Monday, May 23, 2011

2 comments Murray Chass and "Posey Time"

Last year, Murray Chass took Major League teams to task for how they manage their rookies and their payroll. He felt teams lack integrity by keeping players in the minors to where a team gets six years of service from players before free agency rather than five years of service by not calling that player up to the majors until (approximately) early June. While I do agree it is obvious why teams do this so some attempts to mask the reason outside of being financial rings false, these are the current rules in baseball. Until they are changed, obeying the rules as they are set up and agreed to by the players doesn't mean a team lacks integrity. Now almost one year later, Murray is following this up with more commentary on this issue and has given it a name, "Posey Time."

The Posey time of the baseball year is upon us. It’s almost time for teams to call up their good prospects whom they have left in the minor leagues to deprive them of the major league service time they will need to be eligible for salary arbitration and free agency.

I like how he uses the word "deprive" as if a player isn't going to get paid through the arbitration process. It may be unfair to the player for teams to keep that player down in the minors for a couple more months in order to look down the road long-term as to what that player can provide the team by getting six full seasons out of that player, but it also doesn't violate the rules set up by the union and the owners. This may change one day, but it hasn't yet.

I have named it Posey time because Buster Posey was the most significant player affected by the service manipulation but was brought to the majors in time to lead the San Francisco Giants to the World Series championship.

Apparently Murray Chass has completely forgot about the phenomenon last year that was Stephen Strasburg. Posey was the most significant player in retrospect, but at the time, Stephen Strasburg got called up on June 8, 2010 and was the biggest story. Strasburg was probably the most significant player last year affected by this "service manipulation."

Since we are looking in retrospect, how smart were the Nationals to keep Strasburg in the minors until June 8? He blew out his elbow last year after a few starts and had Tommy John surgery. He probably won't pitch again this year, so if they had brought him up after this season, he would be eligible for only three more years of service with the Nationals rather than having four seasons like he currently has.

In other words the rookie catcher helped the Giants win their gamble that served against his own best interests.

I realize this is anecdotal evidence, but let's review what happened after the Giants "deprived" Posey of his service time:

1. The Giants kept Buster Posey in the minor leagues to get one more year of service time out of him.

2. Murray Chass complained this lacked integrity because the Giants were hurting their team at the expense of winning more games over a two month span in order to have Posey for an additional year.

(Again, knowing it is not against the rules to do is giving up 2 months with a prospect not on the team in exchange for an additional season with that prospect on the team a bad move?)

3. Murray Chass said Giants fans should be angry about this because it didn't allow their team to be successful.

4. The San Francisco Giants won the World Series.

5. The Giants have Posey for five seasons more (including this one), instead of four more seasons.

So keeping Posey in the minors worked out on all counts for the Giants last year.

When last season began, the Giants left Posey in the minors. He still had things to learn, they said. Most people, including the reporters who cover the Giants and should cover them with a healthy dose of skepticism, believed the Giants.

Any citation saying the Giants reporters believed the Giants? No? Fair enough. There isn't really a need to cite or provide proof for any statements made I guess.

I see Murray still writes with the "old school" mentality the readers should just believe what he is writing is the truth, because he is a professional sportswriter and all. It is not like a sportswriter would mislead the public or anything.

As it turned out, Posey needed just enough time to learn those things that it cost him a year toward free agency.

The Giants recalled Posey May 29. Had they recalled him 11 days earlier, he would have finished the season with one year of major league service, leaving him five more seasons to be eligible to be a free agent. Now he needs six more seasons.

This is absolutely true. I can see how this would be seen as unfair to Buster Posey, but I have a feeling he will get a contract extension before those six seasons run out.

Not only did they extend their control of Posey for an extra year but they nevertheless also qualified for the playoffs by winning the division title despite his absence for the first two months.

This sounds like a great thing for every person, including the fans, except Buster Posey. Make no mistake, Buster Posey will be getting paid by the Giants sometime before the 2016 season ends. I see no reason why the Giants wouldn't buy out his arbitration years. So even Posey will end up not hating the deal he receives by waiting two more months to be called up to the majors.

Rob Manfred, the clubs’ chief labor executive, says that clubs are only doing what they have always had a right to do. “It has been a long-standing part of our agreement,” he said, discussing the Posey matter last summer, “that clubs have the right to determine when players are brought to the major leagues. It’s a pretty daunting task.”

The clubs, however, tend to make a farce of their task when they decide that their top prospects are ready to rise to the majors at about the same time, late May or early June. They have been so consistent and so obvious with their practice in recent years that they have pushed it onto the collective bargaining table.

As well it should be part of the new CBA. We all know teams are playing the system when they hold players back. Still, these are the rules agreed upon by both sides and I don't think playing by these rules and not hurting the Major League team is lacking integrity. As a fan, I would rather not have a prospect for two months knowing I will have that prospect for an additional full season. I will not feel bad for this prospect because if he is really a good player he will eventually get paid a lot more money than I will ever make.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” Jed Hoyer, the San Diego general manager, said when he was asked about possible callups in the next few weeks. “You always get to see guys called up in June.”

Which, given the current rules, does make sense to lose two months in order to gain a full year. If a prospect hates his team for doing this, that's fine, he will have the option in a few years to screw the team over and become a free agent or go for a ton of money in salary arbitration. It just requires patience on the player's part.

The Padres themselves have two good-looking minor leaguers they acquired from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, and some baseball people think they may be ready for promotion. But Hoyer said Casey Kelly, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, and Anthony Rizzo, a 21-year-old left-hand hitting first baseman, aren’t going anywhere.

“Both are performing very well where they are,” Hoyer said. “I’m not going to say never, but for the foreseeable future they have stuff to work on and I think they’re better off where they are.”

Oh no you don't, Jed Hoyer! Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo are two perfect players who have nothing left to prove or show at the current minor league level they are playing at. They are ready for the majors. That's just an excuse to screw these guys out of service time!

See, that's the problem with this situation. How do we know when a player is ready for the majors? Public opinion may be that a player is ready, but reality doesn't match what the public often thinks.

The Royals, whom Hoyer mentioned, are already loaded with rookies. The most recent rookie arrival is first baseman Eric Hosmer, who made his major league debut May 6, hit two home runs and drove in four runs at Yankee Stadium in helping Kansas City to two consecutive wins over the Yankees and was hitting .241 after his first eight games.

Clearly, this is definitive proof he was ready for the majors, as this huge sample size of 8 games attests. Remember when Jeff Francouer was called "The Natural" on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Then it turned out he wasn't "The Natural" and pitchers caught up on how to pitch him? Sure, it seemed like Francouer was ready for the majors for a few weeks, but who is to say if he had not played in the minors a little bit longer he would have learned to make adjustments on how pitchers who have pitched to him more than once approach him? Being ready for the majors isn't just about having great stats in the minors, but the ability to adjust to pitchers who have seen you more than once.

So while Eric Hosmer's start to the year is quite impressive and he seems to have a bright future, pitchers still have not adjusted to him.

Hosmer joined a corps of five rookie relief pitchers who have combined for a 2.18 earned run average in 64 relief appearances and 78 1/3 innings: left-hander Tim Collins and right-handers Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress, Louis Coleman and Nate Adcock.

Do the Royals have room for three other rookies? Two are pitchers, 22-year-old left-handers Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery and a 22-year-old third baseman, Mike Moustakas, who was the second player picked in the 2007 draft. All three are at AAA Omaha of the Pacific Coast League.

The Royals probably do have room for another couple of rookies on the roster. Again, I am going to talk about finances, which is something apparently Murray Chass believes no team should think about in deciding whether to call a player up or not. Does it make sense to call 8 rookies up for a full season in the same year so their service time clocks are running on the same schedule? More specifically, do the Royals want (possibly) their top 3-4 players in 2013 all on pace to be eligible for arbitration or free agency in the same year? That just doesn't seem like smart planning. So while, Murray is arguing subtlety Moustakas should probably be called up by now, I don't know if the Royals want their two best hitting prospects (Hosmer is the other) on the same track in arbitration and free agency. Yes, even one year would make probably make a difference between these two players tracks to the majors.

As for Moustakas, Moore said he performed “very well” in Triple A last season (in 52 games) “and he’s doing well there now.” But, he added, Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles “are performing well for us.”

Fuck that! Moustakas is ready for the majors! He should be called up regardless of whether the Royals have room for him on the roster or not and regardless of whether the players currently playing the position are hitting well or not. In regard to what Moore said, Betemit is playing well and Aviles really isn't.

I get why the Royals are keeping Moustakas in the minors, it is in the best interests of the Royals in the long-term and short-term, which is what the General Manager is pretty much hired to make decisions based upon. The Royals aren't doing anything this year, there's no need to rush Moustakas to the majors and start his service time. It is not fair to the player, but it is also not against the rules.

A player in the minors, Moore added, needs two factors working in his favor to prompt a promotion. He has to be performing well, and he needs an opportunity. At the moment, Moore suggested, Moustakas lacks the opportunity.

This is my big beef with when (it will be a "when" not "if") this rule changes. How will it be decided a team needs to call up a player to the majors? Is MLB going to force a team to call up a player or will there be certain performance requirements that force a team to call up a player? Changing the current rules, which allow MLB teams to control personnel as they see fit, may be a good idea for some teams who want to limit the service time of players.

At what point does a team have to call up a player and what if the MLB team doesn't have an opening in that spot? What if the spot available is filled with a player that isn't performing well and the minor league player at the same position is performing well? Will that minor league player have to be called up by the major league team? There are many service time rules and certain players may be out of options to go to the minor leagues, so I worry that forcing teams to call up players will be taking personnel decisions out of the hands of teams. I don't think this should happen. There needs to be a solution, not mindless bitching about players being held down in order to prevent them from accruing service time.

In the matter of manipulating service time, Moore said, “Our mission is to put the best team on the field. We haven’t won. We think it’s important if we’re going to change the culture here, if players are ready and will give us the opportunity to win we want them out there. Hosmer is an upgrade. He helps us put the best team on the field. There is a business side, but we weren’t going to keep him down for another month or so.”

But it also doesn't make financial sense to call a group of young players up to the majors at the same time so they begin to accrue service time in the majors at the exact time. If 50% of the players end up playing well, a team like the Royals may not be able to afford to keep them around if they are eligible for arbitration all at the same time.

Among minor leaguers who could be promoted in the near future are...and a pair of Yankees’ prospects, left-handed reliever Manny Banuelos and Jesus Montero, a 21-year-old Venezuelan catcher, whose hitting could earn him a job as the designated hitter if the Yankees give up on their veteran catcher, Jorge Posada (.165 in 32 games), in that spot.

The Yankees are paying Posada $13 million dollars this year and he hasn't even played one game at catcher yet. So the Yankees have been getting by with other catchers on the roster. They could theoretically play Montero at that position, but the Yankees can't just give up on Posada...especially after the incident two weekends ago where Posada pulled himself from the lineup. Posada makes too much money to just give up on him. They have nowhere they can really put him and putting Montero at DH would take that spot away from the Yankees other older players who can DH.

Not to mention, despite what Murray seems to think, Montero may not be ready for the majors. Of course, in Murray's seemingly perfect world that wouldn't matter, the Yankees would HAVE to call up Montero.

I think the service time rules are unfair to players, but they are the rules and teams that use those rules to their financial advantage don't lack integrity. I wouldn't mind seeing the service time rules changed, but I don't know who or what will be the judge of exactly when a player is called up to the majors. That's my concern. I am not sure anyone has a good idea that allows a team to still make the personnel decisions they see fit and is also fair to the baseball player. I don't mind the system the way it is right now because of this.


FormerPhD said...

I'd agree with Chass in so far that the rule is kind of unfair with respect to the players and their free agency. What happens if Buster Posey doesn't like SF and wants to play elsewhere? He now has to spend an extra year in SF that he otherwise would not have.

If the article were on how stupid the rule is and how it objectively affects the players were made, it could be an intelligent article.

The problem is that this article isn't that.

For starters, young players know the rule before they sign their contracts and if they have half a brain, can figure out that this will happen to them. This is one of the reasons why Strasburg signed for over 15M. He knew he was "losing" a year of free agency and thus was rewarded with a higher contract.

If the rule were eliminated, we'd see these rookie contracts tank because they would have to factor in one less year of MLB service. So moneywise, the argument that these players are being screwed is naive.

Also, like you said BGF, the players often sign contract extensions that get them through their arbitration years (Ryan Braun, Cole Hamels), but also get awarded rather large contracts in arbitration (Tim Lincecum). Again, the money argument is moot.

helping Kansas City to two consecutive wins over the Yankees and was hitting .241 after his first eight games.

This is where Chass falls apart. Hosmer is a great prospect and by all indications he's going to be a very solid player, but to say that he went .241 with a pair of homers in 8 games is an indication that the rule is screwing over the players is asinine. That's not a terribly great batting average and while the power is admirable, maybe an extra month or two in the minors wouldn't kill the kid. Again, either way, he's going to get paid.

However, the most glaring problem of all is that this helps the players. If a team is going nowhere, but calling up a player at any point during the season counts as an MLB season, guess what, teams are going to leave some of these players in the minors the whole year. If I'm a team in dead last that has no hope of competing, the best long term decision might be to keep the player in the minors the whole season.

At least under the current rule, they get to play in the majors earlier. It may not get them closer to free agency, but I think it's a fair trade-off for the players. They get to play in the majors earlier, but they also forfeit a year towards free agency.

Another problem is that the rule is there to protect teams. Not from having good players leave, but from guys who aren't ready for the big leagues.

The fact is that for every player like Posey and Strasburg who get called up and excel immediately, there are a bunch of players who get called up and struggle (Dominic Brown). So giving the teams a grace period where having the player in the minors allows them to settle into pro ball. Sure Bryce Harper is killing it in A, but how can you accurately translate from A ball to the majors?

The grace period allows players to transition from college/HS into pro ball and get used to the lifestyle of a professional athlete, rather than dumping them into a bad situation and forcing them to learn on the job (which has ruined many NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB careers).

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, if the rule were changed sensibly tomorrow I would be for it. The players get used in some fashion and it isn't fair to them. Still, like you said, they know about the rule. I also don't think the players are being TOO bad on this rule, but it does kind of suck for them.

My biggest problem is I don't know of an alternative to the rule that doesn't involve MLB telling a team what to do with its players. That's why I don't see how the rule gets changed unless the service time rules are changed. The entire idea of service time rules would have to be changed to fix this.

Not to mention, and I can't say this enough, simply because a player is tearing it up at one level doesn't mean he is ready for the majors. Probably this person is ready for the majors, but it isn't necessarily true. This goes for pitchers especially, at least in my mind.

It does suck for players who went to college and may not be a free agent until they are 29 years old, but they will still get paid. Teams tend to take care of players that perform.

I wouldn't mind seeing the rule changed, but most solutions to the rule would involve a team being told what to do with their players by the league and that isn't right.