The Orioles started his service clock and player options before they needed to. And while at the time of his call-up the Orioles were still very much in the American League wild card race, Hays hardly played in the first week to 10 days after he was added to the roster. So he wasn’t added to immediately play and help the team win.
The Orioles selected Hays in round three of the 2016 draft, and would not have had to protect him from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster until December 2019. That would have left Hays with three options as the 2020 season began. Now he’ll have just one option heading into 2020. The club used one to send him to the minors this year, and will use a second next year. That is, unless he makes the roster and serves fewer than 20 days all year in the minors in 2019. Were that to happen, he would still have two options for 2019. But coming off a season when he struggled and was hurt a lot, he’ll need to reestablish some things on the farm next year, and the need for a second option seems almost certain. And he’d be down to one for the 2020 season.
The rebuilding Orioles can’t make similar questionable decisions with young talent.
The rebuilding Orioles have to hold onto their young talent for as a long as possible, and a key to that is simply not adding players to the major league roster before they have to be added.
If Hays had not gotten that cup of coffee at the end of his great 2017 season, the team could have brought him up at any point next year for his big league debut, and he would have begun 2020 with three options if he remained in the majors the rest of the season. Of course, the sooner you call up a player, the sooner he begins to accrue service time, but teams have ways to manage that to achieve the maximum time for team control.
As an aside, some young players get a fourth option. According to this update on the use of options, here is what can lead to a player getting a fourth option:
If a player misses an entire option year due to injury or expends his third option year before he has completed five professional seasons (Major Leagues and Minor Leagues included), he can receive a fourth option year.
So on the one hand, something to excite fans about a rebuild is getting to see more young players. On the other hand, a rebuilding team should not call up players before the season leading to their first eligibility in the Rule 5 draft. Why add someone too soon? Why start a free agent clock too early?
This is why Keegan Akin will not get added to the 40-man roster this December. Nor will Ryan Mountcastle, Ryan McKenna, Yusniel Díaz or Dean Kremer, to name a few on the O’s farm. The Orioles won’t need to add anyone in this group to the 40-man roster to keep them out of the Rule 5 draft until December 2019.
That could mean the team looks to keep them off the major league roster all of next year. Again, what is the rush for a rebuilding team anyway?
Even if lefty pitcher Zac Lowther, for instance, starts next year at Double-A Bowie and is the best pitcher in the league by June, calling him up at any point during 2019 starts the clock too soon. He doesn’t have to be on the 40-man until December 2020. Same with Michael Baumann, Cameron Bishop and Brenan Hanifee, to name just a few others.
So, yes, it will be exciting to see some of the young talent from the farm make it to Baltimore - it always is - but not before the calendar year when the player needs to be added to the 40-man. No reason to start the clock too soon. Even if it means that a fan base hungry for more young talent will have to wait to see it.