Braves think 20-year-old prospect Jason Heyward may be ready for majors

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Last month a Braves source told Craig that the team’s lack of interest in Johnny Damon was largely due to their confidence in stud outfield prospect Jason Heyward being ready for the majors at some point this season.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote more about that scenario today, reporting that “Braves officials have said Heyward will enter spring training with every opportunity to win the right field job” and adding that he’d “put money on Heyward being in right field for the Braves opening series.”
Here’s a quote about the Braves’ plans for Heyward from manager Bobby Cox:

He’s virtually skipping Triple-A if he makes the team. That doesn’t happen often. But in his case we just feel that he should, if he’s going to come to spring training, be given a crack at it.

O’Brien also passed along this interesting tidbit: During the past decade Rocco Baldelli is the only position player drafted out of high school to make an Opening Day roster and play at least 30 games in the majors with fewer than 200 at-bats above Single-A. Heyward has 173 at-bats above Single-A and was a 2007 first-round pick out of Henry County high school in Georgia, so Baldelli may soon have some company.
Heyward is only 20 years old, but he’s already 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, was named Minor League Player of the Year last season, and ranks as the No. 1 prospect in baseball on just about every prominent list. As for whether he’ll be better than Damon in 2010 … that remains to be seen, but Baseball Think Factory‘s fantastic projection system has Heyward hitting .275/.341/.429 this season compared to .272/.350/.436 for Damon.
Very similar production and Heyward is significantly better defensively, not to mention a whole lot cheaper and with much more upside. Incidentally, if Heyward can match that projected .770 OPS while playing regularly for the Braves it would be the third-best OPS by a 20-year-old outfielder in the past 40 years behind only Ken Griffey Jr. at .847 in 1990 and Justin Upton at .816 in 2008.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.