Thursday, March 4, 2010
Should Braves keep Heyward in holding pattern?
Yeah, everybody wants to see Jason Heyward. I want to see him, you want to see him and the ghosts of Paul Krichell and Cy Slapnicka want to see him. Want to see him playing right field for the Atlanta Braves on the 5th of April.
But we've been through this before, right? With Evan Longoria? But Longoria started the 2008 season in the minors, and a happy ending (well, almost) was enjoyed by all parties. As Bryan Smith writes, the Rays were simply doing what they had to do:
Longoria famously waited two weeks for a call-up at the start of the 2008 season, with Joe Maddon slotting Willy Aybar into the third baseman slot until Longoria got the call on April 12. The reason was clear: Longoria would serve only 170 service days with the Rays that season. By Major League rule, a player is a free agent after six full seasons, which are constituted by 172 service days. By waiting two weeks, the Rays bought themselves another year of controlling Longoria.--snip--
There is simply no argument to be made that the marginal value gained by playing Jason Heyward over Matt Diaz for three weeks in April is worth losing Heyward’s rights for the 2016 season. Yes, calling him up on April 25 will mean that Heyward will be a “Super Two”, and thus, eligible for arbitration a year early. But arbitration contracts are still discounts over free agent ones, and I can already promise you that Heyward’s first free agent contract will be a big one. Without delving into the Heyward vs. Strasburg argument, the Braves should certainly take note that Nats GM Mike Rizzo has already written off his right-handed star beginning the season in Washington. If you think it’s because they want some minor league seasoning for him, you’re crazy — they just want an extra year of not dealing with Scott Boras.
Smith appends a note at the bottom: Thanks to Dave Cameron for helping me make sense of baseball’s ludicrous service time rules.
I'm just beginning to think through this issue, but there's something ludicrous here, right? I just wonder if there's a better way to do this. As long as free agency is tied to service time, there's going to be an incentive for teams to delay promoting their überprospects, if only for a couple of weeks. I suppose the obvious "solution" would be to simply add a few days to the definition of "full season." Or even more simply, the number could be six full seasons plus one day. So if you play on the last day of the 2009 season and never stop playing, you're a free agent after the 2015 season, but if you don't play in 2009 but do play on Opening Day in 2010 (and forever after) you're not a free agent until after the 2016 season.
Sorry, I'm rambling. The "problem" with this "solution" is that the players would be giving something up, and it's not often that they give things up. I also wonder if there's any real impetus for change. If the Braves do send Heyward to Triple-A for a couple of weeks, will it cost them any wins? Probably not. Will they sell fewer season tickets because of disgruntled fans? Probably not. Will it cost them a chance to sign Heyward at some point to an übercontract extension? Probably not, if Longoria's any guide.
The current rule is just a little glitch that's probably not annoying enough for anyone to think seriously about fixing.
As a fan, I want to see Heyward on Opening Day. If I'm a Braves fan, though, I don't want to see him until the middle of April. You have to take the long view of these things.