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Mudville: April 15, 2024 12:35 pm PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Here’s the thing.

Steve Cohen is always looking for a sure thing. That’s how he became insanely rich, an insane art collector, and now an insane star baseball player collector.

A while back we warned you that Padres third baseman Manny Machado would opt out; everybody opts out – especially when there is an open spot for you on Steve Cohen’s team, and Machado explained on Friday in Peoria, Arizona why he would opt out after this season (the last of five years of his $300 million deal).

I’ve known Manny since Alex Rodriguez introduced me to him in the Dominican Republic at David Ortiz’s golf tournament many years ago, before Manny became a star.

Manny’s career path could follow A-Rod’s career path; and that means spending the rest of his career in New York. Instead of the Yankees, though, it would be with the Mets.

I have long believed that Manny’s relationship with Buck Showalter and Cohen’s money will make him a Met. And remember, Alex once wanted to be a Met, tent and all.

I’m sure playing three playoff games at Citi Field last October only made it more of a goal for Machado. By the way, the Mets need Machado. This is not just about a player opting out and wanting more money, this is about a team needing to upgrade its offense and defense. For a while, the Carlos Correa to the Mets situation muddied the waters at third base – and then the Mets found a way to opt out of that deal through a failed physical.

Wouldn’t you know it, about seven weeks later Manny Machado says he will opt out from the Padres after the 2023 season.

Funny how that all works and that is the subject of The Story.

As far as AMBS is concerned, there are no coincidences in baseball when it comes to this kind of stuff. The Padres are not dumb, they could see the handwriting on the wall, and that is why they went over the top to sign Xander Bogaerts to that 11-year, $280 million deal. Bogaerts can slide over to third base when Manny leaves if Fernando Tatis shows he has grown up and can be trusted at shortstop. That’s a big if.

Manny witnessed the Padres offer Aaron Judge that $400 million deal out of nowhere only to see Judge stay with the Yankees; and the Padres also offered $342 million to shortstop Trea Turner who signed with the Phillies

I worked in San Diego for 10 years, so I know the hurdles the Padres have to jump every year to remain in contention – and thankfully their current owner Peter Seidler has the fans’ best interests at heart and that is why he opens his checkbook so freely, but it is a tough road to stay in contention in San Diego year after year.

Steve Cohen is much the same as an owner. That Mets fan has grown up into an over-flowing billionaire Mets fan so he can outspend the rest of the baseball world; and he has no problems doing it in order to put a playoff team out there every year.

Again, there are no coincidences.

… Just like Tom Hagen told Sonny Corleone in The Godfather: “This is business, not personal.’’

If Machado becomes a Met, the infield will be locked up for all of the rest of their careers, once Pete Alonso signs long term. Alonso signing a long term deal with the Mets is like Aaron Judge signing for the rest of his career with the Yankees.

The fans love the Polar Bear too much for the Mets to let him go; and that kind of power is at a premium, so you can’t let him go.

Jeff McNeil at second base has been signed to the four-year $50 million deal this off-season. At shortstop, Francisco Lindor is there for the duration with his 10-year, $341 million deal. Add Machado to the mix and you have your Forever Infield – the Mets’ modern day version of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. In case you are wondering, Harry Steinfeldt was the third baseman of that legendary Cubs team of the early 1900s.

Lindor to McNeil to Alonso doesn’t have the same poetic ring to it but the importance of a solid infield for years to come is back to being super important again because the Nerds can’t cover up defensive inadequacies with the shift.

A shortstop has to play shortstop so a wide-ranging third baseman is huge for the defensive well-being of a team.

Machado is the best third baseman out there, sorry Nolan Arenado. He is so smooth he makes the tough plays look easy, and you just know that this dream of an infield has been floating around in Buck Showalter’s head for a long time.

Showalter can’t really say anything about Machado now because he still belongs to the Padres for another year; but there are no coincidences in Buck Showalter’s world either.

You could see this coming from a mile away, and why not?

Manny Machado chilling at a desk

SAN DIEGO, CA - FEBRUARY 04: Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres signs autographs for fans during the San Diego Padres Fan Fest at PETCO Park on February 4, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

The Mets need superstars. They haven’t won a World Series since 1986 and only have two to their name, ’86 and the Miracle Mets of 1969. That Baseball Miracle happened 54 years ago and it’s been 37 years (Casey Stengel’s number) since the Mets stunned Red Sox Nation.

Think of this as well. Cohen also shelled out eight years at $162 million to centerfielder Brandon Nimmo this off-season. Starling Marte is also signed through 2025; so break it all down and that means there really are only three position player positions available (barring injury). Those three are one outfield spot, third base and catcher.

If Manny becomes your third baseman, you only have to worry about one outfield spot and catcher.

The Mets are determined to have top prospect Francisco Alvarez become the everyday catcher. Showalter said of Alvarez on Friday in Port St. Lucie: “At some point he will get an opportunity.’’

You aren’t kidding, Buck. Add Machado to the star mix and Alvarez at catcher and every position except one outfield spot is locked up. It is kind of nice to write in the same lineup day after day. Also, Manny plays. He has missed only 27 games over his four years with the Padres.

Catcher and one outfield spot need to be open for the young talent coming to Citi Field for several reasons, including that you don’t want to be paying every single starter crazy amounts of millions every year.

It’s good for business. It’s good for the fans to follow young players up the ladder to see them make it to the majors – and it’s good for team chemistry. For the organization’s sake there has to be some mix of youth.

One of the things I like best about Machado other than his incredible talent, is that he speaks his mind. He was always forthright with me and I believe that is because of the introduction made by Alex Rodriguez. (Tip to young writers, if you care: get an older player to introduce you to a young player; it makes a difference, if you want to build relationships. If you just want to be on Twitter all day and be a smart ass, don’t bother.)

Manny Machado at Citi Field

FLUSHING, NY - JULY 24: Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres looks on during the game between the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets at Citi Field on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Flushing, New York. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

On St. Patrick’s Day in 2018, I caught up with Machado at the covered batting cages before a game in Port St. Lucie. At that time Aaron Judge took a little heat from the MLB Tampering Police because he said of Machado, who was set to be a free agent after the season, “Adding him to our lineup that we already got would be something special. I told him he’d look good in pinstripes.’’

Judge sure was right about that; but the Yankees, as we all know, never pulled the financial trigger on Machado and instead went with three years of Gio Urshela at third and then last season it was turned over to Josh Donaldson.

That St. Patrick’s Day Machado told me: “Aaron Judge is a great kid and has a great future ahead of him. He means well.’’

When Judge told Machado how good he would look in pinstripes, Machado said he just smiled. “You just laugh about the situation, just shits and giggles, people talk on the field,’’ is how he explained it to me. “Things that happen on the field, stay on the field, you know, so you just go about your business … My focus is trying to put an MVP season together.’’

You can be sure that is Machado’s focus this upcoming season in San Diego with their impressive lineup – that, by the way, outscored the Mets 13-1 in their two wins at Citi Field last October. As for the Mets, so much for home field advantage; turns out it’s more important to have the right players than the home field.

Back in 2018, Machado, whose Orioles trained on the west coast of Florida in Sarasota, made that trip across the state to PSL and I could tell he was excited to play the Mets. He’s from Miami and recently sold his Coral Gables mansion. If he signs with the Mets, I’m sure he’ll be able to pick up something in the Miami area.

Manny Machado and Aaron Judge doing the elbow bash

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees and the American League celebrates with Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles and the American League after hitting a solo home run in the second inning against the National League during the 89th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard at Nationals Park on July 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In July of that 2018 season the Orioles traded Machado to the Dodgers, where he matured a bit, and then it was on to the Padres where Machado signed that 10-year, $300 million deal with the opt out that he plans to use after the season. He said to reporters in Peoria, which by the way is a long way from Coral Gables, “So far this year, I’m a Padre, but who knows after next year…”

“That’s a lot of money out there,’’ Machado said, adding that the market has “changed tremendously’’ since he signed with the Padres.

He’s kept up his end of the deal in San Diego, being the key player in the Padre turnaround and having to put up with the immaturity of Tatis, who was supposed to be that player as well. In his four years in San Diego, Machado has hit .280 with 108 home runs and 101 doubles. Last season he batted .298, with a .366 on-base percentage and a .531 slugging percentage, with an .898 OPS. Over his 11-year career, he owns 283 home runs and 312 doubles and plays a Gold Glove caliber third base.

The Padres are saying they will do everything in their power to keep Machado (that’s what teams always say) but on the open market, they will lose to Cohen. Surely, Manny has a desire to be closer to Miami, so there is that too. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported Saturday that the only offer the Padres made before Manny’s February 16th deadline was a deal that would add five years at $21 million a year.

No go.

Again, there are no coincidences in MLB when it comes to situations like this, because Machado also would be playing for a manager in Showalter he likes and knows well. The Mets’ infield would be on autopilot with Alonso, McNeil, Lindor, and Machado.

What a great MLB guide Machado would be for Alvarez, too.

Manny Machado in the shadows

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 19: Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres prepares for a play at third base in game two of the National League Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies at PETCO Park on October 19, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

There is no down side here other than spending Uncle Stevie’s money.

The chances of getting the big free agent prize next year, Shohei Ohtani, would be difficult because Ohtani appears destined for the Dodgers; he’s West Coast all the way.

Let’s be clear here too – these Mets need more to get past the Braves and the Phillies in the future. The Braves are loaded and have all their key players signed after losing Dansby Swanson to free agency. The Phillies made it to the World Series and got better by adding shortstop Trea Turner with that 11-year, $300 million deal. And they do have Bryce Harper forever.

From a Mets competitive standpoint it’s always good to weaken one of your chief competitors. The Padres and the Mets could be on an October collision course for years to come, so having Machado instead of facing Machado is a win for the Mets.

Like Manny said on Friday, the market has changed. In many ways the market has changed because of Steve Cohen. Manny, who will turn 31 this July, also said of that changing market: “I mean, it’s all business and these are things that happen.’’

Exactly, and just like Tom Hagen told Sonny Corleone in The Godfather: “This is business, not personal.’’

Is it ever…

Making Machado a Met could soon be Steve Cohen’s business.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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