Youth Call-Ups a Mixed Bag
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 01:04
Every season, it seems, a new wave of young talent catches fire in spring training, igniting the use of the ever-popular cliche, “hope springs eternal,” as fans dream not only of a successful season but also of the emergence of their team’s next great star.
Last year, the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout took the baseball world by storm with unprecedented rookie seasons. Not only did they each win their leagues’ respective rookie of the year awards, but also Trout was baseball’s true most valuable player, even if Miguel Cabrera may have been the recipient of the official MVP award.
Still, while the Nationals were baseball’s best team during the 2012 regular season, Trout’s Angels failed to advance into October. Despite hitting 30 home runs while snagging 49 stolen bases, Trout’s season could have been even better. Like Washington did with Harper, Los Angeles kept its phenom sheltered in the minor leagues until April 28, when Trout finally replaced veteran Bobby Abreu and ignited a team that had dwelled in the cellar with a 6-14 record. Even though the Angels had baseball’s best record after Trout’s arrival, they finished four games behind Texas and Baltimore for a wild-card berth.
Having Trout start the season with the big club might have pushed the team over the top, but unfortunately for Angels fans, these decisions are not strictly baseball-oriented. In today’s environment, complex policies in MLB’s collective bargaining agreement between franchises and the players’ association encourage delaying the call-ups of top prospects with financial benefits and savings for teams. By putting off the debuts of guys like Harper and Trout, teams will have an extra season of protection before the players are eligible for free agency, which occurs after they have completed six years of MLB service.
Halting the arrival of young players also routinely saves teams millions of dollars within that six-year time period as well. After three years, players are eligible for salary arbitration, landing them larger salaries than they earned in their first three seasons.
In 2013, we have already seen many clubs make decisive choices regarding their best prospects. The Rays, notorious for their financial prudency, have stored away top hitting prospect Wil Myers, whom they received in their blockbuster trade with the Royals over the winter. For a team off to a slow 8-10 start that had scored the eighth-fewest runs in the majors prior to Monday’s game, Myers’ absence is certainly harming Tampa Bay’s MLB product.
There are also three decisions that have gained significant attention due to their contrasting disregard of financial implications. The Red Sox, Twins and Marlins called upon the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr., Aaron Hicks and Jose Fernandez, respectively, for their opening day rosters, allowing the players to reach free agency sooner than the likes of Myers and other prospects set to join their parent clubs later in the season. While the decision to promote Bradley Jr. remains positive, promoting Hicks and Fernandez were mistakes for their clubs.
Although Bradley struggled in his debut with a .097 average in 12 games (he was sent down to AAA on Friday to make room for the newly activated David Ortiz), he provided a spark in spring training and played his way onto the team. The Red Sox could have retained his services for another year by waiting like the Nationals and Angels did with Harper and Trout in 2012, but — given their significant financial resources — making the best baseball-oriented decision was the right move.
The same can’t be said for the Twins and Marlins.
Like Bradley, Hicks was sensational for the Twins in spring training and the obvious person to fill their void in center field after having been drafted in the first round in 2008. Hicks has struggled, though, with 20 strikeouts and just two hits in 48 at-bats. Likewise, and more importantly, the team lacks the resources of a successful and larger-market club that could more easily retain him in the future.
Potential ace Jose Fernandez, meanwhile, has been impressive for the Marlins but was given an opportunity with the team as a result of desperation in the aftermath of yet another fire sale. What is dumbfounding is that, as a starting pitcher, Fernandez could have been kept in the minor leagues for the equivalent of only three starts to gain a full year of extra protection. Thus continues a trend with the Marlins of making questionable decisions with curious motives.
Ultimately, teams need to consider their financial situations when making decisions on top prospects. It is a lesson that some teams have yet to learn.
Preston Barclay is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. This is the final
appearance of TURNING TWO IN THE 202 this semester.