What if Red Sox never traded Manuel Margot?

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First thing first. Manuel Margot represented a touching story Monday night.

The Rays outfielder collected four hits in his Fenway Park debut. But it wasn't Margot's reunion with his old organization that highlighted the evening. The performance came just days after his father, Emmanuel, passed away following a 19-day battle with COVID-19.

"My dad was my mentor,” Margot said in Spanish during his Zoom meeting with the media following the Rays' 8-7 win over the Red Sox. "Every time I was doing bad, he was the person that I would call and he would always have a positive message to keep me going. While he was sick, I really wanted to talk to him, but he just couldn’t talk. I felt like he was with me today."

"We all wanted him to have a big day," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Good for him. He’s been through a lot and it’s nice to see a smile on his face. That was the highlight of the day, along with us winning."

No matter who it might be, such a night is powerful.

It just so happened that the subject of the four-hit exhibition was a familiar name for Red Sox followers well before Monday. Margot has been one of those guys local fans have always kept one eye on just to check in on what might have been.

There is perhaps was no better example of Dave Dombrowski's way of doing things than the trade that shipped Margot out of the Red Sox' organization. In case you forgot, that came Nov. 13, 2015, when the former Sox boss sent a player who at the time was ranked as Baseball America's No. 56 overall prospect along with pitcher Logan Allen and infielders Carlos Asuaje and Javy Guerra to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel.

The Red Sox were comfortable with the young outfield nucleus of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. So despite Margot's accomplishments in the minors, having reached Double-A Portland at the age of 20 years old, he was viewed as expendable.

For the next four seasons, Dombrowski was right.

With the Red Sox' outfield trio locked in from midway 2016 through 2019, Margot's value to the Red Sox was always going to be via a trade. And in this case, he was the piece that finally convinced the Padres to deal one of the game's best closers. 

He wasn't going to be good enough to make the Red Sox' rethink holding on to Betts, Bradley Jr. or Benintendi. His value at the time of the trade also was probably about as good as it was going get while living life in the Sox' organization.

Margot ultimately became an everyday player for the Padres in 2017, going on to finish sixth in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting after hitting .263 with 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases while finishing with a .721 OPS. But with the outfielder now cemented in the San Diego starting lineup, he became somewhat of an offensive liability, putting up OPS' of .675 and .691 in 2018 and 2019, respectively. 

There was one thing that separated him, however: Defense.

The kid the Red Sox signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 for $800,000 emerged into one of the best outfield defenders in the game. In both 2017 and 2019, analytics put him at the top of all kinds of lists measuring defensive excellence and efficiency. This was the reason the Rays decided it was worth it to send their closer to San Diego in exchange for Margot.

Up until Monday, the early returns regarding the 25-year-old's stint with the Rays haven't been overwhelming. Margot came into Fenway hitting just .091 (3-for-33), while having already made as many errors (2) as he had totaled in all of 2019.

No matter what the result, Margot's presence at Fenway Monday was notable. When you are tied to such a franchise-altering trade as the one pulled off for Kimbrel that is inevitable. But no matter what has happened in the past or what may reside in the future, it should be satisfying to see this outfielder get his moment at the ballpark many once believed would be his long-term home.

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