’s most pathetic franchise. Time will tell.