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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