For non-prospect fans, I wonder if last Friday was just another ho-hum day in their baseball lives. 40-man protections? Who cares! Why protect players in A-Ball anyway! Call me when they are ready to help the team I root for win a World Series. Maybe the Fangraphs crowd has moved beyond that line of thinking, but has the run-of-the-mill baseball fan who turns on a ballgame after work to unwind down after a busy work day?
Truth is any baseball fan who takes the time to dissect Friday’s moves will potentially learn more about the future of their favorite organization than any other day of the year. Why? Because the reason a player is protected is simple – Their respective organization believes he is a future big leaguer. Truth is, this level of clarity is rare for an organization as the name of the game is protecting the value of assets.
A great example of this is a conversation I had last June with a contact about former Atlanta Braves farmhand and current Houston Astros prospect Brett Oberholtzer who was the defacto centerpiece of the Michael Bourn trade. Having both seen the young lefty, we were amazed at the level of prospect hype he had received. Oberholtzer isn’t a bad prospect, but the stuff simply didn’t match the reports – At least not on the days we scouted him.
Without prompting, the contact said, “Don’t be surprised if he (Oberholtzer) is traded. I’m just hearing too much buzz surrounding him right now.” A month later, Oberholtzer was with a new organization. In general, the Atlanta Braves are masters at guiding the conversation surrounding their prospects. 40-man protections are more clear cut – Either protect the player, or risk losing them. Nothing screams clarity more than that, no?
Take the Mets for example. On Friday, they chose to protect a number of players including Jeurys Familia, Reese Havens, Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Robert Carson, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Cesar Puello. For breakdowns on each player, Anthony DiComo has you covered. For me personally, the implications of protecting these particular players is more interesting considering top-10 organizational prospect Jefry Marte was left off of the list.
Entering the 2009 season, Wilmer Flores, Jefry Marte and Cesar Puello were a “three amigos” of international free agent signings. At the time, Jeurys Familia was a relatively unknown commodity within the organization. Marte crushed the Gulf Coast League in 2008 prior to struggling in full season baseball for three consecutive seasons. Wilmer Flores and Cesar Puello had their own struggles, but not to the extent of Marte as they distanced themselves from the young third baseman – at least in scouting circles. However, Marte continued to be ranked on Mets top-10 lists based on projection and his previous ranking as a top prospect within the organization.
As of Friday, the court of public opinion can no longer plead lenience – even after an Arizona Fall League season in which Marte posted a .333/.436/.538 triple slash line. In being left off of the Mets 40-man roster, a clear message was sent that Marte was deemed to have less value to the Mets, and other organizations for that matter, than any of the players the organization chose to protect. Marte supporters will be quick to point out he broke his wrist towards the end of the AFL season, but is expected to be back by Spring Training so I’m not sure this played much into the decision.
Ultimately, the combination of Marte’s youth, lack of offensive production, suspect defense and the fact he’d need to be protected on the 40-man roster left him more lotto ticket than surefire prospect at this point in his development – A risk the Mets obviously could not take. However, with Marte having never played an inning above A-ball prior to excelling in the Arizona Fall League, he’s almost guaranteed to be taken in the double-A phase, if not the Triple-A or Major League phase of the rule 5 draft.
Marte to the Chicago Cubs would be a perfect match as the organization’s lack of prospect depth, holes at both first and third base and need to rebuild the roster would make the $50,000 investment needed to secure him extremely low risk. After all, they would be acquiring him for only 9% of his original signing bonus.