Why Jason Heyward might not be here on Opening Day

Regarding prospects, Frank Wren has a saying: “Players will tell us when they’re ready.” Regarding Jason Heyward, Bobby Cox said over the winter: “He might be one who doesn’t have to go through the usual channels.” But even as we on the periphery seek to project the career path of the sport’s latest phenom, we cannot lose sight of one silly but sobering baseball truth:

It makes financial sense for Heyward not to start 2010 on the Opening Day roster.

Rob Neyer of ESPN.com outlines this oddity by referring to a post of Bryan Smith’s on FanGraphs. Smith likens Heyward to Evan Longoria, and it’s an apt comparison: Longoria was the No. 1 prospect of 2008, just as Heyward is the top of the class of 2010. Writes Smith:

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. [Stephen] 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.

About here, I hear you saying: What about ticket sales? Won’t the Braves sell more seats in April if fans know they’ll have to chance to see the team’s biggest prospect since Andruw Jones play at Turner Field? Sure they would. But they wouldn’t sell nearly enough tickets — not in April, when we’re just turning back to baseball and school is in session — to offset the down-the-road benefit of keeping Heyward off the free agent market as long as possible.

(Another consideration: The Braves play only nine of their first 22 regular-season games at home; five of the nine are midweek night games.)

In a perfect world, Jason Heyward would be starting in right field against the Cubs on April 5. He’s really all any Braves fan wants to see. (Apologies to Melky Cabrera.) And Cox keeps saying that if Heyward is among the team’s 25-best players — really, how could he not be? — he’ll be on the 25-man roster when the club breaks camp.

But baseball, as Joe Garagiola noted a while back, is a funny game. Anyone who thinks the Braves — like every club except the Yankees and Red Sox — aren’t looking to save money on player contracts hasn’t been paying attention.

Jason Heyward is really good. But Tommy Hanson was really good a year ago, and he didn’t get the big-league call until June. Yes, Heyward is on an even faster track, but if he manages to outpace the service-time consideration he won’t just be the sport’s No. 1 prospect — he’ll be the world’s fastest human.

255 comments Add your comment

F-105 Thunderchief

March 5th, 2010
10:44 am

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2010
10:45 am

Kudos, F-105. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner.

NC Dawg

March 5th, 2010
10:48 am

Not first, but up there.

F-105 Thunderchief

March 5th, 2010
10:48 am

Money doesn’t really talk. IT SCREAMS! So, yeah, wouldn’t shock me at all to see him in Gwinnett for awhile. What does that team draw if he’s there? Interesting.

Ted M

March 5th, 2010
10:48 am

so what is the earliest date we can have him and save an extra year?

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
10:49 am

Tough call for Braves brass. I think he will be on the opening day roster, although I’m sure it will give Frank Wren angst. It’s hard to stop the tidal wave of hype that has started with Heyward. Two weeks in 2010 or 5-10 million dollars in 2016?

Mark C.

March 5th, 2010
10:49 am

So we trade 60 ABs of 20 year old Heyward for 600 ABs of 26 year old Heyward? Seems like a no brainer. Completely unfair to Heyward, but thems the rules.

JL Burke

March 5th, 2010
10:50 am

Mark,

What you’re saying makes sense, but if Heyward has no real shot of starting the year in Atlanta due to long-term considerations, why does Cox keep saying he’ll be here if he’s one of the top 25 players? Is there that big of a disconnet between Cox and Wren?

GaDawg

March 5th, 2010
10:51 am

Opening day in RF. End of discussion

falcondawg

March 5th, 2010
10:51 am

Come on Braves dont make us wait!! We are tired of waiting!!!

Brock

March 5th, 2010
10:52 am

so how does the song go… “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and politics?” Why can’t we just let the best 9 guys play and be done with it?

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
10:52 am

Ted M, by my calculations, it would be April 15th. He would miss 8 games. Sure doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?

AJGREENFAN

March 5th, 2010
10:52 am

Don’t make the same mistake with this kid that appears to have been made w/ Jordan Schaffer. (I am aware of the wrist injury argument)

F-105 Thunderchief

March 5th, 2010
10:52 am

I’ve gotten more firsts than Vents published lately. Oh well, I did the Find 5 challenge with 11 seconds to spare, too. It’s a good day.

Man, I hope Heyward is a big contributor this season. And, what if Freeman is tearing it up and Glaus is mediocre? Does he get a call, too?

TerdFerguson

March 5th, 2010
10:52 am

YEah c’mon

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
10:52 am

Make that April 16th, and 9 games missed.

Andy

March 5th, 2010
10:54 am

So we redshirt Heyward for a couple weeks? I can dig it.

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
10:54 am

JL Burke, Bobby has to say that. Do you think he’s gonna tell reporters: “Yeah, he’d be probably our 5th best hitter, but we want to limit his service time and delay his free agency.”

catch 22

March 5th, 2010
10:55 am

Bradley this is old news. This has been talked about for a year on DOB’s blog.

1eyedJack

March 5th, 2010
10:55 am

If he comes up at the end of April and tears the cover off the ball but the Braves wind up a game out of the wildcard should heads roll?

In Pollack We Trust

March 5th, 2010
10:56 am

David Pollack just tweeted that Wren has agreed to trade Jason Heyward fro Andy Marte. He says it’s a “done deal”.

Jose C-seco

March 5th, 2010
10:57 am

Great article Mark, I didn’t agree with you at first, thought you were crazy (as normal), but you make a great argument for waiting 3 measly weeks, and the Braves would be very smart for doing so.

JL Burke

March 5th, 2010
10:58 am

Brian from SC,

Cox doesn’t have to make a statement about it at all. He never made that kind of statement about Hanson last year.

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
10:59 am

When Longoria was held back for a couple weeks, it was because he hadn’t spent much time at AAA, and they wanted to see what he would do at that level. If the Braves make the same decision, expect the same. But everyone will know the real reason. And honestly, if I was in charge of a 80-90 million dollar payroll, I’d probably do the same thing.

Jesse Stone

March 5th, 2010
11:00 am

JL Burke- Last years pitching staff > this year’s outfield

Ted M

March 5th, 2010
11:00 am

thanks Brian…that’s nothing

AD

March 5th, 2010
11:00 am

And if they sign Heyward to a Brian McCann-like 6-year deal two years into his career this whole point, blog, and reason for being is moot.

Blindog

March 5th, 2010
11:01 am

All the games count,the early games we win because of Heyward may be the games that put us in the play-offs.Not playing Heyward,and missing the play-offs by a game or two, would be foolish!!

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
11:02 am

JL Burke, he doesn’t have to make a statement at all?

Reporter: Bobby, what do you think about Heyward’s chances of making the opening day roster?
Bobby:…
Reporter: Bobby? Can you hear me?
Bobby:….Beautiful weather today. Hope the rain holds off this weekend.

Ramblin Wrecker

March 5th, 2010
11:03 am

One thing that Rob Neyer and you failed to mention is that the Rays ended up signing Evan Longoria to a multi year deal, buying out his arbitration years and some of his free agency years. That rendered keeping Longoria down for two weeks a mute point.

So the question you have to ask is: Do the Braves intend to sign Heyward to a multi year deal before he’s into arbitration?

The Braves signed Brian McCann to a multi year deal, buying out his arbitration and early free agency years. And if you believe all the Braves say about Heyward, they will want him to be in Atlanta a long time. So they would be looking to sign him like McCann and like the Rays signed Longoria. And Heyward being a smart kid would most likely be open to signing a deal like that. He would be smart enough to know not to wait 5 years for a payday when he could have a career ending injury any day while getting the league minimum over these first three years.

ProScout

March 5th, 2010
11:03 am

Brock- that would be nice but this isn’t high school ball, it doesn’t always work that way.

Moot

March 5th, 2010
11:04 am

Moot point, not mute point.

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
11:04 am

AD, that’s not true at all. If they delay that free agency, it would be a 6-year deal for maybe 35 million. If they don’t delay it, it’d have to be a six-year deal for more like 50 million. And he probably would not give over that many of his free agency years.

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
11:06 am

Ramblin Wrecker, see my post towards AD. Delaying his free agency was the only reason the Rays COULD sign him to a six-year deal. You think Longoria would have given up a possible 18-20 million dollar salary? You think Heyward would in six years?

Ramblin Wrecker

March 5th, 2010
11:06 am

Plus if Heyward becomes a Super Two arbitration eligible player, that would bring negotiations sooner which could lead them to a multi year deal.

John Contract

March 5th, 2010
11:09 am

Man will Braves fans be peed off if that happens.

That being said you cant blame the Braves for doing it. They are just using the rules to maximum benefit.

JL Burke

March 5th, 2010
11:09 am

Brian from SC,

“Reporter: Bobby, what do you think about Heyward’s chances of making the opening day roster?

Bobby: “He’s a young guy, but he’s certainly got talent. We’ll see how it goes.”

It’s not that hard.

F-105 Thunderchief

March 5th, 2010
11:09 am

We’re all making the big assumption Heyward does in the bigs what he’s done in the minors. That’s a big risk, but he sure does seem like the real deal.

David Granger

March 5th, 2010
11:09 am

This is exactly what has been wrong with the Braves since Ted Turner sold out. Financial “considerations” have taken a much greater role in the team’s operations. Ted didn’t mind spending money on the team because it was a rich man’s hobby for him…whereas corporate ownership just judges everything by the bottom line.
There’s nothing worse for a professional sports team (any league) than to see young players develop, and then…when they reach free agent status…not be able to keep them because the team can’t afford to pay the going rate.

Let's Go

March 5th, 2010
11:11 am

Mark
If say the Braves get off to a hot start and the offense is scoring runs would the Braves then consider waiting until Jun 1st to bring Jason up like they did last year with Tommy Hanson? Then they get the extra year before arbitration.

Brian from SC

March 5th, 2010
11:13 am

Here is Longoria’s salary each year of his 6-year deal. Expect it to be a model for the Braves:
0.5, 0.55, 0.95, 2.0, 4.5, 6.0. That’s 14.5 million dollars total.

If they hadn’t delayed his free agency, it may have had to have been more like this for him to accept:
.55, .95, 3.0, 6.0, 10.0, 15.0. That’s 35.5 million dollars.

That’s a 20 million dollar savings for 9 games missed in April.

David

March 5th, 2010
11:13 am

RIDICULOUS YOU CANT WIN A SEASON IN APRIL BUT YOU CAN LOSE IT IN APRIL! FIRST THEY DONT GO OUT AND GET A GUY THAT CAN HIT 30 HOMERUNS BESIDES TROY GLAUS AND NOW THEY ARE SAYING THAT HEYWARD WONT START THE SEASON EVEN THOUGH HES GUNNA BE CLEARLY READY WHEN IT GETS HERE BECAUSE ITS WHATS BEST MONEY WISE. THAT IS PATHETIC

Justin

March 5th, 2010
11:14 am

I still think Bradley should stick with trying to cover the trade school activity without blowing his load.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2010
11:15 am

A full year of baseball service time is 172 days — that’s from the start of the regular season to its conclusion. (Postseason doesn’t count.) The Braves’ season starts April 5 and runs through Oct. 3. That’s 181 days. So basically Heyward would, yes, have to miss the first 10 days. (As Smith notes, Longoria was summoned on April 12 in 2008 and had 170 service days that season.)

Ramblin Wrecker

March 5th, 2010
11:16 am

Brian from SC,

The maximum the Braves could delay either Super Two status or free agency is one year. Longoria (or Heyward) could get injured at any point waiting for free agency in those 5 years just as easy as 6 years, so he made a smart decision to delay the opportunity to make $15 million in 2012 so he could guarantee he would make as much as $44 million between 2008 and 2016.

ITP Brave

March 5th, 2010
11:16 am

I think Heyward is the Braves’ best option in RF, by far. With that said, I will be shocked to see him with the big club on Opening Day.

For what it’s worth, DOB thinks there’s a pretty good chance he starts from day one. I hope the front office surprises me.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2010
11:17 am

That’s another consideration, Let’s Go. What if the Braves start hot and Matt Diaz and Melky Cabrera are hitting a ton? You wouldn’t want to have Jason Heyward in the majors just to sit or be part of a platoon. You’d want him playing every day somewhere, wouldn’t you?

Herschel Talker

March 5th, 2010
11:18 am

This is so obvious that it isn’t even worth a column. Anyone who thinks 3 weeks of Heyward on the front end is worth giving up a year on the back end is a fool. This is not up for discussion.

Mark Bradley

March 5th, 2010
11:19 am

With every hit Heyward gets in spring training, he makes it harder not to have him here on Day 1. That’s absolutely true.

tom

March 5th, 2010
11:20 am

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