MIAMI - Trea Turner’s red-hot start to the season has ignited one of the biggest hot-button topics facing the Nationals early in 2016: When will the organization promote the young infielder to the majors?
The answer to that question, though, is more complicated than it might appear at first glance. And it involves matters beyond his actual playing performance at Triple-A Syracuse.
Turner was named Monday as the International League’s first Player of the Week after hitting .433 with a homer, five RBIs, two stolen bases and a .525 on-base percentage. He has cooled off a bit in the last two days, going 0 for his last 10 with four strikeouts, but he still sports a .368 batting average, .467 on-base percentage and .993 OPS through his first 10 games of the season.
At the same time, Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa enters tonight’s game against the Marlins with a .176 batting average, .310 on-base percentage and .515 OPS.
The odds of Turner replacing Espinosa in the big league lineup soon, though, appear to be slim. That’s because of the issue of service time and how it will affect Turner’s long-term status and salary in Washington.
Teams often wait to promote their top prospects to the majors until late April to ensure they get seven seasons of control before the player is eligible for free agency. (That was part of the reason Bryce Harper didn’t make his debut in 2012 until April 28.)
Teams also sometimes wait to promote players until early June to ensure they don’t qualify for arbitration after fewer than three big league seasons (i.e. “Super-2” status). (That was the primary reason Stephen Strasburg didn’t make his debut in 2010 until June 8.)
In Turner’s case, though, those artificial deadlines for promotion have to be pushed back an extra month-and-a-half. That’s because he already spent 45 days in the big leagues at the end of last season, days that count against his service-time clock.
What it all means: If the Nationals want to ensure they control Turner’s rights through 2022 instead of 2021, they can’t call him up until roughly June 1. And if, on top of that, they want to ensure he doesn’t become eligible for arbitration until 2020 instead of 2019, they can’t call him up until roughly mid July.
Beyond those contractual factors, there are actual baseball reasons for the Nationals delaying Turner’s debut. Though the 22-year-old’s offensive game appears to be big league ready, the organization still wants him to make some strides in the field, where he doesn’t come close to matching Espinosa.
Turner has been charged with two errors so far in nine games at shortstop with Syracuse and last year committed 21 errors in 111 games at shortstop with three different minor league clubs.