June 2, 2011

June 1st, You Know What That Means?

Well the calendar has flipped to June and in baseball terms that marks the unofficial date when prospects can be called up and still avoid Super 2 status. I’m not going to get into the details of the rule as they can be confusing, but here is a high level snapshot.

-A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.-

Got that? Essentially if you wait until June-ish to call up a player you can add an entire year of ‘cheap’ service to your team down the road. So, trade two months of a player’s rookie year for an entire year of service when he is in his prime, seems like a no brainer to me. Frankly I’m surprised when top prospects are called up before June (exm. Eric Hosmer). Unless you’re certain you can sign them to a longer contract by buying out some arbitration years it’s almost foolish to call up a prospect early in the season. For example, a couple days of service time could mean the difference in millions of dollars 3-4 years down the road. Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a lesson in baseball contracts, but thought I should provide some background on the subject.

My point here is that, when June rolls around, an organization can finally put the best team on the field in order to try to win games. I have a problem with that and think something should be done to allow a team to bring the best 25 players to the park every day of the season. Now I understand that young players need to develop, in fact more so in baseball than any other sport, but if a player is ready their organization should be able to bring them up. Unless all prospects are magically ‘ready’ in early June, that is not happening today.

In every other sport, or most other careers for that matter, once you are out of ‘school’ and deemed a professional you have the right to make as much money as possible by out working your competition. That is what makes a democracy so great. Not in baseball. A baseball organization has to bring a prospect along slowly, no matter how good (or ready) they are. Again, while prospects do need time to develop and move through the system, once they are one of the clubs best players they should be able to play on the biggest stage.

Something needs to be done. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’ve come up with two alternate proposals.

     1.) You could start the ‘clock’ as soon as a player is drafted and/or signed. Instead of three years of non-arbitration and three years of arbitration and 17% of players who get Super 2 status because they are either on a ‘big market’ team or their team miss-calculated a random day 3 years prior...what a mess! Just start the clock when a player signs and give him 6 years until he is a free agent. Teams will still have to develop players in the minors or risk ruining their next big stars, but when said player is ready for the big leagues, he’ll be up.

     2.) Another option is to eliminate the imaginary cut-off date. Any game that a player plays in counts as his first year. That way if a player is ready when their team breaks for spring training, he’ll be on the roster. If he is deemed ready at some point in the year the team has a decision to make, they can either bring him up or wait until the following year. At least if they decide to call them up they aren’t crossing their fingers that they guessed the right date. Most organizations would still call the prospect up early in the year and if they are in contention would call them up regardless of the service time. The one exception I’d make for this rule is that September call ups wouldn’t be charged with a year of service time.

I know this won’t be solved this season, so we’ll probably have to wait a couple more weeks to see the likes of Mike Moustakas, Desmond Jennings and Jesus Montero but hopefully when the current CBA expires (December 31, 2011) the current arbitration schedule is something they address, specifically the Super 2 section. The excuses we hear each year from GMs about how player X just needs a big more seasoning, or needs to work on (fill in the blank) are getting a little bit old. Either most top prospects develop this skill they were lacking in late May, or the process is broken.

     -For further reading on the Super 2 topic, check out his great article by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo from last May.
Timing is Everything for Super 2's

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