The Cubs should not call up Brett Jackson

I’ve been reading a lot of things from fans the last few days about how silly it is that the organization may not call up Brett Jackson when rosters expand. I know we all want to see him play and it’s not like this team has anything to lose by playing him in terms of production, but they do have something to lose.

The 40-man roster isn’t an issue. The Cubs currently have 40 on their roster, but 2 of them are on the 60-day DL. Brian Schlitter will remain on it, but Andrew Cashner will soon come off the DL. They could also move another player on the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL like Marcos Mateo. Players on the 60-day DL do not count toward the 40-man roster. The Cubs could also clear space by releasing a couple of guys. 

What the Cubs stand to lose is service time. Once the player is added to the Major League roster, he begins accruing service time. After 6 years of service time he becomes a free agent. If the Cubs were to call Jackson up in a few days, he’d accrue about 30 days of service time. It’s not a lot, but since the Cubs aren’t in contention, don’t need Brett Jackson to accomplish any goal they may have it doesn’t make sense to add him to the roster. 

I know Cubs fans won’t like it, but I wouldn’t even add him to the 40-man roster this offseason or give him a chance to make the big league club out of spring training. The Cubs are unlikely to contend next year so saving as much service time as possible for a young player like Jackson makes a lot more sense than wasting some of that service time. 

If the Cubs wait until June of next year to call him up, they could not only buy that 7th year of service before being eligible for free agency (like they did with Starlin Castro), but they’d ensure he won’t be eligible for arbitration 4 times. The Cubs did not ensure that with Castro and he’s almost certainly going to be arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2011 season. Castro will then have 3 additional years of arbitration, which means he’ll be making more money. If the Cubs were to call Jackson up soon and then let him take over early next year, he’d be eligible for arbitration after the 2014 season and be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. If they wait until next June, he’s not be arbitration eligible until after 2015 and would not be eligible to file for free agency until after 2018. The Cubs buy themselves the extra year of service time and an extra year of league minimum salary.

This is exactly what intelligent organizations do. We’ve seen the Rays do it several times. We’ve seen the Red Sox do it. There’s a great reason to do so and it’s because it makes the player worth less money and buys the extra year of service time. 

Let’s say the Cubs call Jackson up and give him CF to start next year, which is what Cubs fans want. He’d make the prorated league minimum, which would be $69,000. We’re not sure what league minimum will be in the years to come as the CBA expires at the end of the season. It’s currently $414,000 so we can safely assume it will be higher than that. Let’s say $425,000 in 2012 and an increase of $10,000 each year thereafter. As a result, we get this pay schedule for Jackson if he’s called up this week and stays on the team after that.

2011: $69,000
2012: $425,000
2013: $435,000
2014: $445,000
2015: $2 million
2016: $4 million
2017: $8 million
Total: $15.4 million

If the Cubs instead wait until next June to call him up, the pay schedule would be as follows:

2012: $283,333
2013: $435,000
2014: $445,000
2015: $455,000
2016: $2 million
2017: $4 million
2018: $8 million
Total: $15.6 million

The Cubs pay $200,000 more, but if they were to retain Jackson beyond 2017, they’d pay him free agent value, which would be over $10 million*.

*All the values listed above are for illustrative purposes only. We have no idea how much Jackson is going to be making after arbitration or in free agency. However, the reasons for not calling him are quite obvious when looking at this information. Through 2017, the Cubs would pay $4 million less to Brett Jackson if they wait to call him up until June of next year. If we want the Cubs to stop throwing money away, this would be a great start.

It’s also not as if Jackson doesn’t have a thing or two to work on either. How much are these fans going to complain if the Cubs call Jackson up, as these fans want them to do, and then Jackson struggles? As great as Brett Jackson’s numbers appear to be at AAA, you have to keep in mind the league he’s playing in. We’re talking about a league (Pacific Coast League) where the average batter has an .810 OPS. Jackson’s is well above that, but he has struckout an awful lot. He has a strikeout percentage of 30.6% and his .420 wOBA in AAA is helped out by his .439 BABIP.

I’m not as concerned as some about the strikeout rate. Jackson is a guy who is going to strikeout a lot. There’s no way around that. He’s going to take his walks and hit for power and steal some bases, too. Still, it would be nice to see him lower the strikeout rate and see what he can do at AAA when his BABIP normalizes.  

For those clamoring for the Cubs to call up Trey McNutt, let’s get real. The guy has struggled at AA for much of the season. Maybe it’s due to some injuries. Maybe it’s not. All I know is that as soon as he hit AA last year, his strikeout rate dropped considerably. As a result, his performance has suffered. While he still has a lot of potential, he’s sure as hell isn’t a guy who has earned a callup. He’s a guy who clearly still has some work left to do in the minor leagues. The same can be said about Brett Jackson. 

I’m not going to be upset if they call either up. I won’t think either is necessarily a bad decision, but I don’t think they’d be good or intelligent decisions either.