Service time manipulation is a viable business move for MLB teams, but the San Diego Padres are not participating.
The rules allow it, so no one really blames MLB teams for doing it. Delaying the major league debut of top prospects who are otherwise healthy and ready, in order to gain an extra year of team control, is bad optics more than anything. The San Diego Padres, however, are not playing the service time game.
The Padres have a deep, highly-rated farm system, highlighted by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. He has not taken an at-bat above Double-A, and had a somewhat middling spring (.265, two home runs, four RBI). So sending him down to start the season would not have been met with much derision, but according to Dennis Lin of The Athletic the 20-year-old No. 2 prospect in baseball (as ranked by MLB.com) has made the Padres’ Opening Day roster.
The Padres have also put top prospect Chris Paddack in their starting rotation to open the season, and after a scorching spring (.354/.380/.625 slash-line, 14 RBI) catcher Francisco Mejia will also be on the Opening Day roster.
Tatis starting the season in the big leagues came with a corresponding tough decision on a young player, as Luis Urias was sent down to Triple-A after struggling at the plate this spring.
Urias had been penciled in as the Padres’ Opening Day shortstop, assuming Tatis started the season in Triple-A, and with Ian Kinsler at second base there’s no immediate room in the Padres middle infield. Based on what he did for El Paso last year, hitting .296 with 45 extra base hits and a .845 OPS), it shouldn’t be too long before Urias makes a case for a promotion.
With Manny Machado in the fold on a 10-year deal, the Padres can mix patience with urgency as their top prospects start to come through the minor league pipeline. But credit to them for not artificially manipulating the service time clocks of Tatis, Mejia and Paddack.