Ask BA: Does Fernandez’s Promotion Make Sense?

Happy Opening Day, everyone! The season actually started last evening, and the Astros currently have baseball’s best record and the big league saves leader in Erik Bedard. I don’t expect either of those realities to have much staying power.

One thing that never goes away is the owners’ desire to save money. That’s true of just about any owner in any business, of course. But cost-cutting sometimes leads to misguided plans. Recent examples in baseball are the new draft rules (which restrict the best way for small-revenue clubs to build a contender) and the inevitable international draft (which will create logistical issues and unintended consequences).

A third unfortunate plan was reported by Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com. At their May 8-9 meetings in New York, owners will discuss eliminating the pension plans of all non-uniformed personnel. A similar proposal never came to a vote last year, but Rubin reports that a majority of owners are believed to support cutting pensions.

This comes at a time when MLB is coming off new highs in annual revenue (roughly $8 billion) with more to come in the form of record television deals (a combined $12.1 billion over eight years from ESPN, Fox and TBS) starting in 2014. Forbes magazine just released its annual estimates of franchise values, which rose 23 percent from 2012 to 2013. The average club is now worth $744 million, and the Yankees are the most valuable franchise in sports at $2.3 billion.

Obviously, players are the most important employees of any major league club. They’re the ones whom fans pay to see and they’re the ones who generate all that revenue. But to slash pensions for front-office personnel, scouts, trainers, minor league staff and others—many of whom make little more than one-hundredth of a typical big league player’s salary—while the game is thriving as never before is unconscionable.

Baseball has few 9-to-5 jobs, and there are thousands of people working long hours at tight salaries to help make the game better. A pension plan that provides security once they retire helps make their sacrifices worthwhile. While many companies have eliminated or reduced pensions amidst of financial struggles, MLB is prospering.

Rubin reported that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf chastised his brethren when the proposal came up last year. Here’s hoping that other owners find their conscience before they meet in May.

What are your thoughts on Jose Fernandez securing a spot with the Marlins? What are your thoughts on the super-two rule that keeps many major league-prospects in the minors for the first two months of the season, such as Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar and Rays outfielder Wil Myers?

Steve Lenger
Nashville

What do you see from Jose Fernandez over 150-170 innings in the majors this season?

Johnny Fitz
Toronto

Though the Marlins had two rotation vacancies open up when Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi went on the disabled list with shoulder trouble, I was stunned to see that they’ll use Fernandez to fill one of them.

Fernandez had a spectacular first full pro season in 2012 (14-1, 1.75, 158-35 K-BB ratio in 134 innings) and ranks as one of baseball’s best righthanded pitching prospects. On the other hand, he’s 20, has yet to pitch above high Class A and Miami has no chance of contending in 2013. He also pitched just two innings in big league camp, because the Marlins had planned on assigning him to Double-A Jacksonville.

With a sinking two-seam fastball in the low 90s, a four-seamer that reaches 99 mph, a swing-and-miss breaking ball and a promising changeup, Fernandez has the pure stuff to survive in the majors. If he makes 30 starts for Miami, it’s possible that he could post double-digit victories, an ERA around 3.50 and close to a strikeout per inning.

It’s also possible that he could have problems skipping two levels to pitch for a bad team, and it’s a lot easier to destroy a prospect’s confidence than it is to build it back up. While he earns kudos for his maturity, he also hasn’t had to deal with any adversity in pro ball.

The Marlins pledge to keep him to the same innings limit (150-170) it would have held him to in the minors, but major league innings are a lot more stressful than Double-A innings. Young pitchers already are injury risks, and now Miami has put him in more jeopardy.

Furthermore, promoting Fernandez at this point makes no financial sense because the always-crying-poor Marlins likely will face arbitration and free agency with him a year earlier than needed. Keeping him in the minors until April 12 would have postponed his free agency. Two months in the minors would have delayed his arbitration eligibility and also would have been better for his development.

Most players require three full years of major league service time to qualify for arbitration. The super-two rule also includes those who rank in the top 22 percent of service time in the two-to-three-year group, provided that they accrued at least 86 days in the most recent season. As a result, teams often leave prospects in the minors for a couple of months so they won’t benefit from the super-two rule down the road.

From a baseball perspective, the super-two rule stinks. It keeps players like Profar and Myers in the minors longer than they should be, though I’ve never understood why legitimate contenders like the Rangers and Rays wouldn’t field their best possible rosters. For a non-contender like the Marlins, it makes business sense to consider super-two implications when contemplating roster moves.

With the end of spring training, we start seeing the inevitable return of Rule 5 draft picks to their original teams, such as second baseman Jeff Kobernus and lefthander Danny Rosenbaum going back to the Nationals. Both Kobernus (Tigers) and Rosenbaum (Rockies) made Top 30 Prospects lists in the 2013 Prospect Handbook, but why do Rule 5 picks deserve those ratings if most of them won’t stick with the club that drafted them? Where would the returned players fit on the Top 30s in their original organization upon their return?

Tim Marino
Philadelphia

Though the Rule 5 draft has spawned such success stories as Roberto Clemente, Josh Hamilton and Johan Santana, most of the picks are afterthoughts and many don’t remain with the club that selected them. To keep a Rule 5 choice, the drafting team has to keep him on its major league roster all season or else expose him to waivers and offer him back to his former club for half of the $50,000 draft price.

Not everyone who makes one our Top 30 Prospect lists projects as a future all-star or even a regular. There are plenty of potential bench players and middle relievers, and several of the prospects won’t ever see a day in the major leagues.

With any player, Rule 5 pick or otherwise, whether they make a Top 30 depends on their tools and track record, as well as the strength or weakness of their organization. Of the 15 players selected in the 2012 Rule 5 draft, eight earned Top 30 mentions in the Handbook: righthander Josh Fields (Astros from Red Sox) and lefthander T.J. McFarland (Orioles from Indians), who made Opening Day rosters; lefty Kyle Lobstein (Tigers from Rays), whose rights Detroit retained by trading catcher Curt Casali to Tampa Bay; outfielder Alfredo Silverio (Marlins from Dodgers), who begins the season on Miami’s disabled list; and Rosenbaum, first baseman Chris McGuiness (Indians to Rangers), Kobernus and righty Starling Peralta (Diamondbacks to Cubs), who were returned to their former teams.

Those last four players all were slated for Top 30s before the Rule 5 draft. Kobernus would have been No. 13 and Rosenbaum No. 24 on our Nationals Top 30, Peralta checked in at No. 28 on our Cubs list and Fields was No. 29 on our Red Sox list.

This question gives me an opening to update what happened to the rest of the players from last December’s Rule 5 draft. Righthanders Hector Rondon (Cubs from Indians) and Ryan Pressly (Twins from Red Sox), outfielder Ender Inciarte (Diamondbacks from Phillies) and infielder Angel Sanchez (White Sox from Angels) all made Opening Day rosters. So did first baseman Nate Freiman, whom the Athletics claimed on waivers from the Astros, who selected him from the Padres. Righty Coty Woods (Rangers to Rockies) and lefty Braulio Lara (Marlins to Rays) went back to their original teams.

Bo Jackson has legendary status, with many viewing him as possibly the greatest athlete of all time. How did he grade out on the 20-80 scouting scale as a baseball player?

Raj Shekhat
Orlando

I was going to write that Jackson is the most spectacular athlete I’ve seen since I began working for Baseball America in 1988, but I’ll amend that to say he’s the most spectacular athlete I’ve ever seen. He won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft and averaged 5.4 yards per carry (10th-highest in NFL history) before a hip injury ended his football career.

Jackson never truly refined his skills in baseball, dividing his attention between two sports and reaching the majors for good after just 53 games in the minors. He struck out 841 times in 694 big league games, yet still hit .250 with 141 homers and 82 steals and a 112 OPS+ (on-base plus slugging percentage, adjusted for his home ballparks and leagues, with 100 representing average).

In a 1989 feature in Baseball America, we reported that Royals area scout Ken Gonzales, who signed Jackson, gave him 80s for power, speed and fielding and a 70 for arm strength. (Jackson’s raw arm strength would have been an 80, so Gonzales apparently downgraded him for inconsistent accuracy.) We didn’t report the hitting grade from Jackson’s amateur scouting report, but I’m guessing it would have been in the 50-60 range.

Gonzales gave Jackson an Overall Future Potential of 71 on the 20-80 scale. The Major League Scouting Bureau pegged him OFP as 75.5, which at the time was the highest grade it had ever given. Jackson’s ceiling seemed unlimited had he focused on baseball and stayed healthy, and even though he didn’t, he still left plenty of memories.

« March 25 Ask BA

Majors | #Ask BA #Bo Jackson #Chicago Cubs #Hector Rondon #Houston Astros #Jose Fernandez #Josh Fields #Miami Marlins #Rule 5 Draft

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