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Chris Paddack’s demotion isn’t just about service time

The Padres are only being a little opportunistic in an otherwise justifiable demotion.

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

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On Wednesday, the San Diego Padres optioned Chris Paddack, their best pitcher, to High A. In his first 12 starts, Paddack is rocking a 3.15 ERA and he’s struck out 72 batters in 62 2/3 innings while only walking 13. The Padres find themselves just five games out of the second wild card spot, and Paddack has been a huge part of that. Only knowing that, this reeks of service time manipulation. Paddack would only need to spend 20 days off the 25-man roster to not accrue his first year of service time and thus give the Padres another year of control over their most promising pitcher.

Now, I love to be cynical and lambast teams for exploiting their players in myriad ways, but I think that what the Padres have done is justified. On the whole, Paddack’s numbers still look good, and that’s because he was so very, very excellent in the first month and a half of the season. But as is often the case with promising young players, the league adjusted. Paddack has gotten knocked around over the last month. In his last five starts, Paddack has given up 8 of his 10 homers which has inflated his ERA over the last 31 days to 5.76. In his final start, the Giants scored three runs in five innings. That’s like giving up six runs in three innings to a normal team.

Of course, Paddack’s struggles are convenient for the Padres. I’m sure they’d love to get another year out of Paddack. Who wouldn’t? I don’t want to let the Padres completely off the hook because they’re being at least somewhat opportunistic. If Paddack’s ERA was still under 2.00, they’d find another way to limit his innings.

But remember, Paddack wasn’t even supposed to be in the majors this early at all. Paddack has never pitched in Triple A. Despite his dominant spring, I don’t think anyone would have batted an eye had they kept him in the minors to begin the year. Even if they keep him down for the 20 days now, they started his clock earlier than they needed to.

They might not even be keeping him down for the full 20 days. According to Dennis Lin, the plan is to have him skip just one start.

That’s subject to change, but it’s still possible that Paddack gets his first year of service time by the end of 2019.

This doesn’t change the fact that the service time rules are extremely dumb. A player shouldn’t have to spend more than 92 percent of the season on the 25-man roster to get a year of service time. Teams should be able to send down a struggling rookie for a start or two without having their motives questioned or incidentally screwing that player out of millions of dollars down the road.

There have been plenty of obviously nefarious manipulations of service time this year from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to Nick Senzel, but I don’t think the Padres are being nefarious here even if it’s convenient.