Thursday, March 21, 2013

The value of stalling a prospect

Wil Myers: Too good for the Rays to have on the roster
for the full season.
Wil Myers is widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in baseball. Last year, in the Kansas City farm system, he tore through Double A and Triple A to the tune of a combined .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs.

If there was a credible prospect rankings list this spring that didn't have him in the top four, I missed it. Top-level talent and major league ready.

The Tampa Bay Rays dealt James Shields, a quality starter, to the Royals; Myers was the centerpiece of the return. He fits the offense-starved Rays' needs perfectly — an outfielder with a power bat.

Last weekend, the Rays optioned Myers back to Triple A in an obvious ploy to delay his arbitration eligibility. For a sound detailed dissection of why it makes sense for the Rays to stall his career, click here. To sum it up in a sentence, by this analysis the Rays figure to save some $15 million if they keep him in the minors for half the season.

Few teams are as consistently budget-conscious as Tampa Bay. (Oakland would be an obvious one.) The financial logic behind holding back a young stud is powerful. It also has its drawbacks. In the case of the Rays and Myers, not having him in the major league lineup for half the season could cost the team a couple wins, and that might be enough to cost them a division title.

The logic that has the Rays sacrificing a few games now for the sake of 2019 is why there are Twins followers who suspect/expect that Aaron Hicks will not get to open the season with the big club.

But the situations here are not truly identical.

  • Hicks, unlike Myers, hasn't been in Triple A yet. 
  • The Twins have deeper revenue streams than do the Rays.
  • The risk of Hicks becoming too good for the Twins to afford is lower than the risk of Myers becoming too good for the Rays to afford.
  • And even if Hicks does become pricier than the Twins want to pay, the Twins have other, probably superior, outfield talents deeper in the system (Byron Buxton as the most notable example).

Terry Ryan and Co. have been careful to avoid declaring the center field competition over. I continue to believe, however, that Hicks is the most logical winner of the job. And I continue to believe that the financial considerations that will keep Myers out of the majors for a while this year will not block Hicks this April.

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