Davey Johnson inadvertently has started a storyline that just won’t go to bed; by saying that he wants Bryce Harper to break camp with the 25-man team, national writers and local beat reporters keep reporting about the possibility of Harper playing RF for the team on opening day.
Here’s the facts that that these reporters conveniently forget:
- If Harper starts the season with the big league club, then he reaches Free Agency one year earlier.
- If Harper joins the big league club after mid April but before mid-to-late June, then the financial penalties to the club are severe.
In case you weren’t aware of these two issues, lets discuss.
1. Reaching Free Agency a year early: See this excellent Service Time Consideration post from Ben Nicholson-Smith at mlbtraderumors.com. Simply put, if the Nats start Harper with the big league club as of April 1st, then he will be eligible for free agency at the end of the 2017 season. If we wait a few weeks, then that buys the club an entire extra season of Harper’s time for the 2018 season. As has been put simply by other writers, a few weeks of Harper’s rookie season at age 19 is absolutely not going to be worth the value he will provide to the team during an entire 2018 season, by which point he looks to have many full seasons of experience and should be nearing his baseball peak at age 25.
2. Super 2 Status implications: As we should all know by now, the financial implications of bringing up super stars too early can be severe. Dave Sheinen did this analysis best back when we were asking the same question about Stephen Strasburg, looking at the Tim Lincecum case as a lesson learned. The Giants called up Lincecum about two weeks prior to the Super-2 status deadline and it has roughly cost them $18million in unneeded salary.
Lots has been said about how Davey Johnson broke camp with two young superstars in Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry during his time with the Mets in the mid 1980s, with the narrative being that he’s not afraid to give young players a shot early. That’s a great story but it omits one key point: the Super-2 status didn’t exist when Johnson made these decisions! The Super-2 status didn’t exist in the Collective Bargaining Agreement until 1990, when the players negotiated in the status as a way of getting more money earlier to their union members. A great idea at the time, but it has had the unintended effect of teams now keeping their best prospects in the minors until the mid-June time-frame as a way of gaming the system and keeping their pay low.
Frankly, I’m tired of reading stories about Harper that don’t at least tacitly acknowledge these two important points, and to me any story that talks of Harper making the team blindly without addressing these two modern baseball issues is lazy sports writing. Johnson may want the guy now, but Mike Rizzo is the guy who has to answer to fans as to why the Nats won’t be able to get a free agent in 3 year’s time because of the payroll implications (upwards of $18M in some cases) of screwing up these decisions. $18M in payroll generally buys you two starting players on the free agency market, and those two players can make the difference far more than a few weeks of Harper hitting .200 as a 19-yr old.
Honestly, everyone thought that this issue would have been addressed in the latest version of the CBA, negotiated ad-naseum over the past off season. The clause helps no one; players are kept in the minors longer to game the system, teams have to wait to bring up players that could help them win now, and fans are forced to wait to see the best young stars. Instead the two sides managed to make the situation WORSE, by increasing the percentage of players that qualify for Super-2 and now forcing teams to keep players in the minors even longer. It was an inexplicable decision by both sides to further exacerbate the problem. I realize that no matter what you do, there has to be a cutoff date for service time deadlines to qualify for free agency and/or super-2 status, but why no just make that date early in the season and fix all the problems caused by super-2?
As a fan of the team this season, yeah I’d love to see Harper up and starting in RF. Who wouldn’t? But as a long term fan, I want this team to have the best chance of winning for years to come. And thus I want Harper in the minors until these two issues are non-issues any longer.