In RF on Opening Day, Jason Heyward! Hip, hip, hooray!

Jason Heyward smiles. And so do we. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Jason Heyward smiles. So do we. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Let’s hear it for the cheapskate Braves, and let’s, in honor of the occasion, remove the adjective. Down the road, it would have made monetary sense to park Jason Heyward in Gwinnett for two weeks. But dollars and cents would have been the only reason for not having Heyward in right field at Turner Field on Opening Day, and credit the Braves for grasping that they weren’t reason enough.

There have been other stories in Lake Buena Vista this spring, but there was only one real story: Jason Heyward. Guy shows up and goes demolition derby on the cars parked behind the right-field fence. Guy gets a hit almost every time out. Guy gives all of us marooned here in Atlanta cause to say, “I’ve got to see this guy.”

Indeed, that’s pretty much what Frank Wren said to an inquiring correspondent last August, when Heyward was tearing up the minors. The correspondent noted that the Mississippi Braves were due to come through Chattanooga soon and wondered if Heyward was worth driving 110 miles to observe. “Mark,” Wren said, “you need to see this guy.”

And now he’ll be here April 5. (Game’s at 4:10 p.m. Tickets still available. Hint, hint.)

Earlier this month Bryan Smith of FanGraphs made a strong case as to why the Braves shouldn’t let Heyward start this season in the majors. The crux of his argument was the crux of every argument in 21st Century baseball: Money.

A player is eligible for free agency after six full big-league seasons. A full big-league season constitutes 172 service days. If the Braves would have stashed Heyward in Gwinnett until, say, April 17, he’d have finished 2010 with 170 big-league service days. (Assuming he didn’t pull a Jordan Schafer and get demoted.) He would not be eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season.

Wrote Smith: “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.”

That’s a logical and reasoned conclusion. It’s also bloodless. It doesn’t take into account the anticipation building here in the A-T-L for the guy from McDonough, and somehow saying, “Don’t worry — you’ll get your first glimpse of Jason Heyward in a real big-league game against the Rockies on Saturday night, April 17th,” doesn’t have the oomph of this:

“Starting in right field on Opening Day, Jason Heyward!”

The Braves have had big prospects before. Andruw Jones was twice the minor league player of the year, but he arrived in the middle of a season and joined a team coming off a World Series title. Chipper Jones was a big deal, but he likewise joined a team grown accustomed to winning. Jeff Francoeur was the hometown hero, the Golden Child, but he arrived in midyear to bolster a team working on its 14th consecutive division title. Heyward is different.

He could be the man — technically he’s only 20, but that’s close enough — who leads the Braves up from mediocrity. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2005, and they’re coming off an offseason in which their maneuvers did not, shall we say, meet with unanimous approval. Put simply, Braves fans need a jolt. And here he comes:

Joltin’ Jason, the J-Hey Kid.

As Bobby Cox told esteemed colleague Carroll Rogers: “I would have had to have been blind to not see what he showed.”

Yes, and the Braves would have had to have been tone-deaf not to acknowledge the yearning emanating from their fans. Jason Heyward is the most eagerly awaited Brave since … who, Chipper? Bob Horner? Dale Murphy? (I won’t mention Brad Komminsk if you won’t.) To have sent him to the minors for the sake of saving a few service days would have made business sense, but nobody buys a ticket to watch an accountant balance the ledger.

Forget 2016. In the year 2010, the Atlanta Braves needed to give us a reason to snap to attention on Day 1. And they just did.

153 comments Add your comment

SEC Rules!

March 26th, 2010
12:48 pm

early

March 26th, 2010
12:48 pm

SEC Rules!

March 26th, 2010
12:53 pm

Weird – I agree with you Mark. Just kidding….

If the Braves really want to make a playoff push, then every game this year will be important. They should put their best team on the field every chance they can, and at this point having Heyward in the opening day lineup accomplishes that.

Liz

March 26th, 2010
12:54 pm

Third… oh well, so close yet so far away. GO BRAVES!

Jamaaliver

March 26th, 2010
12:54 pm

I still would feel more comfortable putting him in the minors for a month or two to start the season. But who am I to question Bob Cox or John Scherholz? Two of the best in the business.

chuckw/deadjournalist

March 26th, 2010
1:02 pm

We really do need an article on Brad Komminsk. There’s an entire generation of fans that won’t, and can’t, understand.

BO

March 26th, 2010
1:03 pm

Mark…good article. I have to say as an African American male I’ve not gone to a Braves game in 3 years. I don’t enjoy baseball that much…I’d much rather spend my money going to Hawks and Falcons games. I have to admit that at the very least I’ll be at probably 10 – 15 games this season to check out the young slugger. Kudos to the Braves for handling business in a manner that puts winning ahead of saving money!

JH in Murray

March 26th, 2010
1:04 pm

Basically, the Braves are getting 50 ABs from a 20 year slugger in exchange for 500 ABs from a 26 year old slugger. And this makes sense . . . how?

larocheisabeast

March 26th, 2010
1:04 pm

blah blah blah blah blah….i seem to remember an article from you only a few days ago about why jason heyward would not be on the opening day roster…you contradict yourself again.

Baseball Mom #17

March 26th, 2010
1:08 pm

McDonough is SO proud of Jason Heyward! He is a wonderful person- not just a great player. Our family traveled to Chattanooga last fall to see him play. We ran into his family. What a great, friendly, down to earth family. They simply raised a good boy and taught him to work. His talent is God given- his work ethic is family driven. Jason is a great testimony to our boys. Thanks Jason and family! Enjoy YOUR moment!

Lost KSU fan

March 26th, 2010
1:13 pm

Finally! A Bradley column not about Paul Hewitt.

Hope all goes well for this kid.

chem

March 26th, 2010
1:14 pm

This is a big PR move. By the way, the difference between April 5 and April 17th is 10 games. Pujols averages 0.5 wins above replacement per 10 games. Even if Heyward played like Pujols (unlikely) he wouldn’t make more than a tiny contribution over 10 games. Baseball seasons are about the long haul.

Mark Bradley

March 26th, 2010
1:16 pm

SEC Rules! earns the kudos.

PMC

March 26th, 2010
1:16 pm

wait, I thought this was going to be about Paul Hewitt?

FJR

March 26th, 2010
1:18 pm

This is all about PR, trying to give J-Hey the best shot at ROY he can have. I’ts also about the fact that Bobby wants Jason for his last season and Bobby has a lot of power.

In a long view without taking Public Relations into account, it makes no sense. Whether it makes sense taking public relations into account is an entirely different, and nearly impossible to answer question.

I am excited about seeing him in the opening day lineup. Whether or not that excitement is worth the $5 mill we’d have to spend on another player in 2016 is hard to say.

Fed Up With Wren (Again)

March 26th, 2010
1:18 pm

I still hate Frank Wren. Glad to see one decision made for the fans and winning and not for the bottom line. And I hope that if Jason turns out to be everything that is expected, the extra year won’t matter because the front office will figure out a way to make him a Brave for life.

chem

March 26th, 2010
1:19 pm

Brad, It’d be fun to pull an old article from the archives about Andruw Jones from ‘95-’97. I think it would be interesting to compare what was written then to what is written now about Andruw (and Heyward). I remember thinking Andruw was going to be the best player to ever play the game. I’m sure you wrote a few of these!

Dice

March 26th, 2010
1:19 pm

Even with positive new, you still come off as being so negative Bradley. I’m tired of it.

leland

March 26th, 2010
1:19 pm

Dear Mr. MB–it grieves me to say that I’m not in agreement with you this time. Your pal, Leland

J-Hey Kid

March 26th, 2010
1:20 pm

Get your J-Hey Kid shirts now!!! Portion of all proceeds goes to the American Cancer Society.

http://sportscrack.com/tees_j-heykid.html

Mark Bradley

March 26th, 2010
1:20 pm

Not as much as it grieves me, I’m afraid, Leland.

Heyward Fan & Wren Hater

March 26th, 2010
1:21 pm

Congratulations, Young Jason!

Go, Braves!

Just be sure to stay away from the prostitutes.

And the golddiggers.

And Buckhead.

And Dogfighting.

And McDonald’s.

And Mark McGwire.

And “The Real Housewives of The ATL.”

And the very lonely & disappointed Mrs. Wren.

And politicians.

And Cynthia Tucker.

And the left-wing crybaby known as Jeff Schultz.

And my duplicitous, cheating ex-girlfriend.

And people with more gold than education.

And Hooters. (Just ask Chipper.)

Mark Bradley

March 26th, 2010
1:22 pm

I don’t know that I ever said Andruw was going to be the best player ever. But I did liken the 1996 Braves to the 1927 Yankees — right before the 1996 Braves lost four consecutive games to the 1996 Yankees.

GT3O

March 26th, 2010
1:23 pm

I heard that the “Grim Reaper” (J-Hey), is the one behind the terrorist attacks on the WTC. He was actually just stopping by for a cup of coffee, but accidentally tripped over a briefcase and his sheer power upon impact with the floor sent electromagnetic waves that scrambled two nearby airplanes computers causing them to get sucked into a vacuum of some sort that surrounded the WTC and subsequently caused the planes to crash into the buildings.

In that two seconds, J-Hey actually ran up 100 flights of stairs but wasn’t able to save the destruction.

George Bush called Bobby Cox and Cox told Bush that the taliban did it and he must cover it up if the world of baseball was ever going to see the next great player. Luckily this happened for all Braves fans, because J-Hey was in New York talking with the Yankee’s.

And that my friends is how the WTC “terrorist attacks” happened. J-Hey also doesn’t age. He’s been the same age for god knows how long. The doctors tried to get him a birth certificate upon his birth, but “Grim Reaper” threw a box of syringes at them every time they tried. Subsequent attempts to make a certificate also failed.

FJR

March 26th, 2010
1:25 pm

@Fed Up With Wren, No matter if we lock Heyward up or not, it WILL MATTER. If we lock Heyward up, his contract in 2016 is going to cost us a lot more than it would if he was not going to be FA eligible.

Again, this decision matters just as much, if not more, if we decide to lock him up long term. It will effect his price in 2016 if we lock him up. Look at McCann’s deal and Longoria’s deal. The years that would have been FA years cost a lot more than what the would have been arbitration years cost. It’s a big bump. Most reasonable estimates put it at about $5mill of a difference for a talent like Heywards.

So, I will continue my crusade as long as people keep saying “it won’t matter because we’re going to lock him up long term.” It will still matter, even if we lock him up long term.

BullDog Brandon

March 26th, 2010
1:27 pm

If JayHey didn’t make the team, he would know that it’s because of money. Do you think that he would forget that when it comes contract time. Although his Arb clock will start sooner, we may end up saving money by starting him opening day. When you do dirty business, it will bite you in the butt. This kid deserves to start, and Bobby and Frank are making the right choice.

FJR

March 26th, 2010
1:27 pm

@heyward fan & wren hater: The Buckhead you are referring to isn’t there any more. All the clubs were demolished in favor of future upscale shopping that was then never built because of the economic downturn. Buckhead is now just another upper middle class yuppie neighborhood in atlanta.

Bill

March 26th, 2010
1:28 pm

GREAT !!!!! Looking forward to watching the kid play. Go Braves.

AlternateReality

March 26th, 2010
1:29 pm

Jason Heyward is the most eagerly awaited Brave since … Brett Butler.

His last year in the minors was a strike year, and TBS showed Richmond Braves games to fill the void, so he got a lot of exposure. I was at the stadium the night he made his debut. Hit a triple into the right field corner and all 5,000 fans in attendance gave him a standing ovation.

FJR

March 26th, 2010
1:30 pm

BullDog Brandon, Evan Longoria was a similar level prospect, they did the same thing with him, when it was completely 100% obvious he was talented enough to start on the team out of spring training that year, and he still signed a long term contract with the rays. Do you think Heyward would be more unreasonable than Longoria, even though ATL is Heyward’s “hometown” and tampa was not Longoria’s? What reason do you have for thinking that?

"Chef" Tim Dix

March 26th, 2010
1:31 pm

Double-dueces for everyone courtesy of the Chef!

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

March 26th, 2010
1:32 pm

BullDog Brandon …I agree w/ you 100%…..

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 26th, 2010
1:38 pm

anybody know if the kid can coach mens basketball and special teams in football in his off time . fans know what I am talking about.

BullDog Brandon

March 26th, 2010
1:50 pm

FJR, my reasoning is that he know’s he is 100% ready. He know’s his hype. And he know’s that money is the only reason he wouldn’t start. He know’s that starting in AAA will rob him of a year of getting PAID. I believe that the following year he will want to make up for that year he got robbed. By starting him sooner and paying him sooner, he will know that the Braves are trusting his abilities and putting faith in him because he has earned the starting job. When it comes time to negotiate, he will know that he is negotiating with an organization that has always had faith in him. An organization that cares more about winning than money. And I think that it will make a difference in negotiating. You’re right FJR, Longoria did sign a team friendly contract, but you cant expect JayHey to do that just because Longoria did.

Dean

March 26th, 2010
1:51 pm

So maybe this really isn’t Cox’s last year?

Rich Clary

March 26th, 2010
1:53 pm

Okay, if J-Hey has some struggles during the season, Bobby will stick with him just like the great Leo Durocher did with ‘the Say-Hey’ kid during Willie’s first year…and likewise, it will pay off bigtime.

SC Smith

March 26th, 2010
1:56 pm

Some of you fans keep beating the drum about contract in 2016, like if Heyward is as good as we all hope, the Braves will have to pay a year early. BIG DEAL!!!! By then Chipper, Lowe, Wagner and Hudson will all be retired. So the money will be there for the new wave Heyward, JJ, McCann, Hanson, Freeman, ect…… It aint our money anyway. Win now baby.

FJR

March 26th, 2010
1:58 pm

BullDog Brandon, I can see that logic, but I think you also can’t assume that he would get angry about not making the team to the point of being obstinate in contract negotiations. I believe he would by now, but that’s because its been obvious that is what they were going to do from day one. I think if they had went into camp with the mentality of “he hasn’t played but a few ABs in AAA yet, we’re being careful here.” and then started the season with him there, everything would be fine. You then let him play for a bit and say “yep, he’s ready” and then sign the LTR for $5 mill less.

Now I’m not saying that would have definitely been better or worse, jsut saying it could have easily been done that way. I don’t buy at all that this move will save money in the short or long term, unless you’re factoring in possible value of a Heyward ROY that he wouldn’t have won had he started the season in the minors.

The Dogfighter Returns

March 26th, 2010
1:59 pm

BO you forgot to provide, your weight, height, occupation, gang affiliation, social security number, and sexual orientation.

Remember a guy by the name of Jeff Francouer?

History repeats itself.

FJR

March 26th, 2010
1:59 pm

@SC Smith, I also plan on being a Braves fan in 2016. Having $5 mill for another player to team with J-Hey then might help us win then. When I still plan on being a fan.

BullDog Brandon

March 26th, 2010
2:06 pm

You’re right FJR. I am assuming that Heyward would be pissed, but I believe that it’s better to be safe than sorry. The Yankee’s pay their players. They take care of them. And they win. I dont think the braves should start paying $200 million contracts to everyone, but I also dont think that they should pinch pennies. All this is assuming Heyward pans out too. Chances are that he will, but there is still the possibility of Frenchy part 2.

Ted M

March 26th, 2010
2:06 pm

Mark,

Who made the announcement?

SC Smith

March 26th, 2010
2:08 pm

Understand that FJR, but if he can help the team win now, that’s the main thing. Heck we all my not even be here in 2016 “God forbid” but hey the future is now.

Hank Aaron = My Hero

March 26th, 2010
2:15 pm

BO @ 1:03pm –

So, you are saying you ONLY go to Braves games to support the team IF there is at least one player who LOOKS a certain way of which you happen to approve?

Stay with the Hawks and Falcons, BO. We need baseball fans, not “your kind,” at Turner Field.

Scared of Jet Jaguar

March 26th, 2010
2:15 pm

DO you think in 2016 the braves will be able to resign Heyward or is there a chance he will bolt for NY or Boston?

BullDog Brandon

March 26th, 2010
2:18 pm

When the Braves were winning in the 90’s, they paid their players fair market value. Chip, MadDog, Tommy G, Smoltzie, they all stayed around because we paid them fairly. Smoltzie could have gotten more from the Yanks, but stayed with us because he knew we would do what it took to win, even if that meant making the big trade or signing the big free agent. Tommy G left because at that time he didnt have the same confidence in the organization. We dont need to give Heyward that perception. He know’s he’s ready and he knows management know’s it. By keeping him down for financial reasons will send him a message that “were going to build the team around you but were going to save as much money as we can while doing that”. Instead, they are now sending the message that “were going to groom you to be the face of the franchise and were going to do what it takes to win, even if it means spending a few extra dollars”.

Mr. Obvious

March 26th, 2010
2:24 pm

The poster known as “BO” seems like the Braves equivalent of “FALCONS SORRY.”

Mike Jay

March 26th, 2010
2:25 pm

Bo, did you really just say you haven’t been to Braves game in years because you won’t pay to watch non African Americans play?

My word if I said the revers my psot would have been deleted.

Steve

March 26th, 2010
2:28 pm

At what point Heyward becomes a free agent is really meaningless because the Braves will try to nail him down to long-term contract long before he’s eligible.

Mike Jay

March 26th, 2010
2:31 pm

Take a look at Mccans current contract. If the Braves had waited until after he was FA eleigible to sign him long term they would be paying him signifigantly more per season. Instead, they inked him early on potential and will be saving a bundle on the alst couple years of his deal. The same will happen with Heyward. By the time he is a FA he could be a 2-3 time all star. with inflation he could demand 20 mil a season. So instead you sign him before he even hits arbitration and pay hm half that. In other words a 5 year contract signed today would not be the same $ per year for a 7 year contract signed in two years. you might pay more initially but over the term of the contract it should be overall cheaper.