IT’S POSEY TIME

By Murray Chass

May 15, 2011

The Posey time of the baseball year is upon us. It’s almost time for teams to call up their good prospects whom they have left in the minor leagues to deprive them of the major league service time they will need to be eligible for salary arbitration and free agency.

I have named it Posey time because Buster Posey was the most significant player affected by the service manipulation but was brought to the majors in time to lead the San Francisco Giants to the World Series championship. In other words the rookie catcher helped the Giants win their gamble that served against his own best interests.Buster Posey2 225

When last season began, the Giants left Posey in the minors. He still had things to learn, they said. Most people, including the reporters who cover the Giants and should cover them with a healthy dose of skepticism, believed the Giants.

As it turned out, Posey needed just enough time to learn those things that it cost him a year toward free agency.

The Giants recalled Posey May 29. Had they recalled him 11 days earlier, he would have finished the season with one year of major league service, leaving him five more seasons to be eligible to be a free agent. Now he needs six more seasons.

Advantage Giants. Not only did they extend their control of Posey for an extra year but they nevertheless also qualified for the playoffs by winning the division title despite his absence for the first two months.

The Giants violated no baseball or labor rules by keeping Posey in the minors. The Florida Marlins broke no rules either by not calling up Mike Stanton until June 8; the same with the Washington Nationals, who left Drew Storen in the minors until May 18 and Stephen Strasburg until June 8.

Rob Manfred, the clubs’ chief labor executive, says that clubs are only doing what they have always had a right to do. “It has been a long-standing part of our agreement,” he said, discussing the Posey matter last summer, “that clubs have the right to determine when players are brought to the major leagues. It’s a pretty daunting task.”

The clubs, however, tend to make a farce of their task when they decide that their top prospects are ready to rise to the majors at about the same time, late May or early June. They have been so consistent and so obvious with their practice in recent years that they have pushed it onto the collective bargaining table.

Asked about the clubs’ manipulation of service time last year, Michael Weiner, the head of the union, said, “We are paying attention to that and I would expect arbitration eligibility will be an issue in collective bargaining. It has become so obvious.”

With ongoing negotiations for a new agreement being conducted under agreement of public silence, it is not known if the subject has arisen. However, club officials, as well as union officials are close observers of the callup scene.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” Jed Hoyer, the San Diego general manager, said when he was asked about possible callups in the next few weeks. “You always get to see guys called up in June.”

Hoyer, however, didn’t expect the influx of talent that included and accompanied Posey a year ago. “I don’t see big ones like that except maybe Kansas City,” Hoyer said.

The Padres themselves have two good-looking minor leaguers they acquired from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, and some baseball people think they may be ready for promotion. But Hoyer said Casey Kelly, a 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, and Anthony Rizzo, a 21-year-old left-hand hitting first baseman, aren’t going anywhere.

“Both are performing very well where they are,” Hoyer said. “I’m not going to say never, but for the foreseeable future they have stuff to work on and I think they’re better off where they are.”

Eric Hosmer 225The Royals, whom Hoyer mentioned, are already loaded with rookies. The most recent rookie arrival is first baseman Eric Hosmer, who made his major league debut May 6, hit two home runs and drove in four runs at Yankee Stadium in helping Kansas City to two consecutive wins over the Yankees and was hitting .241 after his first eight games.

The third player picked in the 2008 draft, Hosmer joined a corps of five rookie relief pitchers who have combined for a 2.18 earned run average in 64 relief appearances and 78 1/3 innings: left-hander Tim Collins and right-handers Aaron Crow, Jeremy Jeffress, Louis Coleman and Nate Adcock.

Do the Royals have room for three other rookies? Two are pitchers, 22-year-old left-handers Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery and a 22-year-old third baseman, Mike Moustakas, who was the second player picked in the 2007 draft. All three are at AAA Omaha of the Pacific Coast League.

The Royals, who have deteriorated under owner David Glass, are rebuilding themselves under general manager Dayton Moore.

“We made it very clear to every player we signed that we’re hoping to look internally first to make our team better,” Moore said in a telephone interview Saturday. “Those three players are in Triple A. Montgomery and Duffy figure to stay in Triple A. We want to give them more experience there.

“With pitchers, if you think they’re ready, give them another month. We don’t like to send pitchers down. Pitchers are different than hitters. Pitchers are more fragile. You want to make sure these pitchers are ready.”

As for Moustakas, Moore said he performed “very well” in Triple A last season (in 52 games) “and he’s doing well there now.” But, he added, Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles “are performing well for us.”

A player in the minors, Moore added, needs two factors working in his favor to prompt a promotion. He has to be performing well, and he needs an opportunity. At the moment, Moore suggested, Moustakas lacks the opportunity.

“We’re pleased with where he is,” Moore said.

In the matter of manipulating service time, Moore said, “Our mission is to put the best team on the field. We haven’t won. We think it’s important if we’re going to change the culture here, if players are ready and will give us the opportunity to win we want them out there. Hosmer is an upgrade. He helps us put the best team on the field. There is a business side, but we weren’t going to keep him down for another month or so.”

Among minor leaguers who could be promoted in the near future are Dustin Ackley, a second baseman at Seattle’s AAA team, who was the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft behind Strasburg; Brett Lawrie, a Canadian third baseman at AAA for Toronto, whom the Blue Jays obtained in the Shawn Marcum trade, and a pair of Yankees’ prospects, left-handed reliever Manny Banuelos and Jesus Montero, a 21-year-old Venezuelan catcher, whose hitting could earn him a job as the designated hitter if the Yankees give up on their veteran catcher, Jorge Posada (.165 in 32 games), in that spot.

STEINBRENNER AND THE FEDS

There was news last week about how George Steinbrenner had cooperated years ago with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The reports resulted from the F.B.I.’s release of documents under Freedom of Information requests from news organizations.Steinbrenner Winfield 150

The news should have surprised no one who knew Steinbrenner. Whether his cooperation resulted from his fondness for federal authorities or that fondness followed his cooperation with them, the late Yankees’ owner had long had an affair with the feds.

Phil McNiff, former chief of the F.B.I. office in Tampa, Fla., Steinbrenner’s adopted home, was Steinbrenner’s head of security in the 1980s, and Jack Lawn, former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, was the Yankees’ president during the early ‘90s during Steinbrenner’s suspension by Commissioner Fay Vincent.

McNiff was the better story because when Steinbrenner became involved with a $40,000 payment to Howie Spira, a two-bit hustler and gambler, for derogatory information about Dave Winfield, the owner assigned McNiff to handle Spira.

I never had the opportunity to talk to McNiff about his Spira role, but it had to be the nadir of his career.

Howie Spira 150But I always suspected that Steinbrenner’s use of the F.B.I. went beyond McNiff. Not that Spira deserved anyone’s sympathy, but it seemed to me that the Tampa F.B.I. office went out of its way to get Spira at Steinbrenner’s behest.

The New York office of the bureau declined to investigate Spira’s alleged extortion of Steinbrenner, and Steinbrenner prevailed upon his Tampa buddies to go after Spira.

They successfully prosecuted him, and Steinbrenner and his family were safe from the threats the owner said the weasel had made against them.

SAYING GOODBYE WITH CLASS FEW HAVE

Lots of news releases come from the Hall of Fame, especially at this time of the year because induction time is approaching. As with other announcements from the Hall, this came in an e-mail. It was not the kind of e-mail I receive every day, though, which is very fortunate. This was the most jarring e-mail I have ever received. The title said “Statement from Harmon Killebrew/National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 1984:Harmon Killebrew 225

“It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors’ expectation of cure.

“I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

“I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side.”

After getting the statement, I called Jeff Idelson, the Hall of Fame president, who helped Killebrew write it. A mutual friend had told me that Idelson planned to visit Killebrew in the next few days, and Idelson confirmed that he would be making that visit as soon as he could. Idelson noted that four Hall of Famers had died in the previous 12 months: Robin Roberts, Sparky Anderson, Bob Feller, and Duke Snider.

Asked about Killebrew’s unusual public statement, Idelson said that is the type of person Killebrew is: he wanted everything out in the open.

I had never received notice, via e-mail or anything else, from a dying person about his imminent death. The kind of courage it took to write and issue the statement made me wish I had known Killebrew better.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.