At the beginning of the offseason, rumblings that the Padres were interested in trading for Marlins’ all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto made little to no sense. However, if the Padres win the Manny Machado sweepstakes and sign him, Realmuto would be the perfect fit.
Who would have thought that at the start of this offseason, it would make sense for the Padres to trade for yet another catcher? It didn’t make any sense, in fact, earlier this offseason when reports surfaced that the Padres checked in with the Marlins on J.T. Realmuto.
Having just traded for 23-year-old top catching prospect Francisco Mejía at the trade deadline, it seemed pretty clear that he and Austin Hedges would be the catching foundation to help San Diego navigate back into playoff contention. However, A.J. Preller may have had a larger plan in mind when calling the Marlins…a plan that included top-tier free agent Manny Machado.
On January 25, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune Reported that the Padres are ‘officially’ interested in signing Manny Machado, finally ending the wild goose chase for Machado’s “mystery team”.
Although many were surprised by these reports due to the Padres’ notoriety for being one of the most frugal teams in baseball, signing Machado would make a lot of sense for the Padres. With a low 2019 payroll, a glaring hole at third base, and no high-profile third base prospects residing within the system, why not break the bank for one of the best players in the game?
The White Sox, Phillies, and Yankees are sure to be on high alert in their pursuit of Machado now that the Padres are involved. This high-budget competition will make the signing of Machado difficult for the Padres. Additionally, the Phillies and Yankees are two teams much closer to playoff contention than the Padres are. Therefore, if the Padres do win the Machado sweepstakes, the Padres will have undoubtedly told Machado that the plan is to win in 2019.
If the plan is to win now, it’s no secret the Padres need to add, and what better player to add than one of the best catchers in the game. However, with only two years left until free agency, it appears as though Realmuto doesn’t fit the Padres’ timeline, as most of San Diego’s top prospects including Fernando Tatis Jr., Chris Paddack, and Luis Urias will be seeing their first significant big league action this season.
However, it appears as though A.J. Preller and the Padres’ front office will only trade for Realmuto if he agrees to sign a contract extension with San Diego, reports Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Extending Realmuto for an additional three to four years upon acquisition would not only inch the Padres that much closer to competing in 2019 but it also immediately solve the Padres’ problem of having Realmuto fit into their long-term winning timeline.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 26, 2019
However, in the early hours of the next morning (4:54 am ET to be exact) Jon Morosi tweeted that in return for Realmuto, the Marlins are asking the Padres for Francisco Mejia.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 26, 2019
While this may be a tough pill to swallow for Padres fans considering Mejia’s recent acquisition, Mejia remains a raw talent whose contributions at the major league level in 2019 remain largely unknown. Conversely, Realmuto’s slash line of .277/.340/.484, along with his 21 home runs, contributed to a 4.3 WAR, the best amongst all catchers in baseball in 2018.
On the other hand, if the Padres don’t sign Machado, acquiring Realmuto this offseason makes much less sense. While Realmuto behind the plate would still make the Padres 2019 team better, the team would be much further away ability-wise from catching the Dodgers and Rockies.
Additionally, without Machado, there is less reason to speed up the timelines of top prospects such as Tatis Jr., Paddack, and Anderson Espinoza. Andy Green and company would still have their eyes on 2020– innings limits would be strictly implemented, and the Padres can subsequently delay Tatis Jr.’s debut in order to ensure an extra year of control.
Overall, the Padres are currently facing a fork in the road. Either sign Machado, trade for Realmuto, and speed up the winning timeline to 2019, or trade for neither and allow 2019 to be another year of development for prospects like Mejia.