Did the Mets rush Fernando Martinez?

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FMart.jpgLast night, I found myself in a pretty interesting to-and-fro with Sam Page of the excellent Amazin’ Avenue about whether Fernando Martinez was rushed in his development. It was spurred on, at least initially, by what Martinez told Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com this week:

“I know I’m a big league player, and I can perform at a high level,”
Martinez said. “It’s in my hands, so I have to keep working hard and
maybe earn a spot. Maybe I make it to the big leagues with the Mets or
maybe another team, but I know I can do it. I just have to keep working
and waiting for my opportunity.”

This sounds like the simple disappointment of a competitive
young man who realizes they’d be more useful than Gary Matthews, Jr., so
it’s hard to blame him there, but I also believe it is indicative of
Martinez putting too much stock into the considerable “New York hype”
that has been thrust upon him since he signed out of the Dominican
Republic at the age of 16. After all, it’s pretty easy to do so when
people begin to call you the “Teenage Hitting Machine” on message boards and blogs without, you
know, actually seeing you physically hit a baseball.

Martinez, or “F-Mart” as he is so often called these days, is no longer a teenager, but he is only 21
years old. Fellow outfield prospects Desmond Jennings, Domonic Brown
and Michael Taylor are all older than him. When the Mets called him up
from Triple-A Buffalo at age 20 last May, he became the team’s
youngest position player to make their major league debut since Jose
Reyes did it at age 19 in 2003. It was an incredibly small sample size,
but he looked over-matched during two brief stints with the big club,
batting .176/.242/.275 with one home run and eight RBI in 91 at-bats
before sustaining a injury to his right knee that required
season-ending surgery.

Many believe that the Mets have made a habit of promoting him in
spite of various injuries and mixed results. A large part of my
criticism is that he needlessly started the 2007 season with Double-A
Binghamton at age of 18 with just 76 professional games under his belt,
including a .193 batting average in 119 at-bats for High-A St. Lucie.
As Page astutely pointed out in our conversation, it was Tony
Bernazard’s M.O. to challenge the most physically gifted players, so
while I can understand someone playing against more advanced competition
when warranted, I feel it became a legitimate concern with Martinez as the injuries
began to pile up.

In order to expand the conversation, below I asked a pair of
prospect gurus for their opinion on whether Martinez was “rushed” in
his development. First, we have John Sickels of the indispensable Minor
League Ball

Yes, I think he was rushed. The Mets made a big push to be aggressive
with Latin American players in recent years, and I think the combination of this
factor plus Martinez’s health problems slowed his development, or at least made
it more difficult to see exactly what kind of player he is. That said, he’s
still quite young and showed signs of developing his power last year in
Triple-A. He’s still a very good prospect and still very young. I pointed out in
my book this year that he was the equivalent of a college sophomore last season.
If a college sophomore was drafted and hit .290/.337/.540 in Triple-A right
away, everyone would be talking about what a wonderful prospect he is. I don’t
think the Mets have handled him too well, but it is way too soon to be down on
Martinez. People should still be excited about him.

And here we have Toby Hyde, who has followed Martinez’s progression through his website Mets Minors:

The big rush job came with his
initial assignment in 2007; rather than send the then 18-year old Martinez back
to St. Lucie, the Mets pushed him to AA Binghamton. He was ok, hitting .271/.336/.377 but injuries limited his
time. The Mets had no choice but
to return him to Binghamton in ’08. At the time of his MLB debut on May 26, 2009, he was clearly the best
choice for the Mets after crushing AAA pitching in the month of May.

There are really three moments when
the Mets rushed Martinez: his assignment to Hagerstown in 2006, and his early
August promotion to St. Lucie the same year and then his initial assignment to
Binghamton to begin 2007.  In the
last two years, the Mets have slowed Martinez down, although in part I suspect
that that has to do with the fact that there was nowhere else for him to

It’s popular to be down on Martinez right now, but I’m not so sure
that’s a bad thing. A full — and hopefully healthy — season under the radar
at Triple-A Buffalo should have him sufficiently major-league ready for
the start of 2011. We can disagree about how the Mets have handled him
up until this point, but there’s still plenty to look forward to here.

* Coincidentally, Martinez homered for Puerto Rico on Saturday afternoon in Venezuela, his second home run of Caribbean Series against Mexico.

New tax law could affect MLB trades

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Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.