Zack Wheeler And Travis d’Arnaud Are Players From Another Era

The readership of this site seems to skew toward a younger demographic. Every now and then, a history lesson is in order. Now is one of those times. There was a time when highly-touted rookies could make a team right out of Spring Training. Heck, there were a couple of notable players from the 1960s & ‘70s – Dave Winfield and Catfish Hunter — who became Hall-of-Famers despite never having played even a single minor league game! This was a time before free agency – that didn’t arrive until after the 1975 season. It was also a time before salary arbitration – not minted until 1973. From the late 1800s until 1973, the legendary “Reserve Clause” ruled. Veteran and rookie alike were subject to the whim of the owner, who could extend a contract yearly and unilaterally until the player proved no longer useful. There was no CBA – there was barely a players’ union in anything but name until the mid-‘50s. So when we hear about things like “arbitration clocks” and “service time issues” and “Super Twos,” it sounds like a different language to someone who’s studied a time when there was no amateur draft – inaugurated in 1965 – and researched the era of Bonus Babies.

The Bonus Baby rule was one of the more creative ways the Major League owners tried to rein themselves in. In the scramble for amateur talent in the wake of World War II, signing bonuses began to spiral ever higher. By 1946, the bigger teams – read the Yankees, Cardinals and Dodgers, primarily – were able to sign the most desirable amateur players and stash them in the bushes forever. When owners realized they were paying thousands to highly-hyped players who might never reach the Bigs, they instituted a slightly insane rule, where a youngster who received a signing bonus in excess of $4,000 (!!!!) had to take up a Major League roster place. Thus, from 1947 through 1956, teams were littered with teenagers and “men” in their early 20s who would have been better served toiling in some Class D League, honing their skills, rather than rusting on major league benches. This is one reason Sandy Koufax didn’t get good until his 6th major league season. Thank goodness logic prevailed after ten years – nanoseconds for MLB executives – and the idea was scrapped.

There has been a cry among Mets’ supporters to have Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud come North with the 2013 Mets. As has been noted elsewhere, this would be folly. While the show both are putting on in Port St. Lucie is highly entertaining and encouraging about the future, their value lies right there: the future. The Mets are in no kind of position to hamstring their finances any further, no matter how many Amway recruits line up outside Citi Field. Granting “Super Two” status to d’Arnaud and jackrabbiting Wheeler’s arbitration clock would do just that and make little difference to the fortunes of the 2013 squadron. And just ask Jenrry Mejia about making a major league team for other than baseball reasons. Discretion should rule the day here and Sandy Alderson has tons of that.

That being said, the average fan still drools over these two physically gifted players and dreams of them populating the Queens expanse sooner, rather than later. Yes, Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler would have been Bonus Babies.

Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.

4 comments for “Zack Wheeler And Travis d’Arnaud Are Players From Another Era

  1. NormE
    March 12, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Charlie, thanks for the trip down “bonus baby” memory lane. Growing up in NYC during that time I remember Walter Alston’s reluctance to use the wild-throwing, local hero, Koufax. Unfortunately, LA got to see Koufax as he matured into the dominant pitcher of his day.
    There were some other bonus baby successes as I recall. Weren’t Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline bonus babies? All three “K’s” are in the HOF.
    I believe the NY Giants signed Mike McCormick as a bonus baby, and he had a pretty good career. Can’t remember any other notable bonus babies.

    • March 13, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Yes, both Kaline and Killebrew were bonus babies. As were both Bob Millers from 1962 Mets fame.

  2. Name
    March 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    There’s almost no justification to bring them up north to start the season. Unless you forsee them falling off a cliff sometime before 2019, 3 weeks of these guys first taste will not be worth a whole year of them in their prime in 2019.

    However, one could justify bringing them up even though they would attain Super 2 status.

  3. Joe Vasile
    March 13, 2013 at 1:58 am

    I didn’t realize Winfield never played in the minors.

    Also, I completely agree with you about leaving them down until they’re ready. Not only for the extra year of control (like what they did with Ike in 2010) but also to make sure, in Wheeler’s case anyway, that he is ready to make the step up to the Majors. d’Arnaud certainly looks ready, but Wheeler only has 6 starts at AAA under his belt. He needs more time to get experience. I think he’ll be handled much like Harvey was last year and get the call sometime late in July.

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