THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 17, 2007
Some things you should understand about the signing of Julio Borbon to a major league contract:
1. According to Major League Rule 11(c), a player who goes into a season having exhausted three options in less than five pro seasons gets a fourth option. Generally speaking, then, any player who signs a big league contract right out of school or Latin America (Mark Teixeira, Mark Prior, Josh Beckett, Wily Mo Pena) will have four options. Borbon fits that category.
2. Chances are Borbon won’t use up his first option in 2007. Even though he’s on the 40-man roster and his assignment to Spokane constitutes an optional assignment, there are two rules that I believe would give the Rangers the ability to avoid an option. First, if a player is sent down to the minor leagues but recalled before 20 days expire, the club doesn’t exhaust an option.
A couple examples: Texas purchased the contracts of righthanders Juan Dominguez (in August 2003) and Scott Feldman (in August 2005) when neither was previously on the 40-man roster. Both were then sent back to the farm later in the month but then recalled before 20 days had elapsed (and not returned thereafter during the season in question). Since their optional assignments lasted fewer than 20 days, no option was exhausted.
Spokane’s season ends on September 5 (though the division-leading Indians are heading toward a playoff berth). If the Borbon assignment was effective yesterday, he will be on the roster for a possible 20 regular-season days. When Dominguez was recalled in September 2003, he was pitching for a Frisco club that was in the midst of a playoff run. So don’t be surprised if Borbon is recalled in the first few days of September, even if he’s helping Spokane in its drive for the post-season.
There is a provision that allows a team to procedurally recall a player with instructions not to actually report. I’m not sure if this has ramifications as far as big league service is concerned.
3. The second mechanism that might come into play in terms of keeping the Rangers from burning an option on Borbon is also found in Rule 11(c), but I’m not actually sure whether it would apply in this case. The provision dictates that a player who is active for fewer than 90 days in a minor league season doesn’t actually accrue a season of service, which effectively wipes away any option that was used on him. Plus, I believe that a season spent solely in a short-season league doesn’t count as a year of service for purposes of that provision anyway, in which case Borbon’s time in Spokane would not trigger an option.
Also, by the way, a player on optional assignment to the minor leagues who is active for fewer than 90 days by virtue of an injury is not officially optioned. Lefthander John Rheinecker was active for fewer than 90 days in 2005 due to a finger injury, and so the option Oakland used on him that year didn’t count, and as a result he had one final option this year. Similarly, righthander Rob Bell missed most of the 1999 season due to injury while still in the Cincinnati system, which gave Texas an option to use on him in 2002.
4. If no 2007 option is used on Borbon, which is the likely outcome, he will therefore have options in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, and will need to be in the big leagues for good in 2012. Shouldn’t be prohibitive. Borbon will turn 26 during spring training 2012.
Stated another way: giving a big league contract to a 21-year-old college position player is dramatically different from giving a big league contract to an 18-year-old high school pitcher. If Borbon still needs farm time when he’s 26, he won’t be worth protecting any longer anyway.
5. One way in which giving a big league contract to any draftee impacts the organization is that it instantly turns the 40-man roster into a 39-man roster, essentially. There are usually a couple roster spots necessarily devoted to players who can’t reasonably be expected to help the big club that season (Armando Galarraga, for example), but in Borbon’s case there’s almost no scenario under which he can be envisioned to help for a couple years, and his occupancy on the roster conceivably exposes a prospect to the Rule 5 draft the next couple winters who would otherwise be protected. It shouldn’t be a factor this winter, relatively speaking, but there’s a deeper list of new roster candidates following the 2008 season.
6. The Borbon contract and requisite placement on the 40-man roster have no impact on his arbitration or free agency timetables. Those are based on accrued service time in the big leagues.
7. The Rangers and Borbon agreed to terms right up against Wednesday’s deadline and as a result didn’t go through the process of a physical exam. Teams can generally void deals with draft picks based on a failed physical, but that’s not allowed with a major league deal like Borbon got. Texas is confident, however, that there are no residual issues with the left ankle fracture he sustained in January, costing him two months before he got his junior season underway.
I’m on record saying that a plus defender in center field who can contribute something offensively is right at the top of my wish list for this winter. I’m also on record saying that I have my doubts as to whether Borbon projects to fit that description himself down the road. (June 2: “Not so crazy about the idea of Tennessee center fielder Julio Borbon, who has had issues at the plate this year, hasn’t worked enough deep counts for a leadoff prospect, and doesn’t throw well. Don’t mind taking a shot on someone like that, but I’d rather see 17 and 24 devoted elsewhere. Borbon probably isn’t around at pick 35, but if he is, then sure, take a chance there.”)
Having taken that chance at pick 35, the thing I like most about Texas getting a deal done with Borbon is that it might serve as one more exhibit supporting the case against devoting at least five years and maybe $15 million annually to 32-year-old center fielder Torii Hunter. I’d be a lot happier with a shorter term and fewer dollars given to 29-year-old Aaron Rowand, or even a contract for 34-year-old Mike Cameron, who would command only two or three years. Use the money saved in center field and instead earmark it for a better long-term offensive solution than Hunter elsewhere in the lineup, and for rotation help.
And then we can see whether Brandon Boggs has forced his way into the picture. Maybe Engel Beltre will be knocking on the door himself.
And within a couple years Borbon will be in the mix, unless he plays his way out of contention, as his options clock will start ticking this coming spring.