After Clay Buchholz finished off his no-hitter against Baltimore Saturday, I flipped on the West Coast game for a little late-night baseball viewing.
I normally wouldn’t pay much attention to the Dodgers and Padres, but in the eighth inning, San Diego’s announcers started talking about a subject that can be tied into the Pirates—and, much to my surprise, that connection was made.
Read for yourself this hastily put-together transcript of an on-air conversation between 4SD’s play-by-play man Steve Quis, and his color commentator, Tony Gwynn, on the subject of September call-ups:
SQ: You can bring up as many as 40 [players], but there are certainly a lot of disadvantages to that.
TG: For the guys coming up, there’s a different kind of dynamic. … It’s a reward [for a good year]. … But in a pennant race, you’re an extra body [for pinch running, pinch hitting] … you don’t get an opportunity to play that much.
SQ: From a player’s perspective, you’ve got your routine set—do you want a couple of extra guys in your hitting group, a couple of extra guys on the airplane. …
TG: It never bothered me. … To these guys, it’s a good experience. … And you’re talking about money, too, they’re making one-sixth of [the major-league minimum] $380,000. … But when you’re in the hunt like the Padres are now and you’re trying to close the deal, normally you don’t bring a lot of guys up.
SQ: From a manager’s standpoint, the Padres are going to play Pittsburgh here in a crucial serires in a couple of weeks and you know, Pittsburgh could have four extra relievers. Advantage, disadvantage from a manager’s perspective?
TG: If you’re Buddy Black, it’s kind of a disadvantage, facing guys maybe you’ve never seen. But that’s September baseball, you know, you have those extra bodies and if you choose to use them you can use them. Most teams are going to play their best guys, the Padres are in the hunt, so the Pirates aren’t going to throw a Triple-A lineup out there, they’re going to throw their “A” guys out there.
SQ: You bring up another good point, too, you don’t want to throw a Triple-A lineup out there. If you’re Pittsburgh and you’re playing Cincinnati at the end of the year and there’s nothing on the line, that’s fine. But you remember Jim Tracy last year had his Pirates go up to Dodger Stadium and then come down here and he had taken a little heat because he hadn’t played all his regulars in key spots. … And you know that other managers look at the box score and take that into consideration.
TG: The Padres play the Pirates in the last homestand and then finish the season at Milwaukee. All the other games are in the division. You know if you play the Giants, they’re going to throw their “A” lineup [out of pride].
SQ: You’ve got to pay these guys, and you’ve got to start their clocks so that they may become arbitration eligible a little earlier, too.
To me, there are two issues to discuss with the Pirates’ September call-ups:
- Whom do we need to learn more about, the prospects or the players whose at-bats and innings they would be taking?
- Is it wise to change their roster situations at this point in the season?
The first is debatable, certainly. The Pirates called up first baseman and right fielder Steven Pearce; center fielder Nyjer Morgan and left-handed pitcher Juan Perez. Bryan Bullington and John Van Benschoten will reportedly follow as soon as Monday.
Pearce needs to be given a chance to play, resting Xavier Nady, Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay at least four times per week. I think all of Pittsburgh wants to see what he can do at the major-league level—even in a small sample size—in order to have some perspective heading into the off-season. If Pearce is ready to play on Opening Day 2008, we have a bit of a numbers crunch on our hands.
Nyjer Morgan is likely to be treated as the 2006 version of Rajai Davis was. He shouldn’t start, and he’ll likely be used sparingly as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. To be honest, I don’t care much. I think it’s just as important that the Pirates figure out what Nate McLouth can do over an extended period of time as it is to evaluate Morgan.
Juan Perez is a welcome addition to the bullpen, as he’ll cut into the innings of Damaso Marte and John Grabow. The former has been lights out this season, and he deserves a rest—no reason to overwork a specialist in the garbage time of a season. And Grabow has already decided to have surgery this winter; no harm in limiting his appearances down the stretch.
Bullington and Van Benschoten are the most interesting, I suppose, as they likely aren’t appreciably better than either Tony Armas or Shane Youman. I’d give Bullington a few starts as a reward for a strong season, but I’d be careful to limit the wear and tear on his still recovering arm. JVB had his shot—I’d have him pitching in mop-up duty.
The second issue, to me at least, was a no brainer. Of the five call-ups, only Pearce had to be added to the 40-man roster; his spot was easily attained by shifting Chris Duffy to the 60-day disabled list. Therefore he’s the only guy whose status is affected by a call-up.
I think now’s as good a time as any to clarify roster rules, as it seems whenever the term “option” is mentioned, fans don’t quite understand what’s being discussed.
When a player is added to the 40-man roster, his option years begin. He has three: Pearce is in his first now. That means for the remainder of 2007, all of 2008 and all of 2009, he can be shuttled back and forth between the majors and minors at will. When 2010 rolls around, though, he’ll be “out of options”—meaning that to be sent down to Triple-A at that point, he’d have to first clear waivers.
It’s purely a clock thing, and it has nothing to do with how many times he’s sent to the minors. Even if Pearce doesn’t play in Indianapolis in 2008, he’ll still have used an option year by being a member of the 40-man roster. Conversely, he could be sent back and forth 20 times and it’d still count as just one option.
He’ll also be accruing major-league service time. In the first three seasons of his major-league career, a player makes at (or near) the minimum salary of $380,000. Right now, Pearce is earning a pro-rated portion of the major-league minimum salary. In 2008, he’ll again make $380,000, and likely the same in 2009 and 2010. As soon as he enters a season with more than three full years of major-league service time, he’ll be arbitration eligible.
In the fourth, fifth and sixth years of a player’s career, his salary may be determined by an independent arbiter. Usually teams and players reach agreements on one-year (or, on occasion, multi-year) deals before having to go to arbitration, but if they don’t the team and player each makes a case for what they believe the player’s salary should be. The arbiter must decide who’s right—there’s no gray area. In 2011, if Pearce says that he’s worth $3 million and the Pirates say he’s worth $2m, the arbiter must pick one of those two figures: He won’t settle in the middle at $2.5 million.
Long story short: Steve Pearce will hopefully be in the major leagues for an extended, successful career. If that’s the case—and all signs from this season certainly point that way—then the Pirates didn’t do much of anything by calling him up this September. His clock starts a bit earlier, but he’ll still reach arbitration at the same time as if he were to have first joined the roster on Opening Day next year (all else equal). He’s using an option year, but that shouldn’t be of any consequence if he’s the legitimate prospect we believe him to be.