If the Rays promoted Jennings today, there is a good chance he would be eligible for arbitration following the 2013 season. If the Rays wait until at least July 4*, he will not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season.
On the surface, this seems to make sound financial sense. By waiting, the Rays can potentially save $2-3 million on the 2014 payroll. Without arbitration or a contract extension, Jennings would likely make close to the league minimum ($414,000). If he were elgibile for arbitration, his salary could potentially be similar to what BJ Upton made in his first arbitration season ($3 million).
But here is why the move seems silly…
The Rays have shown they are willing to add payroll in July if they think a player will help them down the stretch. In 2009, the Rays nearly acquired Jason Bay who still had about $2 million remaining on his contract.
So if the Rays are willing to add $2 million in today’s dollars for one month of service, why wouldn’t they be willing to add $2-3 million in 2014 dollars for four months of Desmond Jennings now?
And let’s face it. No matter how much the fans love Sam Fuld, Jennings is a better player and will help the Rays win more games, right now. How many more? Maybe only one or two. But in a division where one or two games can mean the difference between October baseball or October golf, $2-3 million, three years from now, seems like a small price to pay.
*If Jennings is promoted on July 4 and does not return to the minors, he would have 2 years, 120 days service time at the end of the 2013 season. Super-2 arbitration status varies from year-to-year (it is a percentage of players that have between two and three years of service). In 2010 the cutoff was 2 years, 122 days. This year, it is expected to be 2 years 146 days. Historically, most years fall within this range. So if the Rays limit Jennings to 2 years, 120 days, it is a good bet he will avoid Super-2 status.