Manny Machado is perfect fit as newest star for Mets to target

PORT ST. LUCIE — After the Mets lost out on Carlos Correa (the first time, when he went to San Francisco), team owner Steve Cohen lamented the loss, but remarked to me that there would always be another free agent. 

That next free agent didn’t turn out to be Correa, as Cohen originally hoped. But it could well be Manny Machado now. 

The amazing Machado announced upon entering spring training — a la Jacob deGrom last year — that he would be opting out of the last five years of his $300 million, 10-year deal with the Padres at the end of the season. And from here, he looks like just another potential Met. 

They all are, let’s be real here. Cohen’s deep pockets make the Mets candidates to sign anyone. Anyone good, that is. 

And Machado fits like a glove. I wrote Thursday that the Mets will be fine in 2023 with Eduardo Escobar still manning third, but he will be a free agent after the year, just as Machado intends to be. There’s a difference, though. Machado is on his way to a Hall of Fame career. A stop in New York makes perfect sense. 

“I’m proud of the player he’s become and the husband he’s become,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said Friday when asked about his former Orioles star. “I’m not going there. He’s somebody else’s player, and they’re lucky to have him.” 

Manny Machado
Manny Machado intends to opt out of his contract following the season.
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He’s somebody else’s player for now, anyway. 

The Padres felt some optimism about talks a week ago, and while the mid-market team played the left coast version of the Mets this winter with eye-popping signings, they weren’t able to prevent Machado’s early opt-out declaration. So it’s time to start dreaming. 

Everyone will be watching and assuming that thanks to general manager Billy Eppler’s Anaheim link and Steve Cohen’s bank account, the Mets will be big players for two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. But there still are people who doubt Ohtani will leave the West Coast, which was his clear preference five years ago, when five of seven finalists were out west (and none were in the east). Ohtani may be one of those rare people who doesn’t prioritize the deal. So that may be one case in which Cohen’s largesse may mean little. 

There’s no reason to view the 30-year-old Machado as a consolation prize. Of course, Ohtani is unique and unreal, but let’s not undersell Machado. He is an all-time great who would fill a need. He would provide that extra middle-of-the-order bat that running mate slugging star Pete Alonso needs. 

There’s also no reason to think Machado wouldn’t relish the opportunity to come to New York, either. He’s an East Coaster from Miami whose original mentor was Alex Rodriguez, and he seemed interested in coming here four years ago before the Yankees passed (the Mets, with a different budget back then, weren’t in the picture). Showalter as manager can’t hurt, either. Word is, they are close. 

Manny Machado
Steve Cohen could turn his attention to Manny Machado next offseason.
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Machado made his name in Baltimore under Showalter, which allowed him to sign that stunning San Diego contract in the first place. But everything has changed for him, and for the better. Manny being Manny connotes only positive images now. It’s quite a transformation. 

Under Showalter, Machado grew up, and he has continued to change for the better in San Diego. The chatter about him not running hard enough, or sliding too hard, was left long ago in his brief and unsatisfying stop up the coast in Los Angeles. 

Machado’s play has continued to improve, and he made quite an MVP case last year. I think he should have gotten the award, though the winner, Paul Goldschmidt, was just about equally fantastic. It wasn’t only Machado’s 32 home runs, 102 RBIs and .298 batting average, but the cast around him when Fernando Tatis Jr. was out, and before Juan Soto (and, of course, Xander Bogaerts) came aboard. 

Manny Machado
Manny Machado makes perfect sense for the Mets.
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“I think he should have taken [the MVP]. Look at the team surrounding him before they got the big guy [Soto],” agreed Mets coach Wayne Kirby, who was on the Orioles’ staff when Showalter was the manager and Machado was the team’s biggest star. 

Machado also is arguably the best defensive player in the game. “Oh my Lord,” Kirby said. “He and [Nolan] Arenado are the two best I’ve seen in this generation.” 

The real bonus, though, is how Machado has changed his persona. Now he advises Tatis in the dugout (Tatis obviously strayed, but that wasn’t Machado’s fault). Last year, he led the Padres over the Mets and then the rival Dodgers and into the NLCS. Previously, he was annoyed at often being overlooked — one of the greatest injustices was him not being nominated for a Gold Glove last year — but Kirby noticed that he has done whatever he can to change his mindset. 

“I think he’s so relaxed now,” Kirby said. “Little things don’t bother him anymore. He can go 0-for-3, 0-for-4 and say, ‘That’s OK, I’ll get ’em tomorrow.’ It’s amazing watching him.” 

Yes sir, watching Machado up close next year could be quite the treat. 

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