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Should the Braves keep Heyward down on the farm?

Mar 4, 2010, 1:23 PM EDT

jason heyward.jpgWith the Jason Heyward hype reaching Weiterian levels — even Chipper Jones is getting into the act — it’s easy to convince yourself that the Braves are going to break camp with Heyward as their starting right fielder. Bryan Smith of FanGraphs, however, thinks everyone should just slow down. After citing the way the Rays handled Evan Longoria, he says:

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. Yes, calling him up on April 25 will mean that Heyward will be
a “Super Two”, and thus, eligible for arbitration a year early. But
arbitration contracts are still discounts over free agent ones, and I
can already promise you that Heyward’s first free agent contract will
be a big one. Without delving into the Heyward vs. Strasburg argument,
the Braves should certainly take note that Nats GM Mike Rizzo has
already written off his right-handed star beginning the season in
Washington. If you think it’s because they want some minor league
seasoning for him, you’re crazy — they just want an extra year of not
dealing with Scott Boras.

Excellent point. My only two objections — and I could be convinced to drop them — are:

(1) Unlike the 2010 Braves, the 2010 Nats don’t and the 2008 Rays didn’t truly expect to contend. Yes, the Rays did in fact contend — and how — but when the decision to keep Longoria down on the farm was made, I suspect that even the Rays’ brass had third place as their realistic goal. Atlanta, in contrast, truly stands a chance to compete with the Phillies this year. And remember: they could have made it a better competition last year if it wasn’t for the fact that they punted the outfield for three months, getting zilcho from anyone out there; and

(2) Braves fans really, really, really, really, really want to see Jason Heyward.

No, I don’t think that either of those two reasons trumps Bryan’s reasoning — no amount of April ticket sales or October playoff sales will outweigh what they’ll save by having Heyward locked up in 2016 —  but those two things are likely going to weigh heavily on the minds of the Braves’ front office, so it’s a slightly less clear choice for them with Heyward than it was for the Rays with Longoria and the Nats with Strasburg.

  1. Old Gator - Mar 4, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    That might not be a bad idea. The ethanol harvest will be upon us shortly and they’ll need a big strong guy like that to help hold down the washouts as they’re fed into the woodchipper.

  2. Tom - Mar 4, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    Aren’t the Braves almost certainly going to sign Heyward to a contract that buys out his arbitration years and maybe his first free agent years? So doesn’t keeping him down for a few months not matter a bit, just like it didn’t matter at all for Longoria? And if he’s as good as they think he’s going to be, there is no way they are going to let him get to free agency so why bother keeping down for that month?

  3. MC - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:03 PM

    To me, this is an easy call, why the Braves GM/Management didn’t nip this in the bud prior to Spring Training is kinda nuts to me… Leave it up in the air and this is what happens.

  4. Charles Gates - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    There’s a good chance I read it wrong in the few minutes I had to spare, but Matt Diaz is projected to be a 1.0 WAR player in 2010 according to fangraphs.com where as the ‘Second Coming’ is projected to be a 1.1 WAR player in 2010. I could do the math and prorate that .1 WAR across the ~20 game difference between opening day and April 25th…but I think you get the point. While I believe that Braves fans (really^really^really)^2 want to see ‘He Who Pwned Chuck Norris’ at the Major League level, I would think that most of them are smart enough to understand why they have to wait a month.

  5. Regnemer - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    I don’t see how the Braves can send Heyward down for a month at this point. The fans will demand he’s in RF on opening day.

  6. Alex Poterack - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    Even though the Braves are planning to contend, the chance that Jason Heyward will make a meaningful contribution towards that in the first two weeks is virtually nil. Sure, if the Braves end up losing the division to the Phillies by one game, you can say maybe he would’ve been a difference maker, but when you’re talking about affecting one game in a two-week period, anyone could be that difference maker, and you just can’t assume he’s going to make a real difference then.
    And in response to Tom, “Aren’t the Braves almost certainly going to sign Heyward to a contract that buys out his arbitration years and maybe his first free agent years?” First of all, I imagine the Braves would like to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Heyward wants to. Furthermore, if they keep him down a couple weeks, that would reduce the cost of a buyout, because they’d be buying out an additional arbitration year, rather than a free agency year.
    I would definitely keep him down for a couple weeks; I think it’s a no-brainer.

  7. Mr. Mojo Risin - Mar 4, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    It’s a known fact the Braves owners are cheap. The front office may have to look at one factor. Yes Bobby Cox may want Heyward in RF on opening day. But Cox is not the manager after this year and when Heyward is eligible for free agency Bobby will either be sitting in an office or on a rocking chair. For Atlanta to delay a huge paycheck would be considered in their best interest long-term until Heyward can prove he’s worthy of the Upton/Longoria/Zimmerman type contract that buys out his arbitration years and maybe one or two free agent seasons. But that did get me to thinking…if Tommy Hanson broke camp with the club instead of waiting until June to debut, would the Braves have been better off with him instead of Kawakami? Again, that was the Braves being cheap.

  8. Mark - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    “Aren’t the Braves almost certainly going to sign Heyward to a contract that buys out his arbitration years and maybe his first free agent years? So doesn’t keeping him down for a few months not matter a bit, just like it didn’t matter at all for Longoria?”
    I agree with this. The Brewers did the same thing to Braun arguably costing them a playoff spot in 2007 and wound up giving him a long-term deal anyway (hindsight 20/20 and all that). They claimed it was so he could work on his fielding @ 3B but he stunk for 7 weeks and they brought him up anyway. Now the Brewers were playing well without Braun prior to calling him up (28-19), however, they came out of training camp with less than their best team even though they thought they had a chance to make a run. Instead, they miss the playoffs by 2 games. I think Braun instead of Graffinino and Counsell at 3b for the first 7 weeks of the season might have changed that.
    I understand the strictly buisness side being argued for above. And if the Braves basically think 2010 is a rebuilding year with limited potential no matter how many ABs Heyward gets then maybe they should leave him down. If they think they can make the playoffs this year (and he’s a big reason why) he should be on the field Opening Day. Also, no one making these decision for the Braves has the first clue about a.)what their team will look like in 2016 or b.)if any of them will be around to see it anyway.

  9. Ray Steele - Mar 4, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    It ain’t just the Braves fans. It’s the Atlanta media, who have killed Frank Wren (sometimes deservedly) ever since he botched the John Smoltz departure last year. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution thinks we’re supposed to be gaga over Zeus’s OPS after TWO exhibition games against mostly bush pitching. That being said, a mediocre Heyward is almost certainly better than a 100% Melky Cabrera, and since Wren is still catching crap for the Melky for Vazquez, unless Zeus goes Oh for the rest of Spring, Wren will be hanged if Zeus isn’t in RF.

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