As expected, the Braves on Monday reassigned outfield prospect Ronald Acuña to minor league camp. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman notes Acuña will need to remain in the minors until at least April 13 if the Braves want to gain an extra year of control.
Acuña, 20, is the Braves’ best prospect and the second-best prospect in baseball behind Shohei Ohtani. He hit .325/.374/.522 with 31 doubles, 21 home runs, 82 RBI, 88 runs scored, and 44 stolen bases across three levels of the minor leagues last season, and he hit .432 with four homers and 11 RBI in 44 spring at-bats. Acuña has done everything he needs to do to warrant inclusion on the Braves’ Opening Day roster, but he won’t debut in the majors until at least mid-April.
Service time manipulation isn’t a new concept. Teams do it every year with their top prospects. The Cubs famously kept Kris Bryant in the minors until mid-April in 2015 — more on this shortly — after a similar prior year and spring training to Acuña where he set the baseball world on fire. The MLBPA filed a grievance on Bryant’s behalf but it didn’t amount to anything. Bryant won the NL Rookie of the Year Award that year.
Clubs are incentivized to keep good players in the minor leagues for longer than is necessary, which means they are not putting their best product on the field. That’s a raw deal for fans as well as the players being manipulated in this way. This should be one of many things the union fights to change when the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021.
Update: This is laughable, but Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos can’t just outright admit they’re keeping Acuña down to manipulate his service time.
Anthopoulos on Acuña: "the more we talked about it organizationally, from a philosophical standpoint, having more development time, no one's ever been hurt by that. We do feel like it's probably best overall from a philosophical standpoint to get him more development time"
Derek Jeter has not covered himself in glory since taking over the Miami Marlins. His reign atop the team’s baseball operations department has been characterized by the slashing of payroll in order to help his new ownership group make more money amid some pretty crushing debt service by virtue of what was, in effect, the leveraged buyout of the club. A club which is now 5-16 and seems destined for five months more and change of some pretty miserable baseball.
Jeter has nonetheless cast the moves the Marlins have made as good for fans in the long run. And, yes, I suppose it’s likely that things will be better in the long run, if for no other reason than they cannot be much worse. Still, such reasoning, while often accepted when a lesser light like, say, White Sox GM Rick Hahn employs it, isn’t accepted as easily when a guy who has been defined by his hand full of championship rings offers it. How can Derek Jeter, of all people, accept losing?
That’s the question HBO’s Bryant Gumbel asked of Jeter in an interview that aired over the weekend (see the video at the end of the post). How can he accept — and why should fans accept — a subpar baseball product which is not intended to win? Jeter’s response? To claim that the 2018 Marlins are totally expected to win and that Gumbel himself is “mentally weak” for not understanding it:
JETER: “We’re trying to win ball games every day.”
GUMBEL: “If you trade your best players in exchange for prospects it’s unlikely you’re going to win more games in the immediate future–”
JETER: “When you take the field, you have an opportunity to win each and every day. Each and every day. You never tell your team that they’re expected to lose. Never.”
GUMBEL: “Not in so–”
JETER: “Now, you can think — now– now, I can’t tell you how you think. Like, I see your mind. I see that’s how you think. I don’t think like that. That’s your mind working like that.”
. . .
DEREK JETER: “You don’t. We have two different mi– I can’t wait to get you on the golf course, man. We got– I mean, I can’t wait for this one.”
BRYANT GUMBEL: “No, I mean–”
DEREK JETER: “You’re mentally weak.”
I sort of get what Jeter was trying to do here. He was trying to take this out the realm of second guessing among people who know some stuff about sports and subtly make it an appeal to authority, implying that he was an athlete and that only he, unlike Gumbel, can understand that mindset and competitiveness of the athlete. That’s what the “get you on the golf course” jazz was about. Probably worth noting at this point that that tack has never worked for Michael Jordan as a basketball executive, even if his singular competitiveness made him the legend he was on the court. An executive makes decisions which can and should be second-guessed, and it seems Jeter cannot handle that.
That being said, Gumbel did sort of open the door for Jeter to do that. Suggesting that baseball players on the 2018 Marlins don’t expect to win is not the best angle for him here because, I am certain, if you ask those players, they would say much the same thing Jeter said. That’s what makes them athletes.
No, what Gumbel should have asked Jeter was “of COURSE you tell your players to win and of COURSE they try their hardest and think they can win every night. My question to you is this: did YOU try YOUR hardest to get the BEST players? And if not, why not?”
Question him like you’d question Rick Hahn. Not like you’d question Future Hall of Fame Shortstop, Derek Jeter.