Calling Up Top Prospects

Pedro Alvarez, Desmond Jennings and Carlos Santana have more in common than their status as top prospects. These guys are as cheap as they’ll ever be and their teams can control their future salaries by calling them up strategically.

Just ask the Rays. Evan Longoria fell two days short of a full year of service time, which delayed his free agency by a year and GM Andrew Friedman went on to sign Longoria to one of the most team-friendly deals around. The team's decision to keep him in the minors for a couple weeks in April 2008 looks as prudent today as it looked cheap then.

If teams wait until late April to call on a player without major league service time, they can save considerably. Players who make their big league debuts after April 19th (that’s Monday) this year won’t spend enough time on a major league roster to earn a full year’s service time, so their free agency will be pushed back a year. 

If the Braves had called Jason Heyward up in late April, they could likely have delayed his free agency and he would have been under team control through 2016. But the Braves didn’t try to save with Heyward, who’s off to a hot start. It’s Bobby Cox’s last season and the Braves just want to win, so on-field ability comes first for the Braves right now.

The D’Backs faced a similar dilemma with Brandon Allen last summer. The 24-year-old first baseman was hitting well in the minors, well on his way to earning the number four spot on Baseball America’s list of top D’Backs prospects. In 502 plate appearances, he had a .298/.373/.503 line with 20 homers. 

The D’Backs could have limited Allen’s service time by keeping him in the minors. That would not necessarily have delayed his free agency or limited his arbitration years, but it would have made it easier for the D’Backs to save money in years to come. But D’Backs GM Josh Byrnes says the service time clock was secondary.

Byrnes says he will call on some promising young players – Justin Upton comes to mind – in August or September. It may mean they pick up service time, but Byrnes says it’s often worth it.

“In my experience, players like Jason Jennings, Juan Pierre and Jonathan Papelbon had impact in the first full season after a late-season call-up the year before,” said Byrnes, who worked for the Indians, Rockies and Red Sox before taking over the D’Backs in 2005.

The Rockies called on Juan Pierre in August of 2000, setting him up for a big 2001 season (.327/.378/.415 line, 46 SB). Jason Jennings made seven starts for Colorado down the stretch in 2003 before winning NL Rookie of the Year the next season. The Rockies played Pierre and Jennings instead of slowing their ascent to free agency and arbitration by keeping them in the minors.

In those cases, the decision to put player development ahead of player cost paid off. But that doesn’t mean the D’Backs don’t have one eye on their players’ service time clocks.

“Of course, we are aware of years of control and arbitration in anything we do (including trades), but service implications have not been taken precedent over baseball decisions,” Byrnes said.

And that choice is entirely the team’s. Agent Matt Sosnick, whose clients inlcude Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Jay Bruce, realizes clubs make these decisions.

“As an agent you have to know that,” he says. “I mean that’s the deal. It’s the teams that make that call and that’s out of your control [as an agent].”

Sosnick predicts this year will be no different than others: top prospects will get the call at the end of May and beginning of June. That limits the player’s service time to 130 days or so, which reduces his chances of qualifying for super two status. Since super twos go to arbitration four times instead of the usual three, it’s a big deal. In essence, teams can save millions by keeping an eye on the service time clock. 

Ultimately, he can’t blame the clubs for calling players up when they do.

“You look at the amount of players that are called up within a couple weeks of that time and from a business standpoint, it was a smart thing.”

After all, players earn considerably more when they’re super twos.

“It can be the difference between making $500K and $5 million bucks in that year,” Sosnick says.

The Reds called Jay Bruce up on May 27th, 2008. That left Bruce with 125 days of service time after the season. After this coming season, he’ll likely be a week or two short of super two status. The consequence of the late call-up was obvious to Bruce.

“He was at the point when he was called up- he knew  that getting called up at that point meant that he was not going to be super two,” Sosnick says.

Agents might hope their clients pick up a full year of service time or gain super two status, but they can’t do much more than wish.

“What would the alternative be?” Sosnick asks. “Should I go to a general manager and say ‘listen why don’t you call him up ten days earlier so that two years from now he can be a super two and go to arbitration a year earlier.’ They’ll tell me to piss off.”


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18 Responses to Calling Up Top Prospects Leave a Reply

  1. Good quotes from Soz. He is 100% correct.

  2. randy082054 5 years ago

    If the Braves just want to win, as you say, why the heck did they trade Javier Vazquez for nothing?

    • iamgreatto 5 years ago

      they traded vanquez for a top prospect/cabrera and financial flexibility. they took the 11 freed up from vazquez and signed wagner, saito and glaus.

      • randy082054 5 years ago

        My point exactly.

        • aap212 5 years ago

          That’s not your point exactly at all. They DID get something for Vazquez. A prospect for the future and financial flexibility for current needs.

          • randy082054 5 years ago

            My point is that a top prospect more than a year away from MLB does nothing to help the Braves win in Cox’s last season. The Braves already had a competent closer in Soriano, and they paid more $$ for Wagner. Saito is just another middle reliever, albeit one with a major injury history. The same can be said for Glaus.

            What the Vazquez trade amounted to was money. Just money. So, to say that they started the year with Heyward because of a single-minded focus on winning this year is disingenuous.

            I’ll grant keeping him on the opening day roster is inconsistent with their profit motive. It floored me that they did keep him up, and long term, it’s a mistake money-wise in my opinion.

            If the Braves really wanted return for Vazquez, trading him during the season would have been the way to go.

          • The point is without trading Vazquez and freeing up that money they would not have been able to afford to signing those guys. This team did not have a good offense last year. Soriano I believer signed a 1 year 8 million and Wagner i believed signed a two year for 8-10 million. Your point would be valid if they traded him away and did not go and get other with that money that was freed up.

          • iamgreatto 5 years ago

            current budget is a more pressing issue than 5-6 years in the future, and its more than likely hewerd signs a contract taking away his arbitration year and 1-2 years of free agency.

            in the end they trade Vazquez for depth and prospects. in an ideal scenario they would have kept Vazquez and still signed the depth or found a taker for lowe, but like the phillies and lee they made the tough call.

          • Jason_F 5 years ago

            As much as I’m sure the Braves would have liked to have thrown all of the money in the world at this year’s team, the reality is that there is no “single-minded focus on winning” for any team. Obviously, every team works on a budget. The Braves had 6 competent starters and the only one that garnered any significant interest on trade market (and was at the peak of his value, apparently) was Vazquez. Are you proposing that they should have kept all 6 starters? That wouldn’t make much sense. Also, they paid roughly the same for Wagner as they would have had to for Soriano, so what’s the big deal there (aside from draft pick lost)?

        • Ferrariman 5 years ago

          have you seen the braves rotation? their probably the only team that can afford to lose vasquez and still be a top 5 rotation in baseball.

  3. Oh man… Carlos Santana has been a joy to watch here in Columbus… I cannot remember the last time I have seen a young player who was able to see the ball so well. No disrespect to the organization here, but he is going to improve a lot faster under the knowledge of Mike Redmond and is going to impact the Tribe immediately.

    • ivdown 5 years ago

      I really like Casey Blake, but Carlos Santana would be INCREDIBLY nice to have in the farm right now for the Dodgers…

      • Guest 5 years ago

        Blake has found the fountain of youth. THANK GOD, otherwise Blake would be hated.

  4. aap212 5 years ago

    The Mets aren’t cheap at all about these things. Mejia will be arbitration eligible before he’s major league ready!

    • damnitsderek 5 years ago

      Hahaha that’s so sad because it’s true. It’s a good decade to not be a Mets fan.

  5. Yankees420 5 years ago

    If a team obviously isn’t going to contend or make the playoffs that year, then what’s the point of bringing up said top prospect 3 weeks earlier? If it’s a team like the Braves this year that stand a chance of making the playoffs but aren’t favorites for a spot, then it becomes a tough call, and only time will tell if they made the right choice.

  6. Trious 5 years ago

    There is NO REASON to bring up a top prospect until the 30 days are up

    They will NOT have an immediate huge impact and your team gets him for an entire EXTRA YEAR when he is properly at his best EVER

  7. damnitsderek 5 years ago

    If the Rays don’t call up Jennings, they are clearly racists.

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