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HomeNewsIf Manny Machado reaches free agency again, is a Dodgers reunion possible?

If Manny Machado reaches free agency again, is a Dodgers reunion possible?


Manny Machado’s locker in the San Diego Padres’ spring training clubhouse is prime real estate: at the main entrance, next to the three-foot speaker that pumps the music into the room. Friday morning, hours before their Cactus League opener, it was geared towards laid-back oldies.

Teammates greeted Machado as they passed by his space. Ha-Seong Kim hugged him. Xander Boegarts held out a hand. Machado alternated between English and Spanish depending on the teammate. He was lively. He was vibrating.

The 2023 Padres are arguably the most talented – and certainly the most expensive – team in franchise history. The roster is full of stars acquired over the past four years through trading and free agency. Fat World Series expectations float for the small market entity that punches above its weight.

At the center of the galaxy is Machado, the highly talented third baseman who has evolved into the club’s undisputed leader – a role he acknowledged had to grow since arriving after a rent-a-player stint with the Dodgers .

“It’s about being yourself,” he said. “I think being free is just opening up a little bit.”

Machado, 30, was not that person in his four months with the Dodgers in 2018. Los Angeles signed him from the Baltimore Orioles at trade deadline to play shortstop for the injured Corey Seager. He helped them reach the World Series for the second year in a row.

But Machado was far from a fan favorite. He was taunted for his efforts and sparked criticism when he told Sports Illustrated that he wasn’t “Johnny Hustle.” He sparked a bank-breaking brawl when he kicked Jesús Aguilar’s foot at first base in the NLCS. His final act — falling to his knee after rummaging in the sand on a field to end the World Series — seemed fitting.

Returning to the Dodgers in the off-season was never an option; Seager was under club control for another three years, and Justin Turner holed up at third base. But what about the next low season?

Machado confirmed last week that he plans to cancel his 10-year, $300 million contract after the season. He could be one of the best free agents, with Shohei Ohtani, Julio Urías, Blake Snell and Aaron Nola leading the class.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will have money to spend. They are slated to raise more than $66 million off the books. Ohtani will undoubtedly be their main target. If they strike out with him, Machado could be the best hitter on the market.

The organization is “split” about hosting a reunion with Machado, according to a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Machado would be open to a return to Los Angeles, but that’s expected; eliminating one of the league’s richest teams from the bidding is not a good thing.

The Dodgers clearly don’t need him. Max Muncy, who has a player option for 2024, is the Dodgers’ starting third baseman this season. Miguel Vargas, who will play second base in 2023, played more third base than any other position in the minor leagues. The Dodgers were able to use both players at the position.

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado runs during a game against the San Francisco Giants in October.

(Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

But Machado is in a different stratosphere. He is a six-time All-Star. He owns two golden gloves. He finished second in the NL MVP race last season — arguably his best offensive campaign — after batting .298 with 32 home runs and an .898 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

He is regarded as one of the sport’s best defenders since becoming a regular a decade ago. He has not missed more than 12 games in a season since 2014. He placed fifth on MLB Network’s player rankings this week.

“Sometimes it seems like he’s not trying because he’s so good at it,” said Padres reliever Craig Stammen. “But when you talk to him and see how he feels about the game, you understand how trapped he is every day.”

Machado is still in his prime and is on the verge of becoming one of the few players ever to secure two lucrative long-term contracts. Padres owner Peter Seidler hopes it’s back in San Diego.

“I’m really hesitant to talk about hypothetical situations, whether it’s a free agent or one of us,” Seidler said this week. “I will say: Manny is my top priority.”

Machado’s presence in San Diego epitomizes the organization’s trajectory. He signed with the Padres in 2019 when their uniforms were still a plain blue and white, and San Diego was best known as the Dodgers’ punching bag. The deal was the largest ever for a free agent when he signed, but it has dropped to the 11th largest. He was 26, rich and not ready to lead.

“I learned a lot along the way,” said Machado. “People make mistakes. I think the great thing about it is that you learn from it and you grow.”

Machado highlighted Stammen and former Padre Eric Hosmer as role models as he matured. Stammen, the Padres’ longest-serving player, said Machado did not realize he was inside the club when he arrived.

“When you’re a young player in the big leagues you look up to other guys and you don’t really know when everyone starts looking at you,” says Stammen, 38. “When he signed the big contract here, all eyes were on directed at him. Now he has certainly become the leader in this clubhouse and the man we are looking for. He takes care of us. And he’s a great teammate.”

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado smiles ahead of Game 1 of the NLCS in October.

San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado smiles ahead of Game 1 of the NLCS in October.

(Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

With Machado, the Padres have gone from sideshow to toppling the Dodgers to reach the NLCS in October. Last summer they traded for Juan Soto and Josh Hader. This winter they added Boegarts, Matt Carpenter, Nelson Cruz, Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha. Their payroll is pushing $275 million. With this, they are considered fellow favorites along with the Dodgers to win their first NL West title since 2006 and have caused so much excitement that they have capped season ticket sales.

“I saw the vision from the beginning,” Machado said, “and it comes true.”

Whether Machado is around to make it through beyond 2023 is unclear. The number of teams interested in him may be limited until Ohtani makes a decision, but the Padres will face competition for his services either way. Both New York clubs are possible landing sites. Other teams should emerge with strong interest. The Dodgers could become one of them if they miss Ohtani. They will have the money.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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