As the Rays set their 40-man roster this week, some observers were surprised by the absence of Ronaldo Hernandez, a promising Colombian catcher who played last season in Bowling Green.
Most players who signed early in the 2014 International signing period were Rule 5 eligible this season, but Ronaldo Hernandez was not.
Baseball America recently offered an explanation of why, and caught the ire of CBS Sports’s R.J. Anderson, who could have surmised the labor consequences with a succinct “yuck,” but elaborated:
Guessing this will (unfortunately) become a trend sooner than later: https://t.co/dQ1BfTG7Xm— R.J. Anderson (@r_j_anderson) November 21, 2018
The article lays out how the Rays were able to stash Hernandez on a roster where games had concluded by signing the then-16 year old in August (instead of July), resulting in zero games played, thus delaying his prospect clock until the next calendar year.
On the one hand, this might seem to you like smart baseball decision making. A teenager will take some time to develop, and allowing him the greatest amount of time in the system could be to his benefit. On the other hand, a year less time on the 40-man roster is a year less time of 40-man pay.
The author, J.J. Cooper, and leading Rays reporter Neil Solondz, both weighed in:
Actually been going on a while. Luiz Gohara is another player whose signing was arranged this way. End of VSL (which ended a month before everyone else) makes it more difficult to do.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) November 21, 2018
That makes sense. Thank you. Hate seeing this kind of stuff. If a guy has beat the odds and blossomed into a legit prospect, you should be happy to put him on the 40-man. I know it's more complicated than that, but man things are so cynical sometimes.— R.J. Anderson (@r_j_anderson) November 21, 2018
I actually think in some weird way it may help a guy like Hernandez. Starting his options in 2019 would put him on a tight fit where he might run out of options before he is ready.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) November 21, 2018
Correct .... the one thing I'd like to see in MLB is to add an extra yr for players that sign overseas at 16 .... you're given the same amount of development time as an 18yo coming out of HS, yet you also have cultural and language barriers. One yr at least splits the difference— Neil Solondz (@neilsolondz) November 21, 2018
or another thought is give those players an extra option year, helps development and the player— Neil Solondz (@neilsolondz) November 21, 2018
I would argue having your qualify of life improve by being placed on the 40-man and getting a pay bump can also help you develop as a player. Then he could afford to eat better, train better, not be as concerned about his family, etc.— R.J. Anderson (@r_j_anderson) November 21, 2018
Also true— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) November 21, 2018
It’s possible that both of these perspectives could be true: that the Rays have done what’s best for themselves and the player’s development, and that the rules are not equitable across all prospect types, which is why these roster shenanigans (if you’re inclined to call them that) occur.
The fact that college guys signed as 23 year olds have to be protected after 4 years (age 27 season) while Latin Americans signed as 16 years old have to be protected after 5 years (age 21 season) has never made any sense to me. https://t.co/1txn5rEkMc— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) November 21, 2018
These inequities in the system allowed Tampa Bay to play with his roster status, with the result of Hernandez needing to wait one more season before he must be named to the 40-man roster (a near lock for the highly rated catching prospect).
Hernandez isn’t ready for The Show, and isn’t close this off-season. It’s hard to call the Rays decision back in 2014 anything other than smart baseball, regardless of preconceived notions about how the Rays operate as a small market team.
And yet, we have a minor league labor consequence, and a possible trend.
This is a symptom of a broken system, not a broken team. I hope cases like Hernandez’s and Gohara’s result in some changes, as Cooper and Solondz suggest, but in the mean time I can’t call foul on this one.
Hernandez needed time to develop. All of these youngest players need time to develop, and the market is not equitable when it comes to their 40-man rostering. The Rays lost a catching prospect previously to the Rule 5 draft who was in a similar situation, possibly stunting Oscar Hernandez’s development, and perhaps that also offers a lesson to learn.
Fair or unfair to the player’s pocketbook in 2019, the Rays made the best decision for the organization and likely the better decision for the prospect’s development.
The Rays will not lose Ronaldo Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft, and his development will continue as scheduled — and if Oscar’s case is any warning, Ronaldo will see more major league time (and salary) in the long run because of it.
Previously from DRaysBay: MLB just got 5.1 Billion reasons to pay Minor Leaguers a higher wage
For more on Hernandez, here’s some recent video from the Arizona Fall League: