Manny Machado developing into a leader with Padres

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When Manny Machado got in Fernando Tatis Jr.’s face in full view of spectators and television cameras, he cemented his place as a team leader for the San Diego Padres.

Machado had the audacity to call out the uber-talented fan favorite in a game this season.

The 300-million-dollar man got in the face of the 340-million-dollar shortstop. But, after all, he’s the veteran, a guy who has been there and done that, who has earned the respect of his teammates.

Over Machado’s 10-year career, had not been known as a leader. Instead, he’d been burdened with a reputation as a guy who doesn’t always hustle, even as a dirty player. In fact, during the 2018 playoffs with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he candidly admitted he doesn’t always hustle down the line to first. However, he later clarified that position and talked about the difference between real and false hustle.

During his career, Machado has been involved in several brawls, including an epic free-for-all when he charged Yordano Ventura, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals after he was hit in the back by a fastball. He slugged Ventura in the face and ended up sitting out four games.

Adam Jones, a teammate for seven years in Baltimore, insists that if Machado were white, he wouldn’t carry around a reputation as a dirty player. Instead, Jones regards Machado as a guy who plays hard and with passion.

In 2012. when the Orioles called him up, J.J. Hardy handled shortstop. So the rookie moved to third base. In his second game, Machado hit two home runs. Overall, he played in 51 games, making 202 plate appearances, and averaging 2.62. In May, he broke Ty Cobb’s record for the most games with multiple hits before the age of 21. By the end of May, he led all of baseball with 25 doubles

Voted an All-Star in 2013, an injury to his knee shut him down. He decided to undergo surgery on his knee to prevent dislocations going forward. Still, he won the AL Gold Glove Award at third base. In his first game back the following year, in May, he was cleared to play and received a standing ovation from the home fans. But another knee injury and another surgery shut him down in early August. In 2015, Machado played all 162 games, the only player to do so. However, at third, he made 21 errors, second-most at third in the American League. Still, he received his second Gold Glove.

Obviously, in the judgment of Padres general manager, A.J. Preller, Machado’s on-field performance trumped his reputation when he signed him to a 10-year, $300 million contract. Machado’s $30 million a year surpassed that of Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer at $20 million. In what has become a yearly ritual, the Padres are trying to move both Myers and Hosmer yet again. One reason for signing Hosmer had been his clubhouse presence. However, Machado has the talent, the credibility, and the personality necessary for such a presence.

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Machado’s first season in San Diego was a bit of a disappointment, considering the hoopla and dollars involved. He batted .256/.334/.487/.825, with 21 doubles, two triples, and 32 home runs, OPS+ 110.  However, in the 2020 mini-season, he batted .304/.370/.589/.950,  with 12 doubles, one triple, and 16 home runs, OPS+ 160. Over this year’s long slog, Machado batted .278/.347/.489/.836, with 31 doubles, two triples, and 28 home runs, OPS+ 131.

Machado led the Padres with 157 hits, was second in doubles at 31 behind Jake Cronenworth’s 33, and second in home runs at 28 behind Tatis Jr.’s 42. He led the team in RBI at 106 and had far fewer strikeouts at 102 than Tatis Jr. 153.

Last year Machado’s 221 points bested Tatis Jr.’s 201 points in the voting for the National League Most Valuable Player. However, the Atlanta Brave’s Freddie Freeman received a whopping 410 points.

In Baltimore, Machado received to two Gold Glove Awards. Having moved to the National League, he’ll have a rough go, thanks to Nolan Arenado (who has moved on from the Colorado Rockies to the St. Louis Cardinals). In fact, Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt insists that Arenado will join him in Cooperstown.

Ex-manager Jayce Tingler has high praise for Machado’s baseball IQ, including his instincts and timing, calling him “the most talented defensive player I’ve ever been around.” In his signature play, he nabs a grounder and almost simultaneously throws to his target at first or second. Thanks to his defensive prowess, the Padres have also employed the Manny Shift, where he acts as a rover in short right field.

Bobby Dickerson, the infield coach with the Padres, has compared Machado’s skills to that of Michael Jordan’s penchant for three-pointers and called him “the best defender in the league.” He’s one of many to praise his baseball savvy, strong arm, and skills at transfer. Executive Chairman Ron Fowler called Machado “a generational talent.”

“Manny is one of the truly elite players in baseball and impacts the game on both sides of the ball,” in the judgment of the man who signed him. “His combination of youth, experience, and ability makes him a perfect fit for the Padres both now and in the future as we work to build a perennial contender at the Major League Level.”

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Like Tatis Jr., Machado has been playing despite having a balky left shoulder. Still, he’s played in 153 games, just behind Tommy Pham at 155. As Victor Caratini told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, “He’s playing with heart, and he’s done it all year, even when he’s not feeling 100 percent.”

When the Padres signed Machado, the front office focused on his talent, a talent that has earned 45.2 WAR over his career so far. No one assumed he would become a clubhouse leader. But his confrontation with Tatis Jr. elevated his status with the team. If anyone can reach the wunderkind, it’s a guy like Manny Machado.

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