The REAL reason you haven't seen Ryan Braun yet

It isn't what Ned Yost says, or Doug Melvin says, or Gord Ash says.

Ryan Braun is NOT still in the minors for any of the following reasons:
a.) He occasionally airmails a throw to first.
b.) The organization thinks there's a chance that he'll fall on his face.
c.) He needs more "seasoning".
b.) Tony Graffanino and Craig Counsell are experts in Manager Hypnosis.

Here's the real reason why Ryan Braun is still in the minors (and why you WILL see him in the bigs in approximately three to four weeks):

The short answer is that it will save the Brewers franchise millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars.

But it's gonna take me a while to explain.

Let me start with the financial story of Miguel Cabrera, and how the Marlins shrewdly delayed his surefire path to becoming a millionaire.

At the start of the 2003 season, just shy of his 20th birthday, it was already obvious that Miguel Cabrera was one of the best of prospects in baseball. You might say that his outstanding minor league numbers were forcing the issue for the Marlins, as MCab was establishing himself as a potential future star. But he didn't open the season with the big club, and he didn't get called in up in May. Didn't get called up in early June, either.

He got called up in mid-June, spent the rest of the season with the big club, posted an incredibly-robust-for-a-20-year-old .793 OPS, hit 12 homers in 87 games, and helped the Marlins to the World Series title.

But also incredibly important to the Marlins' future bottom line was something in the fine print: Cabrera accumulated 101 service days in the big leagues in '03.

Had he spent just 20-30 days more in the big leagues in '03, Cabrera would've hit arbitration one full year sooner. But more on that later.

Of course over the next two years Cabrera spent full seasons at the big league level and established himself one of the best young hitters in the game.

Thus, after the end of the 2005 season, Cabrera had accumulated 2.101 years of major league service time.

(A quick, math-filled two paragraphs about how service time is calculated):

The numbers after the decimal don't indicate percentages of a year; rather, they represent actual days. For example, Milton Bradley entered this season with 5.169 days of major league service time - five full years, and 169 additional days. In other words, just three days shy of the requisite six years to becoming a free agent. Those three days are why he won't be a free agent until after '07, instead of after '06.

There are around 183 ACTUAL days in the major league season. But for the purposes of contracts, there are 172 COUNTING days in a full season. If a player spends a full season in the majors, he gets credited with a full year - 172 days. If a player  was brought up during the second week of the season, he could still possibly spend 172 days with the team and get his full season of credit. So, if a player spends part of two seasons in the majors - say, 90 days the first year, and 100 days in year 2 - he's got 1.018 years of service time.

Now, back to Cabrera.

Here's where it gets a little complicated:

Once a player has three years of service time, he qualifies for arbitration. But arbitration is also extended to players with ALMOST three years of service time - those players in the top 17% of service time amongst players between 2 and 3 years.
These are players are known as "Super 2" arbitration cases.

(This rule is intended to prevent teams from BLATANTLY doing what the Brewers are doing subtly with Braun, and the Giants are doing with Tim Lincecum - basically squeezing an extra year of cost control out of a player by keeping him just days shy reaching arbitration one year sooner).

So, guys with 2.160-2.171 years of service time (remember, that's 2 years and 160-171 days) are guaranteed to be Super Twos and hit arbitration after that season.  Historically, the low end of the top 17% cutoff for Super Two status is 2.123, and the high end is 2.140.

Therefore, for a team to be safe, it won't call up  a super prospect until June 1 - when sixty service time days are already in the books. That way, the prospect will hit arbitration after almost four years, instead of after almost three.

Now, why does this only happen with super-stud, sure-fire MLB successes, like Cabrera, Braun, and Lincecum?  

Because with a mediocre prospect, he'll surely bounce back and forth between the big club and AAA a few times. There's plenty of time to juggle his arbitration "clock" as the team so desires. (Contrary to popular belief, service-time doesn't run indefinitely after the first call-up - if the Royals sent Alex Gordon back down, he would stop accumulating MLB service time until he was recalled).  But with Braun, or a Cabrera-type talent, it's very likely that he'll hit well enough right away and make it politically impossible (and, of course, detrimental to the team), to send him back down. You can't just send a healthy .850-.900 OPS guy back down to the minors.

Now, finally, to the financial aspect of this:

*Miguel Cabrera made the prorated major league minimum once he was promoted to the big leagues in  2003.
In 2004, he made 320K.
In 2005, he made 370K.

Now, keep in mind, if he spent just one more month at the big league level in '03, he'd a Super Two arbitration case at this point. Instead, he was still under complete club control.

Therefore, in 2006, he made 472K.

Now, how much is Miguel Cabrera making this year, after finally reaching arbitration, with 3.101 years of service time?

$7.4 million!

And since two of the factors in arbitration case awards are previous salary and service time, almost every player gets a raise in each year of arbitration. Cabrera is guaranteed to make more next year - perhaps 10 million, maybe more.

So because the Marlins were very financially savvy with their calculated promotion of Miguel Cabrera, their six years of cost control will look like this:

  1. 320K
  2. 370K
  3. 472K
  4. 7.4 million
  5. 10 million (a guess)
  6. 13 million (a harder-to-predict guess)
If they had promoted him ONE MONTH earlier in '03, that looks instead like these (these are educated guesses now; exact figures for this hypothetical would be impossible):
  1. 320K
  2. 370K
  3. 5 million (Super Two arby-eligible, and coming off a great year)
  4. 9 million (A greater reward, after factoring in his new higher salary in '06)
  5. 11 million (Same as above)
  6. 14 million (Same as above)
That's a cost savings of $8 MILLION for the Marlins in the first example vs. the second. Again, these are just hypothetical figures. But they are educated guesses, and they do correlate with the obvious ballooning in salary when a player, especially an outstanding one such as Cabrera (and Braun?) hits arbitration, especially considering the league's economic boom and ensuing inflation - which trickles down to arby awards as well.

Eight million dollars, or any amount near it, is no small amount of money to a financially-conscious team like the Brewers. For my money, I think Doug Melvin is factoring these variables in when he weighs whether to bring Ryan Braun up from the minors.

Braun's numbers in the first month of the AAA season (most notably, 8 homers and only 9 strikouts) suggest that he is the best hitting prospect in minor league baseball, especially now that 21-year-old Billy Butler of the Royals has been promoted. Braun is the one minor league prospect that I would virtually guarantee will post several .900 OPS seasons in the majors.

But when he made four errors in spring training, it gave the team the excuse they needed to send him down to the minors to open the season - even though he was hitting the cover off the ball, and striking out at an incredibly low rate for a power hitter.

"This will give him an opportunity to gain seasoning, and to work on his defense," the team said at the time.

Kudos to Doug Melvin for knowing better, even if he didn't say it publicly.