Nathan Deen: Tebow promotion has more to do with strategy than marketing

In this April 6, 2017, photo, Columbia Fireflies’ Tim Tebow watches his home run in his first at bat on the opening day during a Class A minor league baseball game against the Augusta GreenJackets in Columbia, S.C. (Associated Press)

The NFL scouts were proven to be right about Tim Tebow.

 

It’s not that NFL teams didn’t want Tebow, it’s that Tebow wanted to play quarterback. They told him he didn’t have the mechanics for it. Tebow insisted. They insisted back.

Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a miraculous playoff victory. Didn’t change anything except fattening the NFL’s pockets with jersey sales. He was never going to be a franchise quarterback, they told him.

Then he went to the New York Jets, and he eventually fizzled out of the NFL, landing as an analyst for the SEC Network before starting his new venture in professional baseball. The idea of Tebow playing in the majors seemed even more far-fetched than him starting on Sundays.

Then on April 7 in his debut with the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies – the former Savannah Sand Gnats –Tebow had another Demaryius Thomas moment and jacked one out of the recently built Spirit Communications Park. It may have been an even more improbable feat. Tebow hadn’t played baseball since he was in high school.

Now the question is, how similar will his baseball career be to his football career? Are the New York Mets, who signed Tebow to a minor league contract with a $100,000 signing bonus, just using him to make a little extra money for their minor league affiliates?

That would make sense on the surface, right? Because the only way Tebow ever sees a pitch in the majors is if the Mets are well out of contention. Double-A Binghamton, New York is probably the closest he’ll get to Citi Field.

But why would the Mets ever even promote him from Low-A Columbia to High-A St. Lucie, like they did last week? Marketing would appear to be the only explanation after Tebow finished with a .220 batting average and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .648.

Contrary to what so many have said and written in the past few days, this isn’t the case. All the ticket sales at stadiums that can’t accommodate more than 6,000 people and all the jersey sales in minor league towns don’t really amount to a hill of beans within New York’s operating budget. The idea of the Mets using Tebow as a cash grab is like Dr. Evil of the “Austin Powers” movies ransoming the U.S. government for $1 million. It’s not worth it.

“They’re just not selling enough in St. Lucie,” said Jason Freier, chairman and chief executive officer of Hardball Capital, the company that owned the Savannah Sand Gnats and now owns the Fireflies.

“I think they’re doing what makes the most sense for this particular player. It’s an irrelevant amount of money for a business that size.”

The St. Lucie Mets are the only minor league affiliate directly owned by the Mets, which meant the second-year Fireflies kept all the revenue Tebow brought them through ticket and merchandise sales, which wasn’t as much as you might think, Freier said.

“It was a nice bonus,” he said. “I’m sure it got us some extra tickets, but we were well up on our ticket sales before we even knew we were going to have Tebow.”

The simple answer for the Mets promoting Tebow is that he’s 29 years old and is a month away from turning 30. Most of his teammates are in their early 20s, which means Tebow has to adjust and work through the ranks quicker if he wants to have a meaningful career in the majors. MLB teams normally put their prospects on four-year plans – one year for every level in the minors. Tebow is trying to do that in half the time.

“If he wasn’t a great athlete, he wouldn’t have been signed to begin with,” Freier said. “If you left him in Single-A at 29 for a year, what’s the growth curve? He’d be 30 and headed to High-A next year.

“What’s the point? You’re not going to have much of a career. If he’s going to have a shot, you can treat a guy who’s 29 like he’s 19. If he doesn’t have four years’ worth of improvement in two years, he’s not going to make it.”

Some have argued that Tebow’s numbers indicate he doesn’t deserve a promotion and he’s taking away a position from someone who does. The Mets would never let that happen. If there is someone who’s on an obvious path to the majors, the Mets will make sure he gets there. Tebow is taking the spot of someone who, like him, probably isn’t going to make it anyway.

“The most he can ever take up at a time is one roster spot,” Freier said. “The Mets might have about 175 active minor league slots. The major league team knows, the minor league team knows and the player knows in his heart that his chances of making the MLB are slim to none. There are those kinds of players on every roster. These spots are not that rare.”

What is rare is an athlete like Tebow. His chances are as slim as anyone’s, but he never ceases to amaze us, and he’s always determined to prove us wrong.

Nathan Deen is a sports reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at 912-652-0353 or nathan.deen@savannahnow.com. Follow him on Twitter @NathanDeenSMN.

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