What happens with Trea Turner? (deal is done)

Most of baseball thinks Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo made another lopsided deal Wednesday, when he agreed to send outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to the Rays, Washington’s contribution to a three-team, 11-player blockbuster that shipped 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Meyers from Tampa Bay to the Padres.

While I’m happy to recap the swap, you might want to go grab a snack and a soda. It’ll take a couple of minutes to process everything. A flow chart may work well, too.

OK, ready? Let’s go.

Meyers went from the Rays to the Padres, along with catcher Ryan Hanigan and pitching prospects Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo. The Rays acquired Souza and minor league left-hander Travis Ott from the Nationals, and catcher Rene Rivera, minor league first baseman Jake Bauers and pitching prospect Burch Smith from the Padres. The Nationals get two players, minor league right-hander Joe Ross (the younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross) and a player to be named.

So there you have it.

What? You heard that the Nats also got a hotshot young shortstop, a guy with blazing speed who could be the heir apparent to Ian Desmond?

Well, yes and no.

TreaTurnerRunsNCStSidebar.jpgThe player in question reportedly is Trea Turner, a 21-year-old who was the Padres’ first-round pick in June’s First-Year Player Draft out of North Carolina State, 13th overall. He’s toolsy, though his bat hasn’t yet caught up to his fleet feet. Still, between low Single-A Eugene and Single-A Fort Wayne last summer, Turner slashed .323/.406/.448 with five homers, 24 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in 27 attempts. It was his first pro season - well, a portion of a season - and Turner performed about how you’d expect a first-round pick eager to make an impression and perform.

But officially, he’s not a National. And he won’t be a National when the deal is made official with the league office. In fact, he won’t be a National until June 13, thanks to a Major League Baseball rule that is so behind the times that this trade may finally be the impetus to change it.

That’s the one-year anniversary of the day Turner signed his above-slot $2.9 million contract with the Padres. Under the existing codification, teams can’t trade their picks from one year’s draft until 365 days after that pick signs his first contract. Think of it as one of those quirky little subplots in the national pastime. (Known as the Pete Incaviglia Rule, this was enacted in 1985 when the Expos took the slugging outfielder from Oklahoma State with the eighth overall pick in the draft, had trouble signing him because he balked at playing in the minors and shipped him to the Rangers, who immediately placed him on their major league roster. So there is a pre-Nationals twist to these shenanigans.)

So until June 13, Turner remains property of the Padres. On South Capitol Street, the name of he who will not be mentioned by his given name, will get a wink and a nod, because surely Rizzo got in writing the fact that he was included in the agreed-upon deal that kept me briefly from a nice plate of shrimp fra diavalo.

Talk about limbo.

No worries, you say? Turner will soon enough trade his interlocking S and D for a curly W? OK, we agree on that. He’ll be a National, even if it take half a year for this to happen.

But what becomes of Turner in the meantime? He’s a man without a country, so to speak. He’s property of the Padres, but it’s a good bet the Nationals will be making some off-the-books demands about what he will be doing once pesky little trivialities like spring training and the 2015 minor league season commence.

trea-turner-usa-sidebar.jpgFor instance, do you want Turner going through a full spring training - fielding drills, hitting, running, etc. - for another team? What if he gets hurt? How is he used in Cactus League games, if at all? Geography also plays a role here, since the Nats train in Florida and the Padres work out in Arizona. Do the Nats assign someone to keep a watchful eye on their property in Peoria, Ariz.? (If so, take sunscreen. Trust me, it’s hot and its a dry heat, but the sun still fries the unsuspecting. So be prepared.)

What about when games begin? Regardless of what farm team or organizational level Turner would be assigned to, I’m sure the Nationals don’t want him risking injury. Let’s say the Nats request that he not play in games. Do you send him to extended spring training to work out and stay in shape, knowing that it could slow his development? For young players, especially those on the fast track to the majors, it’s all about the reps. Game reps are different than practice reps, and game reps are far more important (except, of course, unless you’re injured and not able to play in games, but that’s not really the point here).

It’s hard to fathom a scenario where the Padres would let Nationals personnel closely monitor Turner’s progress as a member of their organization. And what happens if Turner does get hurt? Whether it’s a major or minor problem, whose doctors treat him? Do they tag team a diagnosis or treatment plan? What happens if they can’t agree?

This can of worms could easily be avoided if Major League Baseball simply changes a bad rule that works against common sense. If the Nationals, Rays and Padres can come to an agreement that Turner should be a part of the deal, then he should be the property of the club that acquires him. Simple as that.

Yes, the player to be named has a place in the game (look up the curious case of 1970s catcher George Mitterwald, who was the player to be named in his own deal - yes, he was essentially traded for himself). Without the PTBN, deals couldn’t get done after the nonwaiver trade deadline because players who can’t pass through waivers would have no value and teams couldn’t delay the completion of a deal until after the waiver period expires on Nov. 10. Yes, that’s why there’s a flurry of activity in mid-November. Call it a little major league housekeeping.

But there’s more cleanup needed here. Like when one team acquires a player from another team and then puts that player in the untenable situation of being owned for another six months by the club that has just shown him the door. It’s not fair to either organization. More importantly, it’s not fair to the player or his development.

Update: The Nationals announced at 12:15 p.m. today their portion of the deal. They sent Souza and Ott to the Padres for Ross and a player to be named. Souza and Ott were then spun off to the Rays.

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