As Manny Machado prepares to enter the market this offseason as perhaps the most coveted free agent in a deep pool of available talent, he posted a long message of appreciation to the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans on his Instagram account that reads more like a farewell than a message of thanks. While Machado never explicitly states that he is leaving Los Angeles, the post has ominous undertones that suggest Machado may not return.
The free agent signing period begins on Saturday.
Machado was acquired by the Dodgers from the Baltimore Orioles over the All-Star break after Dodgers star shortstop Corey Seager was lost for the season with an elbow injury. Even at the time, the Machado acquisition was considered a likely rental as the Dodgers were committed to retaining Seager as the starting shortstop for 2019 and fan favorite Justin Turner already manning third base. However, his talent and performance this season has raised the possibility of the Dodgers retaining him past this year. Machado was as good as advertised for Los Angeles, batting .273 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI while playing strong defense at shortstop and leading the Dodgers to their second consecutive National League pennant.
The 26-year-old Machado is entering the prime years of his career at a time when the new MLB television contract promises a tremendous surge in free-agent contract value. Machado will likely earn over $30 million per year -- and possibly $40 million per year -- in free agency.
Those expectations have been tempered somewhat by last year's slow free agent market. With baseball's front offices turning more and more to analytics and seeking to maximize value per dollar, many top free agents ended up signing disappointing contracts last winter. The prime example of the new trend in downward spending was Kansas City's Mike Moustakas, who declined the club's one-year tender in excess of $17 million only to settle for re-signing with the Royals for only $6 million after no other teams showed interest. Even slugger J.D. Martinez, who seemed like a perfect fit in Boston's lineup and would lead them to a World Series championship this season, did not agree to a contract until late February.
That being said, Machado is the best shortstop in baseball and brings a slugging bat to what is considered a defense-first position. Also, at age 26 his best years are likely still ahead of him, and he is putting up Hall of Fame numbers in the early part of his career. If anyone is going to sign a massive free agent contract this winter, it is most likely Machado. The larger question is who will he be playing for when the bidding is over.