The blockbuster contract that the San Diego Padres agreed to terms with All Star infielder Manny Machado on just prior to the real start of Spring Training shocked the sports world. The contract (10 years at $300 million) is the largest in American sports history. The decision by the Padres to commit this much in both dollars and time to one single player will certainly be scrutinized for years by the pundits in the media as well as the casual sports fan alike.
The view here in this piece is how the record revenues generated by Major League Baseball (MLB) and the way those revenues are shared among all the member franchises made this player contract possible. The prevailing sentiment among many who cover the league within the media is that any team can afford any player if they chose to move in that direction.
This stands in stark contrast to the days when I was a kid and I was really interested in baseball and watched games nearly every day of the season. Those decades were marked by “big market” teams and “small market” teams. The teams in the big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago could outspend the teams in smaller cities, and very often did just that, to land the superstar free players in free agency.
This created an inevitable shift in the balance of the league with those larger market teams seemingly always in contention for the World Series crown, and the small market teams being home preparing for the next season. The sharing of revenue in MLB from the media rights contracts, to major corporate sponsorships, and for streaming rights to games has leveled the playing field for the “small market” teams.
The signing of Machado, as wild as it sounds, will only increase the Padres payroll slightly to about $100 million this year. The perspective is that San Diego’s payroll was close to that number in 2018 as well. The smaller market teams, at points, have an advantage because they can give out a large contract because they have been budget-conscious with the rest of their payroll.
Machado is also still very young, so the decade-long contract that is usually given to an older player where the team risks losing production at the end of that contract term is not a significant concern with this deal. It helps the Padres that every MLB team kicks in a percentage of their local revenue which then gets among all the other teams.
The Machado deal is a bold move to make the Padres relevant again. The contract will most certainly have an impact on the other major free agent in this offseason, Bryce Harper, who remains unsigned.
Harper is represented by mega-agent Scott Boras, who will seek to get a larger and better deal for his client than the terms of the Machado contract. The Philadelphia Phillies are the main potential landing spot for Harper.
However, a couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers contacted Boras about a short-term deal for Harper. The problem for the Dodgers is that they already have a bloated payroll, and so they cannot make a 10 year commitment to Bryce Harper. The short-term scenario will be problematic for L.A. in its own right, with the contracts that they have already “on the books” so to speak.
The emergence of the Dodgers is a problem for Philadelphia, because Harper grew up and resides currently in the Las Vegas area. The West Coast is an attractive option for him, and there are some within the baseball media that have reported that if Harper was truly interested in playing in Philly that it would be a done deal already.
Then, the Phillies were dealt another blow on Tuesday, when the Colorado Rockies decided to hand an extension to Nolan Arenado, which on an average annual salary will make him the highest paid position player in baseball history. This deal now provides Boras with the leverage to get a better deal from Philadelphia for Harper, a much more established player with respect to Arenado.
The Rockies are also considered a small market team, and they most certainly could push the envelope on this contract because of the revenue sharing money that gets distributed throughout the league. The rise on local and regional sports media deals have also helped teams like the Rockies with additional revenue to spend on talent to improve their team.
It is a very different offseason in that the two top free agents remained unsigned until after Spring Training camps opened. Harper remains without a team, and could face a potential crossroads decision to either go to a team that has been very successful recently in the Dodgers on a short term deal, or go for the long haul approach with Philadelphia and be the star of an upstart team.
The decision for Machado and Arenado was easy in both their cases, they got very lucrative offers that made a lot of sense to sign. Harper has a different decision and it will also be fascinating to see how the Phillies handle the next few days. The asking price can be jacked up by Boras to $360 million, but the Phillies know that if no other team is going to produce a 10-year offer, they have no reason to go that high.
The emotions also play a role in these situations, and one side will eventually give in, sometimes it is the team and others, it is the player. The one certainty is that these signings will have an impact on the next wave of superstar free agents and will shape the league for the next ten years and beyond.