With the addition of Manny Machado, are the San Diego Padres poised to be a memorable team like that of the 1998 Padres?
After the San Diego Padres’ magic ride to the World Series in 1998 players said that when Kevin Brown walked into the clubhouse, they knew the Padres meant business.
On Friday, the current players had a similar reaction when the team finalized Manny Machado’s astounding $300 million contract. Adding a superstar to an organization with the most promising group of prospects in baseball may not bring a championship run this year. However, it should bring an end to a desultory period of futility for the only major league team left in San Diego.
In 1997 the Padres finished fourth in the National League West with a 76-86 record. Just one year later the team won 98 games. Adding Brown made a huge difference. He led the pitching staff with 18 wins against seven losses (2.38 ERA, 1.006 WHIP, 8.6 WAR). But the presence of a homegrown perennial All-Star Tony Gwynn (.306/.339/.398 in the postseason in 1998) and the transcendent performance of Sterling Hitchcock also helped the cause.
In his 13-year career Hitchcock had a losing record of 74-76, 4.80 ERA and 1.435 WHIP; in six years with the Padres a record of 34-42, 4.47 ERA, 1.344 WHIP. But in the playoffs, a different Hitchcock showed up and recorded one win (1.50 ERA, 0.500 WHIP) in the National League Division Series. In the NLCS he went 2-0 (0.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), and won the MVP award for the series. In Game 3 of the World Series, Hitchcock pitched six scoreless innings against the New York Yankees. However, the following inning he allowed two runs, and the Yankees, regarded as one of the best teams in the history of the sport, took advantage and ultimately swept the series.
Of course, Machado alone can’t turn a 96-loss team into a contender, and fans cannot expect the instant gratification of a trip to the World Series. But when Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias join Machado and Eric Hosmer the infield transforms from a weakness to a strength. With Urias (and his .397 minor league career OBS) setting the table and Machado batting fourth, the entire lineup improves dramatically. Guys like Manuel Margot and Austin Hedges just might loosen that grip on the bat and relax at the plate. Young pitchers like Joey Lucchesi and those on their way to the big leagues like Chris Paddack and Logan Allen could help turn the starting pitching from a glaring weakness to a strength.
Rumors have circulated about the Padres adding a starting pitcher to further kickstart the Padres’ return to relevance. With an abundance of talent in the minor leagues, the possibility of adding a Marcus Stroman or Trevor Bauer or Mike Clevinger through a trade just might be an option. Rumor has it that the front office may even consider signing Dallas Keuchel. If the Padres outperform expectations at the beginning of the season, adding a veteran starter of that ilk might make more sense at the trade deadline.
Like an ocean liner, a baseball team does not turn on a dime. But the Machado signing gets the boat turning and could possibly speed up the competitive timetable especially if the Padres add a front-line veteran starter at some point in the season.
Whatever else may occur, the addition of Machado immediately makes the team more watchable thereby attracting and re-attracting fans and viewers. Janet Hough, aka Left Coast Sports Babe, recently predicted that “…when SF Giants fans take over Petco Park … they’ll be able to boo ex-Dodger Manny Machado.” But instead of that scenario, perhaps Padres fans can reclaim Petco Park and take over the seats usually filled with legions of Giants fans and Dodger fans and Cardinals fans and Cubs fans. Maybe fans can own the park just as they did Qualcomm Stadium in 1998. That alone would vastly improve the mood of long-suffering Padres fans.