It's almost February and free-agent superstar Manny Machado remains unsigned. Within the last few weeks, word of a so-called mystery team being in on Machado started to circulate. Apparently my colleague Mike Axisa is the Machado Whisperer, because he called the Padres this mystery team and now multiple reports indicate the Padres are, in fact, in on Machado

This should really happen. Everything is just perfectly aligning for Machado to become the face of the Padres as they get back into contention after such a long drought. Here's how it all fits. 

1. The market

The expectations with a mega-free agent like Machado are that the big boys -- Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, etc. -- would all be taking a look and the bidding was going to be something like 10 years and more than $300 million. Instead, the free-agent market these past two offseasons has essentially cratered, with teams treating the luxury tax like a salary cap. Those teams I listed above all appear to be out, with the Yankees maybe-possibly-but-probably-not lying in the weeds. 

We do know the Phillies are going hard after either Machado or Bryce Harper while the White Sox are also in, though they appear to be low-balling Machado and might be unwilling to go higher, in piecing together reports. 

Unless Harper re-signs with the Nationals and the Phillies throw a ton at Machado, this seems like a prime opportunity for a small-market team to pounce on Machado. 

2. The NL West landscape

As noted Thursday, the Dodgers are very good and are the deepest team in baseball. They are the obvious NL West favorite. 

The rest of the division is up in the air, however. SportsLine projects the Rockies to win 80 games, the Diamondbacks to take 78 -- and note that they'll be sellers in July if they aren't contending -- and the Giants 72. The Giants are going to have to rebuild, even if they try and do it quickly. The Diamondbacks are in the same ballpark. Nolan Arenado is a free agent after 2019 and instead of extending him, the Rockies are heading to arbitration with him -- where they'll be arguing for him to have a lower salary than he's asking. That doesn't seem great, right? 

As such, a surface-level observation: Second place in the NL West for the next few seasons is wide open. The NL Central and NL East are much stronger, which means there will be more in-division wins to be had in the West and a wild-card spot is very possible if a good second NL West team emerges. 

3. The Padres prospects

In the last few years, the Padres have been regarded as having one of the best farm systems in baseball and we're starting to see it come to fruition. We caught glimpses of infielder Luis Urias (.296/.398/.447 in Triple-A last year) and catcher Francisco Mejia (.293/.338/.471 in Triple-A last year) in the majors last season and 2019 will be their first full campaign in the majors. More help is coming very soon, too. 

That would be in the form of Fernando Tatis Jr., who is playing shortstop and hit .286/.355/.507 with 22 doubles, four triples, 16 homers, 43 RBI, 77 runs and 16 steals in 88 Double-A games last season. The youngster will be in Triple-A this season, but it's possible he's called upon and becomes a star pretty quickly. He's got all the tools. has him as the second-best prospect in baseball behind another second-generation baseballer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 

There's more, too, as ranked seven Padres in the top 100 in baseball before last season (more on the prospects here, where I mention the Padres as a coming-soon breakout team). 

4. The need for an established star

The top of the Padres order right now looks like it might be Ian Kinsler or Urias. The middle of the order includes Eric Hosmer -- who is a clubhouse leader but most certainly not a star -- Wil Myers and Hunter Renfroe

Even if Tatis hits the ground running and is a star from the get-go, the Padres could sure use a veteran star. Think about the Cubs with Anthony Rizzo being there when Kris Bryant hit the bigs or the Astros with Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman joining Jose Altuve and George Springer

Hosmer and Myers simply aren't on the same level of an Altuve or Rizzo. Machado is. He's a game-changer right in the middle of his prime. He's averaged 34 doubles, 36 homers, 96 RBI, 94 runs, 11 steals with a 129 OPS+ the last four seasons. He's averaging 6 WAR in his five full seasons (2013, 2015-18). 

Machado would immediately give the Padres the franchise centerpiece they need in order to take things to the next level with this talented foundation. He also takes pressure off the likes of Urias, Mejia and especially Tatis. 

5. The sell job

Now, the Padres can't make Machado sign with them. They can make him an offer he can't refuse, however. It goes like this: 

  1. Everything I said above about how the Padres are a team on the rise, but also how he is The Man the second he sets foot in spring training. This is his team. 
  2. San Diego, baby. Sells itself. Who wouldn't want to live there? 
  3. Most importantly: Make the highest offer. 

On three, some might think the Padres can't do this. Maybe they won't be able to top a "let's get stupid" Phillies-type deal. Let's say the Phillies land Harper, though? The path is clear for the Padres to win Machado. 

The Padres ran a payroll of just over $94 million last season, per Cot's Contracts. The projected payroll right now is a touch over $80 million. They could fit a huge Machado contract either by backloading the deal or going something like $10 million more than they did last year with the player payroll. They have room to add future salary, too. Here are the Padres' salary commitments moving forward: 

  • 2020: $64.250M
  • 2021: $44M
  • 2022: $43.5M
  • 2023: $14M

There are arbitration cases and pre-arb salaries to consider, but they are more than fine to pay Machado given what he could provide the franchise. 

I'm not sure Machado alone being added to the current roster (SportsLine projects them for 67 wins, so Machado maybe bumps them to 73) makes the Padres a 2019 contender without lots of other stuff going really well, but by 2020, the Padres would be ready. Let's take a look at what the team might look like: 

  1. Luis Urias, 2B
  2. Fernando Tatis, SS
  3. Manny Machado, 3B
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Wil Myers, LF
  6. Hunter Renfroe, RF
  7. Francisco Mejia, C
  8. Manuel Margot/Franchy Cordero, CF

Veteran Ian Kinsler, backup catcher Austin Hedges and outfielder Franmil Reyes mean there's a quality bench. 

A returning from Tommy John surgery Garrett Richards heads up the rotation which also has upside with Joey Lucchesi, Jacob Nix, Chris Paddack and Logan Allen. Kirby Yates is a fine anchor to the bullpen. 

Lots of things have to break right, but there's enough talent there for 90-plus wins. It's also a foundation that could sustain success for several years of contention and that's the best way to try and win the World Series. 

They need a Machado-caliber player, though. 

He seems to be right there for the taking, Padres. Go get him.