‘He is our leader’: Machado seeks to guide Padres into historical chaos

SAN DIEGO — During the 2018 Winter Conference, the Padres front office became increasingly stuffy in a suite at the Delano Hotel in Las Vegas. They didn’t like the price tag of some of the FA’s middle third basemen. The trade market was also moving slower than usual. One late night or early morning, everything is a bit blurry. General Manager AJ Preller called Assistant General Manager Josh Stein with a very obvious idea. “Let’s just sign the Machado.” Preller famously said. And, really, that’s when it started. All of this. On Friday night, the Padres face the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLDS. This is the first playoff game in San Diego against fans in 16 years. It’s worth wondering. Is all this possible without Manny Wagon? Machado was the driving force behind a turbulent season for Padres. He undeniably posted one of the best seasons in the history of the Padres. He led the National League with a 7.4 fWAR while hitting .298/.366/.531 with his usual gold glove level defense. The last Padre with a higher WAR (Ken Caminoti 1996) was the last Padre to win the MVP award. Machado’s teammates claim that number is only half the story. When Machado suffered a horrific ankle injury at the end of June, the team wondered if he could be out for months. He returned after 10 days. Machado was injured and his shame was devastating. His .694 OPS in July was easily the month’s lowest. But with IL’s Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trade Deadline reinforcements not yet arriving, Padres needed all of Machado’s contribution. Then in early August, Padres welcomed Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Brandon Drury to Deadline. It can be difficult to rock the clubhouse mid-season, but Soto said he always felt welcome. “Manny is the most important player because he’s the captain of the team,” Soto said. “So if the captain makes you feel comfortable, that’s great. He just told me the situation there and what we should be like. I seem to agree mostly with everything that happens there. It felt good.” Padres doesn’t give him the “Captain” title, but make no mistake. It’s Machado. “He’s our leader,” said Game 3 starter Blake Snell. “He’s the guy everyone’s looking at.” Bob “He’s a guy in the clubhouse, so to speak,” Melvin said. … being a person in the field and having to perform is hard enough. The one in the clubhouse is much more difficult. And he’s doing it like he does in the field. There’s an easy one.” In the 2018-19 offseason, they paid a premium. They weren’t the Padres at the time. They just finished an eight-game losing streak. They’re looking to extend Wil Myers and sign Eric Hosmer. They spent the money, but they never signed a wagon like the same player. In the months after the Winter Meetings revelations came out, Padres moved the wheels.Ownership signed Machado’s chase, and in mid-February, he was the biggest player in American sports history at the time. A wealthy free agent was signed on a 10-year, $300 million contract, when A’s manager Melvin stood up and took notes: “I remember years and dollars and I’m like ‘wow’,” Melvin recalled. “But that’s what you pay for. When you look at such long-term contracts, you are not really sure how they will go. But what he’s done here, what he’s been doing and what he’s been doing this year, it goes deep into his contract. This is one of the better deals. But he definitely has.” Four years on that contract, it feels like Machado’s team. And suddenly it feels like Machado’s moment. Padres enters the NLDS under the hood against the team with the most wins in baseball. If they needed MVP Machado, it was now: “We know they are division champions. They have the best records in baseball. They have played very well against us all year round. But at the end the day we compete. We’ll leave it on the field.” When San Diego lost Game 1, David Ortiz declared the Dodgers “Dad” of Padres on National TV. Then, as night fell, Machado was lasered in the first inning of Clayton Kershaw. He opened the scoring with a home run. He watched the ball land in left field and then looked into the dugout for Padres. The message was clear. He had this. They had this. A home run, a double, and After hitting five in two with great glovework, Machado texted Ortiz, who mentioned on the air that the San Diego third baseman counterattacked in two simple words.” Before reaching that point, Machado spent the 2018 postseason with the Dodgers. His experience was definitely different. He batted just .227 and drew more controversial headlines than plays on the field. It now feels like ancient history. If Machado was a precarious entity in October of that year, 2022 felt the exact opposite. A stable presence for teams looking to shock the baseball world. “You just evolve,” Machado said of what he’s learned from his past playoff experience. “It is just the human nature of things. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from the good, you learn from the bad. Everything is evolving.”

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