It’s a little odd at this point, but every day or two I see someone in the Padres corner of the internet wondering if the Padres will, at some point this year, send Manuel Margot down to the minor leagues to manipulate his service-time clock. If Margot, who’s currently injured but inching closer to a return, spends a few weeks in the minors (rehab time not included), the Padres will gain an extra year of pre-free agency control over him. They’d have him through 2023 rather than 2022.
From purely a cold, hard business perspective, it makes sense. From every other perspective, it doesn’t.
First of all, it’s unclear that even the Padres would want to do this. They had the absolute perfect opportunity to do it, right out of spring training. Margot had a rough spring offensively, he was dealing with a couple of nagging injuries, and he was still just 21 and coming off a good but unspectacular year in Triple-A El Paso. Nobody would have questioned it, at least not too hard, if the Padres decided to send Margot back to El Paso for a few weeks, to get fully healthy and be in the best position to succeed against major-league pitching. In fact, it arguably would have been the smartest thing to do, and that’s before you even consider service time.
But they didn’t. They started Margot in the majors, signalling right then that a year of extra control more than a half decade away wasn’t a priority. In all likelihood, the Padres figured one of two things would happen: 1) that Margot would perform well, leading to a future contract extension that would make that extra year of control moot. (Sure, it’d be a little bit more expensive of an extension, without 2023 as an arbitration-eligible bargaining chip, but what’s a few million bucks to a big-league team?) Or 2) that Margot wouldn’t perform well, and that an extra year of control in his late-20s wouldn’t end up being something that anybody was all that concerned about losing.
Here’s the other thing: the Padres probably can’t send Margot down now, at least not unless he really struggles in the second half. Toying with a player’s clock in the middle of a season is something that isn’t going to fly. Someone will file a grievance—be it Margot himself, or Margot’s agent, or the player’s union—and all hell will break loose. The thing about other controversial service time situations is that they almost all happened at the beginning of the season. The Cubs, for instance, famously kept Kris Bryant in the minors for 13 days in 2015 to gain that extra year of control. Silly (or not silly) as that may have been, they at least had a shred of an argument, since Bryant hadn’t even spent a full season at Triple-A.
Margot’s not exactly tearing up the major leagues, but he’s performing well above replacement level, and it’d be hard to argue that now, in the middle of the season, he needs a two-week trip back to El Paso, a trip that would conveniently enough net the team another year of control. It does depend on performance the rest of the way, of course. If Margot just stops hitting altogether, it might make sense beyond the service time stuff. But let’s allow it to get to that point before even considering it.
Remember, also, that the Padres could send Margot down next year and still gain that extra year. It makes sense to ride with him in the majors as long as possible before sending him down to the minors. There’s no reason to make a hurried decision that could damage the long term relationship between Margot and the team.
Rather than doing what the Cubs did, I’d argue that the Padres should essentially do the opposite. If a player is ready, call them up and let them play. The Padres should have plenty of extra money lying around to give deserving players extensions, and not manipulating service-time clocks is bound to gain some good will among those players. Plus, it’d help the Padres shed their long-earned reputation as a penny-pinching organization. At the very least, the Padres shouldn’t go out of their way to screw with a player’s clock.
As fans and analysts, we used to get a bit obsessed about service time, and about maximizing every last bit out of every last resource. We were Moneyball-ing, 24/7. It’s a different game now, and there’s money friggin’ everywhere. It’s time to stop worrying about getting an extra year out of Manuel Margot.