Scott Barlow has limited control over his major league destiny. How well or how badly he pitches is, of course, primarily within his exclusive province, but where he plies his trade and for whom he works is not. For now, the rules of the major league game limit the former KC Royals closer's options.
Under the terms of baseball's Basic Agreement, the collective bargaining deal between the players' union and clubs, Barlow can't choose his employer and won't be able to until after the 2024 World Series, when he sheds the shackles of arbitration and can become a free agent.
So, "team control" means Barlow presumptively remains a member of the San Diego Padres, the team to whom the Royals traded him last month for a pair of minor leaguers, for at least one more season. Only if his new team trades, releases, or non-tenders him will he move on.
What the Padres do with Barlow remains to be seen. Things have changed significantly for the righthander whose superb 2022 season was his best yet.
Scott Barlow doesn't have the same role he had with the KC Royals
Barlow succeeded Greg Holland as Kansas City's closer when former manager Mike Matheny shifted Holland to more of a set-up role during the summer of 2021. Barlow saved 16 games that season, then 24 the following year when he posted a fine 2.18 ERA and won seven times in 69 appearances.
But amid increasing calls for the club to trade the 30-year-old reliever while his market value remained high, and an increasingly subpar season — although he had 13 saves, Barlow's ERA stood at a concerning 5.35 and his BB/9 at an equally disturbing 5.12 at the end of July — the Royals shipped him to the Padres for Jesus Rios and Henry Williams.
The deal ended, at least for the time being, his time as a closer. Although San Diego manager Bob Melvin has used Barlow 13 times, he has yet to hand Barlow a save opportunity, but that's not surprising considering the dominating 33-save, 1.16 ERA season Josh Hader is having, which leaves Melvin with no reason to replace him with Barlow.
And because Hader is pitching so well, that would be the case even if Barlow hadn't recovered form after starting badly with the Padres — he didn't give up any runs in his first San Diego outing, a 1.2-inning effort against Colorado, but he gave the Dodgers three in two-thirds of an inning two games later, LA battered him for five more in one frame three days after that, and Seattle nicked him for a run the next night.
Since then, however, Barlow's surrendered only one run in eight appearances; his 12-inning 0.75 ERA and 13 strikeouts over that span suggest he's back on track, or quite close to it.
But until Hader moves on, a distinct possibility because he's eligible for free agency this winter, or begins pitching badly, Barlow's save opportunities will be few and far between.
Unless, of course, the Padres cut him loose after this season. If that happens, don't be surprised if calls arise from some quarters for him to reunite with the Royals.