When the Red Sox will call up Triston Casas is a complicated dilemma
One of the top storylines to follow for the Boston Red Sox this spring is the impending arrival of Triston Casas. The hulking first baseman is widely viewed as one of the top prospects in the farm system and he enters the season on the doorstep to his major league debut. How long the team waits to call up their prized prospect is a question that was made more complicated by the new collective bargaining agreement.
Service-time manipulation was a significant issue that the MLBPA fought to rectify throughout negotiations. A perfect example of their concern is Kris Bryant, who captured the Rookie of the Year award in 2015 and delivered an MVP season the following year. The Chicago Cubs waited 12 days into his rookie season to call up Bryant for his big league debut, delaying his eligibility for free agency by one year.
According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, under the terms of the new agreement, players who finish first or second in their league’s Rookie of the Year voting will receive a full year of service time. This should help prevent teams from playing games with their top prospects who are clearly ready for the majors but have to spend a couple of weeks in Triple-A so that the team can gain an extra year of control.
If a prospect is talented enough to factor into the Rookie of the Year race, their team would need to wait until much deeper into the season to call them up to ensure they don’t lose that extra year of control. Wander Franco was clearly the most talented rookie last year but finished third in the race due to the Tampa Bay Rays waiting until June to call him up. All due respect to AL winner Randy Arozarena, but he wasn’t even the best rookie on his own team. He played in twice as many games as Franco and that proved to be a factor to voters.
The new CBA has also given teams more incentive to promote their best prospects to begin the season. If a prospect on the Opening Day roster finishes in the top-three for the Rookie of the Year award or top-five for either the MVP or Cy Young award, their team is eligible to receive additional draft picks.
Teams must weigh the benefits of gaining an extra year of control against the value of adding a top prospect to the roster. The choice is clear for rebuilding teams whose outlooks aren’t going to be altered much by a star rookie. The decision is more complicated for contending teams.
What do the Red Sox do with Triston Casas?
Boston views their club as a contender but the margin of error is slim in the competitive AL East. How much do they gain from upgrading at first base from Bobby Dalbec to Casas? That depends on if they are getting the Dalbec from the first half of last season or the version who caught fire in August. The Red Sox can be patient if Dalbec proves his second-half surge wasn’t a fluke but if he struggles out of the gate, fans will be clamoring for Casas.
If Casas is lighting it up during spring training, it will be tempting for the Red Sox to anoint him as their Opening Day first baseman with the new draft pick rewards providing additional incentive. However, they also must be cautious of rushing him too quickly. As talented as Casas is, he only has nine games under his belt at the Triple-A level. His impressive performance during the Olympics last season should factor into the decision but it’s still a significant leap from the level of competition he has faced to the big leagues.
In an ideal scenario, Casas would earn his way onto the Opening Day roster this spring. He would prove to be enough of an upgrade at first base to be worth a couple of extra wins, which should matter in a division that saw four teams win 90+ games last season. His impressive debut season would result in a third-place finish on the Rookie of the Year ballot, enough to earn the Red Sox a draft pick reward but not high enough to allow Casas to reach free agency one year early.
Unfortunately, there are too many variables that make that outcome unpredictable. There’s risk in calling up Casas before he’s ready and he could earn a year of service time even in a disappointing rookie season that falls short of rewarding the team with draft picks.
The best approach would be to let his performance dictate when Casas gets called up rather than letting the new rules sway their decision. If he earns his way on to the Opening Day roster, Boston benefits by adding a future star to their formidable lineup and potentially landing an extra draft pick next year. If that means he hits free agency a year earlier, that’s simply the cost of doing business.