Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Jason Heyward Situation: My Take

It's becoming more and more obvious with each passing batting practice 450 foot, car-demolishing blast and Spring Training walk and slash, that Jason Heyward is becoming, and will likely remain such for the next decade or two, the apple of Braves Nations' eye.

The big-boned Atlanta prospect looks to be, even at a mere 20 years of age, the real deal.

And, with that, is looking more and more like one of the, as Braves officials have, in a somewhat round-about way, coined it "best 25 men in camp."

So, it's a no-brainer that he starts the season at the Ted against the Chicago Cubs, right?

Not so fast...

In his most recent downer-blog, venerable Atlanta-Journal Constitution writer Mark Bradley profiled the dilemma that henceforth shall be referred to the J-Hey Conundrum.

I encourage you, provided your view on the world is of a cynical nature, to read it and the caption from ESPN's Rob Neyer.

(For the record, Bradley does present his facts in a straight-forward manner, very professional...but it's so depressing to read one of his columns. Give him and David O'Brien the same stats and information, and you'll walk away from DOB's piece thinking opposed to the sluggish sensation you get as you navigate away from Bradley's publications.)

Anyway (I wrote a blog a couple of weeks back that I was too embarrassed to let tough B/R because of the utter disgust I heard when I read it back...I don't want to let this one get to that point), back to the downer-blog...

In it, Bradley (through Neyer, who wrote his lecture through Bryan Smith) likens the Heyward situation to that of both Tommy Hanson last season and Evan Longoria in 2008.

Which I get.

In both of those cases, the teams (the Braves and Rays, respectively) were looking to sacrifice a little bit of production in the beginning of their 162-game campaigns to save a little money down the line.

But consider the cost, beyond just dollars, in both cases.

The Rays, as we all know, inked Longo to a nine-year, $44 million-plus contract days after calling him up to make the entire "service time" situation moot (172 days is a full year...Longo would have had 170 if anyone had been counting upon a contract falling trough back in '08 or whatnot)--and I know that's what everyone in Atlanta and the entire southeast (and pretty much everyone who brandishes a cap with a fancy "A" nationwide) would like to see.

And in the end, not calling him up didn't hurt the eventual '08 AL Champs at all.

They got their affordable deal for an up-and-coming MVP and a berth in the World Series.

Then look at Tommy Hanson who has yet to make any sort of long-term (as in, beyond his arbitration years) commitment with the Bravos.

Sure, the team keeps nasty arbitration hearings out of the picture for another season, but the Braves were also, for my money, kept out of the 2009 playoffs because of this decision.

Think about it...give Hanson 10 more starts last season to build on his stellar 2.89 ERA and 8.2 K/9 rate and we could've been talking about a deep run for the Braves and that staff that so elegantly graced the field last season.

That's not to say that he definitely would have propelled the Braves to the few additional games they needed to clinch a spot; I'm just saying that the spark Hanson provided was something to behold and would have brought about more positive ramifications than any uninspired Jo-Jo Reyes start.

And that brings us back to the J-Hey Conundrum.

Should the Braves be sweetening the Kool-Aid all of the residences of Braves Nation have been drinking...even though it is somewhat of a risky (no guarantees Heyward is as accommodating as Longoria) route, and call the J-Hey Kid up while Super-Two and "early-arbitration/free agency" loom heavy?

Or should they pour all of the hype and anticipation down the sink in an effort to delay big-time, high-pressure contract negotiations?

For me, the answer is simple--bring out the Domino!

I can admit that I come within an inch of peeing myself every time Heyward comes to bat and does something (be it a single, double, stolen base, walk, or pop out) because of my school girl-like giddiness over the McDonough Man-Child (there's a nickname for ya).

And I'm sure I'm not alone in that sensation (though most dudes probably would not liken themselves to a school girl publicly).

But, the reasoning (though paralleling that in a way) goes much deeper than just my own personal man-crush on J-Word.

It goes beyond, as one commenter on Bradley's blog put it (this dude was anti-Heyward in the majors, for the record) "[Giving] 14 days and getting 365."

It goes to the state of the pissed off, foaming-at-the-mouth, hungry Braves' fan-base that lets its "trollish" wrath be heard daily around the interweb, and the atmosphere down at Disney that you feel radiating out of any of the veteran Braves' comments.

Since 2005, when can you remember THIS sort of utter joy and giddiness radiating from the depths of Braves forums?

When is the last time that you've heard so much national interest in the franchise?

When is the last time you've seen such an immaculate talent rise through the Braves' farm system?


It's been a while.

At some point, you have to reach out to the fan base and say "we're really trying" (not that I doubt that).

Say that "you know what, we are a better team with this guy than without...even if we lose out a little on the back end."

Even without the emotional ties, the dude, with his .352/.446/.611 line at AA last year and incredible maturity (both on- and off the field, by all reports), has proved that he, at the very least, deserves an unbiased (from a cash perspective) look.

He's proven that age is just a number with his "30 ought six" shots to the outfield and high praise (I think they're too much of s stretch, so I'm not going to specifically mention them) from the man that should be his manager on April 5, Bobby Cox.

Even more than all of that, he brings a quiet confidence and a "Francoeur-like" energy that doesn't always seem to be readily available when you look at any of the Braves' starters

As Heyward says on his Twitter account, "it all feels the same, enjoyin the game i love."

And looking at all of the smiles in every BP photo and autograph signing you see of him, you believe that.

As long as he doesn't go 0-for the rest of the spring (though one-for would probably not be acceptable, either), he is the best option available for the Braves in right field...regardless of any cash concerns...and should have a number "nine" penciled in next to his name come Opening Day as he runs onto the grass of Turner Field.

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