San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado is an early frontrunner in the race for the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. He currently tops the rankings in several traditional and advanced stat categories. As the five-time All-Star turns 30 in July, Machado’s maturity and leadership skills will show as he strives to bring a world championship to San Diego while repairing the unflattering aspects of his reputation.
It’s hard to judge why a baller of Machado’s caliber has been eclipsed by his contemporaries and teammates over the past decade. The Baltimore Orioles selected Machado with the third pick in the 2010 draft and presented the high school shortstop with a $5.25 million signing bonus. The first overall winner, Bryce Harper, had already appeared on the cover of sports illustrated a year before the draft as a 16-year-old prodigy. The outfielder received a $6.25 million signing bonus from the Washington Nationals. According to Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) calculation, Machado’s 48.4 WAR is currently the highest of any ballplayer selected in the 2010 draft.
By the time Harper and Machado were ready to embark on their pro careers, the legend of Mike Trout was already spreading throughout baseball. A 25th Selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2009 draft, the outfielder received a $1.215 million signing bonus. The comparisons between Harper and Trout were instantaneous, while Machado never got involved in the riveting conversations.
Outfielder Giancarlo Stanton would have signed a 13-year contract extension worth $325 million with the Miami Marlins in November 2014, but it was Machado who became the first major league baller to sign a free-agent contract in February 2019 $300 million signed. Harper surpassed Machado in days thanks to a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Once again, Trout reigned supreme with a 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension about a month after Harper signed his contract.
A two-time Gold Glove Award winner with the Orioles (2013, 2015), Machado’s outstanding defense had also won him the prestigious Platinum Glove Award (2013). During his time in the American League, Machado battled the likes of Adrian Beltre, Matt Chapman, Evan Longoria and Kyle Seager for defensive superiority at third base. After arriving in the National League thanks to a move to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018, Machado quickly discovered Nolan Arenado’s dominance. The third baseman has won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards for the Colorado Rockies and the St. Louis Cardinals (2013-2021). According to FanGraph’s Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) stats over the past 10 seasons (2012-2021), Machado’s 100 DRS and 61.6 UZR are only behind Arenado’s 136 DRS and 62.2 UZR in qualifying thirds basemen.
Machado finished in the top five of the Most Valuable Player Award poll three times: twice in the American League (2015, 2016) and once in the National League (2020). The 2010 draft class produced two winners of the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. Harper won it twice (2015, 2021) prior to his season at age 29, and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich also won the award in his 2018 season at age 26. Yelich was the 23rdapprox Total selection of marlins. According to the Baseball Reference, only one baller drafted third overall has ever won a Most Valuable Player award: Hall of Famer Robin Yount, twice for the Brewers (1982, 1989).
Machado has earned a reputation for being immature, moody, and selfish while also possessing exceptional talent. Many have questioned his decision-making skills and whether he would ever develop into a leader. A ball club veteran with high expectations, Machado has established a tone of maturity and accountability in a clubhouse with the fifth highest opening-day payroll ($211,968,286) in Major League Baseball, according to the Associated Press. It also helps to have the presence of Bob Melvin, who is a three-time Manager of the Year Award winner (2007, 2012, 2018).
Despite Machado’s experience and leadership, the Padres are still grappling with growing pains with shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. The 23-year-old’s high energy and zest for life are contagious, but he also suffers from bouts of immaturity and irresponsibility that have already added undue stress to the Padres. Let’s also not forget serious wrist and shoulder injuries, as well as a 14-year, $340 million contract extension for a ballplayer who played just 273 major league ballgames in his career. Machado is the perfect person to mentor Tatis, Jr., as in some cases it’s like Machado looking in a mirror at a younger version of himself. Machado and health are two of Tatis, Jr.’s greatest allies as he recovers from surgery to repair a broken scaphoid in his left wrist last March.
Manny Machado knows his impressive resume is missing important individual and team awards. A batting average of .200 in 115 at-bats over 29 postseason ball games has not resulted in a world championship, nor has he been officially recognized as his league’s most valuable ball player for an entire season. Machado also has financial reasons, as his 10-year, $300 million contract includes a release clause after the 2023 season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Could a 31-year-old Machado give up the five years and $150 million remaining on his current contract and earn more in free agency? Anything is possible as a National League Most Valuable Player award would likely add even more interest to an already intriguing conversation.