Teams looking to save money and gain control over players? Shocking, I know!
The Chicago Cubs are the latest team to be put on watch for the practice of holding back their top prospect in order to gain another year of team control.
Cubs in trouble?
The prospect in question is third baseman Kris Bryant who has been unanimously named the top minor league player in all of baseball by ESPN, MLB.com, and Baseball America. Many believe the Cubs will wait two weeks or more to bring up Bryant, to avoid the risk of giving the 23-year-old third baseman out of the University of San Diego an extra year of arbitration, delaying his entry into free agency and big money.
The term “Super Two” connotes players who qualify for arbitration earlier than just the normal three years. It is awarded to players who have less than three years of service time, but more than two.
But these players have to be in the top 22% of all two-year players in terms of service time. Meaning if a player has two years and 171 games for example, that player may qualify for arbitration early.
Tony Clark, the head of the baseball player’s union, is not a fan of hiding talent away in the minors. When asked about it, Clark said:
“We have always (believed) – and will continue to believe – that it’s in everyone’s best interests to have the best players playing at any particular time. Any rules that are in place that some may be using against the spirit of how they may have been designed, we don’t believe (that’s) in anyone’s best interest – the fans, or anyone that loves our games, the players, or even the clubs for that matter.”
Even though it’s a perfectly legal move, teams often come up with other reasons behind the decision when speaking publicly. Cubs’ general manager Jed Hoyer had this to say about Byrant’s development:
“He’s certainly got a lot to work on, he’s only had one full professional season and that was five-months long. His defense is the biggest thing. We talk a lot about his progression defensively and certainly that’s the area of the game that needs the most work. He had a great offensive season. There are things that can improve.”
Making decisions like this can save millions for clubs in player salary. The Houston Astros just last season did something similar with their top prospect, outfielder George Springer. The Astros didn’t wait that long, going 11 days into the season before calling up Springer, but the slight delay allows the Astros to have an extra year of control.
In a somewhat surprising move at the time, the Miami Marlins bucked conventional wisdom in 2013 by calling up top pitching prospect Jose Fernandez to help fill one of two vacant spots in the rotation. At the time it was a shocking move, as Fernandez had not even pitched above the high A minor league level.
The gamble paid off big for the Marlins. Fernandez went on to win the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year and finished second in Cy Young voting that same year behind Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw.
Holding players back to gain an extra year of control does make sense from a team perspective. But ultimately the talent has to get on the field. The sooner teams realize keeping prospects down may actually hinder their development the better off they will be. This is an issue that will certainly be discussed, and hopefully changed, when the collective bargaining agreement expires after next season.