Last weekend the Tampa Bay Rays completed a trade with one of their frequent trade partners,the San Diego Padres. The Rays brought in OF Manuel Margot and C/OF minor league prospect Logan Driscoll for what could have been the presumptive closer RP Emilio Pagan, last year’s leader in saves.
Who is Manuel Margot?
Once upon a time Margot was ranked the 25th overall prospect by Baseball America when he headlined the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel from San Diego to Boston.
Since 2017, Margot has been the most-day center fielder for the Padres. His offense has disappointed, but he’s been a very, very good defensive outfielder.
His performance overall has not been very different from the Rays own center fielder:
On offense over the last two seasons Kevin Kiermaier and Margot have been very similar players, despite hitting from the opposite side of the plate. Margot has hit ever so marginally better while Kiermaier has been a better defender.
Kiermaier has the reputation of being one of (if not) the best outfield defenders in the game. Margot isn’t quite on that level, but has been very good. All but 8.0 innings have been played in center by Margot.
Essentially the Rays traded for a younger, right handed hitting Kiermaier.
With the roster as is, Margot will fill an interesting role. He can platoon with Kiermaier vs south paws — as Margot has hit .278/.338/.437 and put up a 106 wRC+ over 442 career plate appearances against left handed pitchers — but the Rays should also be able to leverage the things he does well late in games, be that a defensive replacement for a guy like Yoshitomo Tsutsugo or Austin Meadows in either right or left field.
Margot’s speed can also be used to try to add on or cut deficits late in the game for many of the slower base runners on the roster.
Margot will make $2.475MM through arbitration in 2020. In a small role that will jump to $4-6MM as in his last two trips through arbitration. If he doesn’t improve it’s hard to see him lasting the duration of team control on the Tampa Bay roster.
The Rays hope for some form of post-hype breakout from the former top prospect. It shouldn’t be expected out of a 25 year old that has over 1,500 major league plate appearances, but it also wouldn’t be the first to take a major step forward.
Out of 308 players Margot ranks 237th with a 86.6 mph exit velocity of those with 500 plus balls in play. This is in the same ballpark as Matt Duffy (86.7 mph), Kevin Kiermaier (86.7 mph), and Daniel Robertson (86.5 mph). There are still good offensive players in that range such as Whit Merrifield (86.6 mph), Starling Marte (86.2 mph), and Jose Altuve (85.9 mph).
Margot’s launch angle comes in just below league average at 11.5% with 11.7% being league average. This is fine as he’s not a raw power guy so launch angle shouldn’t be a priority. The problem last year specifically is his line drive rate fell to 16.4% when he’s had a 20.2% career rate. Increasing the line drive rate is the easiest path to see improved results.
It’s not a matter of having great peripherals and expecting better results as is. Something will have to change for the results to improve.
PECOTA projects more of the same with a .240/.297/.397 and 84 DRC+ line. Steamer projects improved results at the plate with a .250/.310/.404 and putting up a 91 wRC+. ZiPS projects similar improvement for Margot with a .249/.303/.398 line and putting up a 90 OPS+.
The Rays acquired a very useful player that is likely better than one would think. He fills a role the Rays really could use as a right handed hitting outfielder capable of handling center field. As a prototypical Rays type he provides defense more than offense.
I don’t expect a step forward, but it honestly wouldn’t take all that much for him to be a very good everyday player.