Baseball America

Ask BA

The question I’ve been asked more than any other in the past week is whether the 2013 Prospect Handbook has shipped. The answer is yes. If you’ve ordered directly from Baseball America, your book has left our Durham headquarters. Not only will you get it a couple of weeks before it will show up in bookstores, but you’ll get our annual bonus supplement with a 31st prospect report for each team, as well as a pack of five Bowman prospect cards.

Now on to questions that require longer answers . . .

The reported Mariners package for Justin Upton was significantly better than what the Braves gave up for him, wasn’t it?

Dexter Sobrepena
Renton, Wash.

How much does the Justin Upton trade affect the overall strength of the Braves system? They gave up five guys but no real stud prospect.

Christian Thomas
Bozrah, Conn.

Where would shortstop Nick Ahmed rank on the Diamondbacks Top 10 Prospects list?

Ben Montierth
Katy, Texas

What players would fill the Braves Top 30 Prospects spots vacated by Zeke Spruill (No. 9), Nick Ahmed (No. 11) and corner infielder Brandon Drury (No. 27)?

Keith Hudson
Syracuse, N.Y.

I didn’t like either the Upton trade or the Trevor Bauer deal from the Diamondbacks’ perspective. In both cases, Arizona gave up the best player in the transaction and didn’t receive enough in return. The Diamondbacks surrendered former Nos. 1 and 3 overall draft picks, two guys who could win MVP or Cy Young Awards one day.

I solicited questions regarding the Upton trade via Twitter and received several. Let’s tackle these in order.

Upton vetoed a deal to the Mariners that would have sent righthanders Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor, shortstop/second baseman Nick Franklin and big leaguer Charlie Furbush to the Braves. Arizona wound up shipping Upton to Atlanta in exchange for major leaguers Martin Prado and Randall Delgado, along with Spruill, Ahmed and Drury. I prefer the Seattle package, though I don’t see a huge difference. The Mariners offered more upside—Walker could be a No. 1 starter, Franklin could be a 20-homer middle infielder, Pryor might develop into a closer—but there’s also a lot more risk involved there. The Braves gave up more certainty, in that Prado is steady and versatile and Delgado has had some success as a big league starter, but the three prospects in that deal have much lower ceilings than the ones Seattle would have given up.

In the Prospect Handbook, we ranked the Braves system as the 21st-best in baseball. That was based on transactions through Dec. 10, and we’ll finalize those ratings in our Minor League Preview. None of the prospects Atlanta traded matter enough to affect its overall talent ranking, though it could drop a couple of spots behind two teams that have added significant prospects. The Indians (No. 24 in the Handbook) grabbed Bauer, while the Mets (No. 26) acquired catcher Travis d’Arnaud and righthander Noah Syndergaard.

Ahmed embodies the grit the Diamondbacks apparently covet these days. He’s a solid defender at shortstop who can hit for a decent average with some gap power and a few walks. He’s the third-best shortstop prospect in the Arizona system, behind Didi Gregorius (the key to the Bauer deal for the Diamondbacks) and Chris Owings. For me, Ahmed would claim the exact same spot on Arizona’s Top 30 that he did on Atlanta’s: No. 11, which would put him between outfielder A.J. Pollock and righthander Chase Anderson.

If we updated our Braves Top 30, the three replacements would be righthander John Cornely, second baseman Ross Heffley and outfielder Felix Marte. Cornely was old for Class A ball last year at age 23, but he runs his fastball up to 96 mph and averaged 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Heffley also was old for his level as a 22-year-old in low Class A, but he’s athletic and does a little bit of everything at the keystone. Marte is still raw at age 22, but he has some quick-twitch athleticism and power.

I’m trying to understand the Aledmys Diaz situation. I understand the benefit of a Cuban defector being over the age of 23, which means his signing wouldn’t count against a team’s international bonus pool. If MLB’s investigation finds that Diaz is younger, his likely penalty would be a one-year signing ban that would just delay his negotiations until he’s actually 23 and once again free of the bonus-pool restrictions. Am I understanding this correctly? If his age is falsified, how would this really punish him for trying to beat the system?

Jon Rathbun
Little Falls, N.Y.

Ben Badler is our international baseball expert, and he wrote about the Diaz situation here and here last week. Here’s his response to Jon’s question:

There are multiple birthdates for Diaz, one that would make him 22 on Aug. 1 and another that would make him 23 on that date. If he turns 22 in August, that delays his ability to become exempt from the international bonus pool considerably. If he turns 23 in August and MLB declares him ineligible to sign for one year, then presumably once his penalty is finished, he wouldn’t be subject to the international pools. A one-year ban from signing would punish Diaz because he wouldn’t be able to get his career started until 2014, when he potentially could have gotten going before the 2013 season.

The real cost here is to anyone who has a percentage of Diaz’s contract. The overhead for handling a Cuban player isn’t cheap. There are costs for housing, feeding, training, transporting and, of course, acquiring a Cuban defector. If Diaz isn’t allowed to sign for one year, in addition to not being able to see any return on their investment for another year, his representatives will see their costs increase instead of being able to quickly turn him into revenue.

As to whether a one-year penalty for players who use falsified paperwork is enough of a penalty, I agree that the penalties should be harsher. If a player is caught with falsified documents, he should be declared ineligible to sign for three years. That would serve as a significant deterrent for people who help players create fraudulent age, identity and residency documents. But for various reasons, I don’t expect MLB to increase the penalties for fraud.

The Mets finished with the 10th-worst record in 2012 but have the 11th overall selection because the Pirates were awarded the ninth choice after failing to sign No. 8 pick Mark Appel last summer. Was it specifically spelled out in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement whether the 10 selections protected from free-agent compensation were specifically intended for the 10 worst teams or for the first 10 choices overall? Did MLB fail to anticipate this sort of scenario, leaving the clause subject to interpretation and meaning that the commissioner’s office will have to make a decision? This comes up based on the Mets’ rumored interest in Michael Bourn, one of two remaining free agents who would merit compensation.

Bill Springer
Fairfax, Va.

The 2007-11 CBA specifically addressed the fact that compensation picks were not to be counted toward the total number of choices (at that point, 15 rather than the current 10) which were protected from free-agent compensation. Here’s the pertinent passage from Article XX, Section B (4) (d):

The Regular Draft Choice of the signing Club described in subparagraph (c) above shall not include any selection in the Rule 4 Draft awarded as compensation for failure to sign a Rule 4 Draft selection from the preceding year and shall be assigned as follows. If the signing Club is among the first half of selecting Clubs, excluding selection(s) awarded as compensation for failing to sign a Rule 4 selection from the preceding year, then the choice to be assigned for the highest ranking free agent Player signed by such Club shall be its second choice . . .

The boldface there is mine, to emphasize the specific exclusion of compensation picks when determining which other choices weren’t subject to free-agent compensation. Compare that to the parallel passage from the 2012-16 CBA, which is Article XX, Section B (4) (c) (i):

A Club that signs one Qualified Free Agent who is subject to compensation shall forfeit its highest available selection in the next Rule 4 Draft. A Club that signs more than one Qualified Free Agent subject to compensation shall forfeit its highest remaining selection in the next Rule 4 Draft for each additional Qualified Free Agent it signs. Notwithstanding the above, a Club shall not be required to forfeit a selection in the top ten of the first round of the Rule 4 Draft, and its highest available selection shall be deemed its first selection following the tenth selection of the first round.

Note that no choices, compensation or otherwise, are excluded from the group of 10 protected from free-agent compensation. That language has been removed. Furthermore, the language is pretty clear: a club’s “highest available selection shall be deemed its first selection following the tenth selection of the first round.”

Now I won’t blame the Mets and GM Sandy Alderson for appealing to MLB that they should hold onto the No. 11 overall pick if they do sign Bourn (which I still think is a longshot). They’d simply be trying to seek a competitive edge. And I’m not surprised that the MLB Player Association would support the club, because a favorable decision would enhance Bourn’s value.

But the owners and players agreed to the new CBA, which clearly removed the language that wouldn’t have included Pittsburgh’s Appel choice in the total number of selections exempt from compensation. The rule was changed for a reason, and to alter it the first time it’s inconvenient for a team would be silly.

« Jan. 21 Ask BA