Say Heyward in May

On Tuesday, R.J. Anderson wondered aloud if Eric Hinske could serve as a mentor for Jason Heyward with the Braves this season in a similar capacity that he did with Evan Longoria and the Rays in 2008. Longoria credited Hinske for provoking his nine-year extension that has been cited in many circles as the best contract in baseball. Yesterday, when Chipper Jones told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “I will be shocked if [Jason Heyward] doesn’t break camp with us,” I’m hopeful the Braves will follow the Evan Longoria example with Heyward in another capacity: service time.

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.

On the opposite side of the coin is the Detroit Tigers, who were so enthused by Rick Porcello‘s Spring Training a year ago that they started the season with the top prospect in their rotation. Porcello would post a 6.42 FIP in April, but was consistent enough to remain with the Tigers all season. As a result, Porcello will be a free agent after the 2014 season. The Texas Rangers, who waited three weeks to call up Derek Holland (for a Longoria-like 170 service days), will have control of Holland through 2015.

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.

It should not matter that the Braves’ biggest star of the last decade is excited to play with the team’s biggest prospect. Chipper Jones will be gone in 2016, and Jason Heyward could still be there. Maybe Eric Hinske can step in and set Chipper straight, too.

Thanks to Dave Cameron for helping me make sense of baseball’s ludicrous service time rules.




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44 Responses to “Say Heyward in May”

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  1. Noonzeo says:

    One of those silly loopholes…but the Braves would be foolish to waste a YEAR of control further into Heyward’s prime for 2-3 weeks of play now.

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  2. Very nicely done. People get bent out of shape about this, but it’s the smart decision to make.

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  3. mowill says:

    While I agree with everything in the article I have to wonder what a player like Heyward, who is so clearly ready, thinks about this. The Braves are costing him money through arcane service time rules, if I were him I would be less likely to give them a discount on arbitration years or allow them to buy out any of my free agent years. And as a super two arbitration will occur after the 2012 season regardless of when I arrive in Atlanta. If I were Heyward I would tell the Braves if I don’t start the season in Atlanta so you can have me for four arbitration years instead of three I will take you to arbitration in every one of those years and I will never sign an extension to stay with the team. I would then let management decide if they are going to respect my skills as a player or if the next seven years are to be full of acrimony so they can save a couple million dollars.

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    • MetsKnicksRutgers says:

      Although, it is obvious what the Nats and most likely Braves will do, they aren’t explicitly saying that. However fair and understandable a statement like that by Heyward would be, it would also be PR suicide. I don’t think there is any chance this guy isn’t a star, but there is always the possibility and having that kind of arrogance prior to even swinging a bat in a ML game could hurt his value with other clubs and maybe even in the arb process.

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    • Noonzeo says:

      Of course that assumes this buy blossoms into the Major League beast everyone thinks he will be. If her performs like Pujols for 2 years then he’ll get paid (and Atlanta will be happy), if he performs like Kevin Maas (or Jordan Schaefer) then he won’t get paid (and Atlanta won’t be happy).

      It’s a business (on both sides) and while the concept of “home team discount” is great I don’t ever remembering it happening. Everyone is out for their best interest…and for Atlanta that is waiting 2 weeks to call up this beast.

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  4. Tom B says:

    as a player, i would never resign with a team that sent me down for 3 weeks to control my salary for an extra season.

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    • Zach says:

      Yet a player like Longoria not only signed with the team that did that to him, but signed a very team-friendly contract. I think the players know that it’s a business. Why sacrifice your personal long-term security just so you can “get back” at a team for saving some money?

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  5. lincolndude says:

    As has been argued many times, the system needs to be changed. There’s no incentive for GMs not to play these service-time games. If they start the season with Heyward on the roster, is he really going to be thankful for that and be more likely to sign away his earlier FA year? Most likely he’ll try to get the best contract he can anyway.

    I agree with Tom — it would still piss me off big time if I were the player.

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  6. Gary says:

    Porcello isn’t nearly the prospect Heyward is though. The Tigers drafted him specifically because they thought Porcello would be ready quick. In 5 years Porcello could be good, bad, or terrible, so better to cash in now. Heyward on the other hand, is worth his weight in gold, and needs to be held onto for as long as possible.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      This is not correct. At all. Specifically, this: “The Tigers drafted him specifically because they thought Porcello would be ready quick.”

      100% incorrect.

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      • Brian says:

        I don’t think any team that drafts a HS kid thinks they will be ‘ready quick’…

        He was ‘ready quick’ out of lack of options at the major league level… he has not yet developed his secondary offerings and will be learning these skills at the highest level instead of against AA and AAA guys if he were brought along more traditionally… he did wonderfully last year but people are down on him for pitching to contact to try and extend his innings to not beat up the bullpen too much in his starts…

        In game 163 he flashed his true potential by finally breaking out his 4-seam fastball and recording 8K’s when not being worried about extending his start, it wall all or nothing… big things to come but bumps in the road as he learn with the big boys when he probably should be learning with the rest of the prospects in the minors.

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    • JH says:

      The Tigers drafted Porcello because he was the best high school pitcher anyone had seen in a draft since Josh Beckett, not because he would be a quick to the majors guy.

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  7. Mike Green says:

    As long as the Braves don’t try this in both May, 2010 and May, 2011 in order to get the correct title, “Say Heyward in Mays”, I am good with it.

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  8. Tom says:

    Won’t the Braves sign Heyward to a long-term deal to buy out his arbitration years and maybe his first free-agent years? And then, if he’s as good as advertised, they will most likely extend that contract as well (especially considering that he’s from Atlanta)? Therefore, won’t the two weeks (or months) not mean a damn thing in the long run?

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      That’s certainly an optimistic perfect world projection!

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    • Matt says:

      Only millions.

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      • I think that when that negotiationtakes place, both parties place a value on “control”, arbitration and free agent years encompassed by the contract. So the 2 years means 1 more free agent year and 1 less control year.

        On a seperate topic, when draftees sign “major league contracts”, doesn’t that obviate service time issues? I think it used to, but maybe the rules changed. Dave? Dave Cameron?

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      • Bryan Smith says:

        Steve: I don’t have a specific answer to that, and yes, maybe Dave will chime in here. I can say that Andrew Brackman is listed as 1.016 in terms of service time at Cot’s Contracts.

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      • Rob says:

        @Steve: No, only 25 man roster days count towards service time. Major league deals puts a player on the 40 man and starts burning options right away. I can affect what a player earns versus arbitration but few contracts are signed that far out anyway.

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  9. Matt says:

    I think you are drastically missing the point of those rules, and what you are proposing the Braves do is unethical. As a team it is your obligation to play your best team. It is unethical to your fans, employees, and most of all the player to mess with his livelihood by playing games with loopholes. This practice needs to be stopped immediately. Perhaps teams must wait until June 1 for any player to make his debut, unless that player makes the team out of Spring Training.

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    • James says:

      That post is so naive that it’s comical.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      This is a little dramatic, Matt.

      As a team, it is your obligation to protect your assets and build an organization with the intent of profit and success. This is a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which the Players Association signed off on. It’s been done dozens of time before, and is common practice for forward thinking teams.

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      • JH says:

        Even if all that’s true, it’s still a dick move. One of the only things I respected about Bill Bavasi was that he didn’t screw his players over by playing service time games.

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      • Matt says:

        I didn’t say that it’s not *legal*. I didn’t say that teams don’t do it, nor that they don’t have great incentive to do it. I said it was unethical.

        I doubt you’d call it dramatic if I was calling out *your* employer cheating you out of millions of dollars because he was willing to violate the spirit of a rule.

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    • Neil says:

      Unfortunately, the team is not obliged to put out the best players possible – they’re obliged to pull in the most profit possible for their owners/shareholders. Often, that means taking a seemingly counter-intuitive approach and sacrificing wins now in order to protect your dollars in the long-run.

      It may be unethical, but pro sports – the owners AND the players – doesn’t seem to find ethics particularly important. This isn’t your office, and, for better or worse, the same practices aren’t followed. And so you have to adjust accordingly.

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  10. CCW says:

    Can someone elaborate as to how this is a “dick” move. Why does this cross the line, but players holding out for every last dollar does not? It seems really hard to categorize any move as “dick” to a player when it followed shortly by paying that player $50,000,000. I just don’t get it.

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    • Jimbo says:

      Sure, I’ll elaborate.

      Many people don’t understand that baseball is a business, involving the owners, player’s union and corporate.
      Some of these people don’t (or can’t) think about things beyond an initial, gut reaction.
      And some of those people don’t always have a great vocabulary.

      Finally, a small subset of the ignorant/shallow/not-too-bright crowd find their way to Fangraphs and make silly sounding posts.

      That’s how this is a “dick” move.

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      • JH says:

        Or, for a lot of players the difference of a year’s worth of service time is the difference between staying healthy long enough to hit free agency and blowing out your knee and never cashing in on your talent after playing at a far below market rate for years. Players who hold out for “every last dollar” are involved in a free negotiation with equal bargaining power. Minor leaguers who suffer from service time delays had no part in negotiating the collective bargaining agreements that subordinate their interests to those of established major leaguers.

        It’s just a really, really unfortunate way for billion dollar franchises to take advantage of kids who have zero leverage.

        If you clearly demonstrated you were the most qualified person for a job within your company and your boss delayed your promotion by a month so as to avoid you getting a raise for a full year, you’d think that was a dick move. It may be motivated by a legitimate business interest, but it’s still a decision made on a basis other than pure merit for the sake of long-term profit. It may be a good decision for the bottom line, but there is a considerable cost in goodwill. Jason Heyward might not know about the intricacies of the service time rules in the collective bargaining agreement, but his agent sure as hell does. Moves like this run the risk of eliminating whatever chance a team may have of signing their potential franchise player to a long-term contract.

        You may want to avoid questioning the intelligence/vocabulary of other posters at the same time you accuse them of not understanding that baseball involves “the owners, player’s union and corporate.” If you’re going to insult me, at least do it at a fifth grader’s writing level.

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  11. Alex says:

    My only issue with the article would be that if you think its best to hold a guy down for 2-3 weeks in order to get the extra year of team control, why not just wait the extra month or so at that point in order to keep the guy from being super 2 eligible? Sure the extra year you get with a super 2 is nice, but you end up paying them far, far more than you would have if you waited the extra month which to me actually seems like a greater difference in value. Sure its nice to get the extra year with Super 2 guys, but by the last season of arbitration in their cases your paying pretty close to market value.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      First: Super Two is a roving determinant — so you could wait the month and still potentially have him Arb Eligible Early. Second: I do think the marginal value of Heyward>Diaz for that extra 4-6 weeks might be worth the $1-2 million extra you’d have to pay.

      I also think for the people that are SO concerned with the moral ambiguity of this issue, it might be nice to throw your young star a bone.

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    • Rob says:

      The only way you can be sure to avoid Super 2 is to wait until the All Star break.

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  12. Marver says:

    The preface of this whole conversation lies on the ~$5 million the Braves would save if they take him to arbitration on the last year of that deal?

    I’m sorry, but doesn’t it make a lot more sense, if you’re going to wait until May, to wait just a little bit longer to ensure he doesn’t reach arbitration for an extra season? That way you save on the back end, as well as in the third season.

    By that logic you are left with just two scenarios: 1. start camp with Heyward to give your team the best chance to win now or 2. don’t call up Heyward until he cannot become a super-2 in order to save the most money.

    Doing the inbetween — waiting until May — compromises both your relationship with the player, as well as your competitiveness in the current season… all in exchange for (perhaps) a few million dollars six seasons from that point. Seems like a ridiculous route to take when there’s the immediacy of the season or a financial benefit within two seasons in the other two scenarios.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      Disagree.

      First of all, let’s throw out the idea of starting the season with Heyward. That’s stupid, and there’s no argument for it.

      Second, I think there is an argument for waiting for the Super 2 eligibility to run out, but I outlined above why I think it’s wrong. The Braves can compete this season without Heyward until April 20. Without Heyward until June 1, then you’re running into issues. And, as I mentioned above, there’s no clear cut day when Super 2 eligibility runs out.

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      • Marver says:

        If Heyward is everything he’s billed to be, the Braves stand to lose the most money on him during that ‘Super 2′ year of arbitration than they do in that last year of team control; the jump from near-minimum to what he’d get in arbitration is greater than the jump from arbitration to market value.

        There’s also a greater guarantee that year of arbitration (Super 2) actually occurs since it’s a lot less likely an extension is signed before then than before the final year of team control in your scenario. And that’s before you even include the likelihood of injury in years 3-6, which make that year of arbitration even less likely to occur.

        You argument is as follows:
        1. compromise your season (albeit you only downgrade in 10% of your games)
        2. don’t worry about having to pay Heyward $10+ mil more in his third year in exchange for the upgrade from Heyward-Diaz for the dates April 20 – around June. * – see note below
        3. doing this has no bearing on his willingness to negotiate an extension with the team
        All so:
        4. if he’s still good by season seven, and he hasn’t signed a contract extension, the team can save ~$5 million for one season.

        * – IMPORTANT LOGIC – Either he’s worth $10+ mil in arbitration because he is that good, or he isn’t that good and then there’s no difference between he and Diaz anyway, making the wait (for Super 2 to run out) even more justified.

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      • Matt says:

        While I remain adamant that it’s still unethical, if you’re willing to put that aside for a moment I do agree with you here, due to the uncertain cut-off for Super 2 status.

        I think if MLB and the Players Union adopted some sort of rule to prevent service time tampering of this nature then the Super 2 issue could be removed/rendered moot.

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      • FireOmar says:

        It is unethical because the Braves will come up with some disingenuous excuse why he’s being kept in the minors. Much better if they just out and out said the real reason why.

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  13. M.S. says:

    First of all, why are we assuming that Heyward is taking Diaz’s spot in the lienup?
    I think, as do all the projections save CHONE, that Cabrera would be the one replaced by nature of his offensive ability, or lack thereof.
    With that said, everything Frank Wren does is in the interest of the future, even when it hurts the team in the present; see letting Jojo Reyes and Kris Medlen get rocked for two months while Hanson dominated AAA last year. Heyward won’t break camp with them.

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  14. Jim says:

    I think it is simple based on the previous seasons Diaz and Cabrera have had, they deserve a shot. Thus your not going to have Heyward on the bench so you send him down. If Diaz or Cabrera either a) get hurt or b) fall on their face, then you bring him up and play him.

    For example Gordon Beckham last yr. He very easily could have broke camp, but there was not a starting spot for him. Fields fell on his face so they brought him up and played. Field at least deserved a shot.

    Diaz’s numbers are solid for a 33 yr old career minor leaguer finally deserves a shot (mostly so they can increase his value and trade him at some point) and they didn’t get Cabrera so that he can sit on the bench they saw something in him so he is going to play.

    It really isn’t worth getting upset about just look at their specific situation.

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    • ewanbrown says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking.

      All the “it’s unethical towards Heyward” posts seem to forget that there are other OFs on the Braves who he’d be taking the job from. OFs who last year both had the best season of their careers. While it’s understood that these guys are not on the same level ceiling wise as Heyward, they are still probably better or at least options to Heyward at the moment, and deserve their shot at playing time.

      Matt Diaz is going to make $2.55m as a 32 year old this year, and then he’ll probably become a free agent due to being non-tendered at the end of the year where he’ll probably struggle to find a regular job given his previous years of platoon split troubles, so this is really his last chance to prove that he can be anything more than a part time OF against LHP. After the year he put up last year (.313/.390/.488) it would be unethical to not give him a chance and to play some kid who’s proven nothing at the major league level.

      Diaz has made roughly $6m in his career so far. If Heyward is everything he’s supposed to be he’ll probably land that in his first arbitration award.

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