The darker, dumber corners of the Interwebs reacted with much shock at the news that the Cubs sent prized prospect Javier Baez to minor league camp last week.  To the unwashed and unenlightened this was simply the Cubs sending their best player to the minor leagues because they were too cheap to let him start his free agent clock a year early.  To them, this is baseball treason, and this egregious thumb in the eye of WINNING shall not stand.

Basically, a player with six years of service time is a free agent if not currently under contract.  Players are eligible for salary arbitration after three years.  Unless, they are a “super two” when they are eligible once they have accrued two years of service time, and if they are in the the top 22 percent in total service in the class of players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service.

Got that?

It’s safe to say that if Javy Baez made the team out of spring training that he would be a super two, and if he’s even close to as good as most think he will be, he’ll get PAID in his arbitration years.  Because the 22 percent is not a set number, the Cubs can’t just pick a date to bring him up, they’ll have to put their big brains together based on other players service time this year until they fell they’re safe to call him up.  Even if the Cubs decision to send him to the minor leagues was based solely on this, that decision would be completely defensible.

The Tampa Bay Rays did this with Wil Myers last year.  He was one of their best hitters in the spring, but started the season at AAA Durham and didn’t come up until June 18.  All he did was win the Rookie of the Year award.  And the Rays made the playoffs.

For the Cubs, the playoffs are not a consideration.  With Javy or without him, they’re going to suck.

Also, he’s never played an inning at AAA, and has only played 54 games above class-A so far in his career.  Just because he has hit some very long homers this spring, doesn’t mean he’s ready.  Even if he were ready, gaining another year of cost-effective control over one of your best players isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential.

There are several other reasons why stashing Baez in Des Moines for three months or so makes sense.  They include:

  • He’s more likely to start his big league career at second base than at shortstop, so playing some games at AAA at second seems like a good idea.
  • The Cubs are going to want to trade someone to make room for him when he comes up.  That someone is either going to be Darwin Barney or Starlin Castro.  Benching one of them at the start of the season to play Javy isn’t going to do much for their trade value.  Sitting him on the bench while you play them to showcase them for a trade isn’t doing him any good.
  • Barney’s the overwhelming favorite to get traded, and the fact he’s been getting innings at short this spring while Castro sits with a hamstring injury hasn’t hurt his trade value.  His bat plays better at short than second, and he’s looked like a real big league shortstop defensively.  He’s a bona fide Gold Glove second baseman, so if he hits at all he’s very tradeable.  If he hits like last year?  Well, there’s always Ned Colletti.
  • People in Iowa have nothing.  Well they have corn syrup, and deep fried butter, and Gary Dolphin.  All three of those things are bad for you.  Let them have a few months of Javy hitting 1,000 foot homers out of their stupid high school baseball stadium.

I’d like to see Javy up hitting bombs in April, too, but the Cubs are trying to build something, and part of that plan isn’t just being patient with their prospects, it also includes trying to maximize the trade value of the veterans they do not expect to be around when they’re ready to contend.  Keeping Javy in Iowa to start the year is an effort to do both of those things.

It’s not that hard to understand.

Is it?