Reese Kaplan -- How to Manipulate Service Time


Some people have been stage whispering about the service time issue as it affects decisions when or if to promote top prospects.  Let’s take a brief look at the rules and how clubs use them to their own long term benefit (if to their short term detriment).

In 2015 the Chicago Cubs had uber-prospect Kris Bryant primed and ready to hit the majors.  Bryant was the Minor League Player of the Year and had hit 43 home runs, yet to the dismay of many of the Windy City faithful, they chose not to have him come north with the club when they left spring training.

“Don’t they ever want to win a pennant?”  “That’s a travesty!”  "How can you not want to put your best team on the field?"  (That has nothing to do with benching better options to play inferior ones a'la Terry Collins, but that's another topic for another day).  

It turns out there is a very clear and understandable reason for doing so.  It has to do with how major league service time is calculated.  When a player hits six full years of service time he is eligible for free agency.  Now, depending on which side of the fence you sit, that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  From the owner’s perspective, they put all the money into scouting and developing the player, consequently they want to retain control as long as possible.  From the player’s perspective, he has paid his dues and received at best arbitration level salary increases, but feels he now should be free to ply his services to the highest bidder.

MLB in its collective bargaining agreement defines a year of service time as 172 of the approximately 183 days of a major league season.  It’s a hard and fast limit.  Consequently if you hold a player back for the first two weeks of the season before promoting him into the majors, that player does not get credit for a full year of service time.  So instead of Kris Bryant becoming a free agent after the 2020 when he has played for all of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 season, holding him back give the Cubbies another year of control.  In this scenario by waiting two weeks to promote him he does not get credit for the full year of service time in 2015.  Since free agency occurs AFTER the season concludes, he must now play the 2021 season in its entirety in order to become eligible to make he and his agent very wealthy. 

This example would explain why those folks clamoring to see Amed Rosario promoted will have to wait at least another few days because then the Mets will have achieved the same thing that the Cubs did with Kris Bryant. 

A clear cut example of how to play the service time game occurred with Terry Collins inexplicable favorite (and current non-major leaguer) Ruben Tejada.  During 2013 after a first half hitting like, well, Ruben Tejada, the Mets sent him to the minors and promoted PED poster child Omar Quintanilla.  They then artificially kept him in AAA until September 10th after the PCL post season was underway so that when he got promoted back to the major league roster he would have accumulated 171 days of service time – exactly 1 game less than was necessary to get credit for a full year. To Tejada's credit, he filed a grievance against the Mets for the blatant manipulation of the service time clock (which, of course, partially accounts for why he's no longer on the team).  

A somewhat more complex example is Michael Conforto.  He has accumulated already one year of service time.  It becomes imperative to the Mets’ bean counters that he is suppressed in AAA for a few weeks this year lest he accumulate another full year of service time. 

An interesting one working against the Mets is Zack Wheeler who, according to the same collective bargaining agreement, continued to accrue service time while he was on the major league roster’s disabled list.  Even though he didn’t pitch for two full seasons, that time counts towards his impending free agency and he is actually eligible in 2020 despite having really only pitched in just over one full season up to this point in his career.


Thomas Brennan said...

Thanks for the useful info.

After last night, Rosario is hitting .362, Reyes is hitting .097. What on earth to do? Heavens to Betsy.

Let's say a switch after this weekend? Will it be the last few days of hapless Jose?

And with Conforto hitting twice what Grandy is, and the Mets hitting an awful .218, the bean counters have their hands tied. At least for now.

Mack Ade said...

I think the Mets are well aware of the Reyes-Rosario situation and are working overtime on their abacus to know the nano second they can make this move.

I assume the same will go with Dom Smith though I have no idea when his time table would be.

Of course the solution to all this is the Cubs way... have 1000 A+ prospects really to bust through at all times.

Thomas Brennan said...

I' d hate to see Smith before Super 2 in mid-June. I think he needs more ti me in the minors. 60 more games and he might be more ready bat-wise. We don't need another guy hitting .200. Panic is setting in. Will we have meaningful May baseball? Hitters must hit, or else.

Mack Ade said...

Tom -

I still say set your goals lower while you are wading through this swamp.

Reese Kaplan said...

The manager will take care of lowering expectations. He's conditioned us to accept the the least out of his players.

Robb said...

There are really two things at play, 6 full years and super 2. the mets have shown no indication that they are manipulating either. Syndergaard will be super 2. that 3 weeks he came up early could cost ownership 20mm down the road.

They dont seem to think rosario and dom smith are ready yet. Considering we are more then 12 days into the season they would keep the full 6 years regardless. I tend to agree with them at the moment. No one thought reyes was going to be this bad. But i dont think the plan is to bring rosario up, have him play a little and send him back. Also reyes is his idol, so that's sticky.

As for Smith, it really is going to depend on how long duda is going to be out or if cespedes is going to be out for an extended period of time. If both those guys are going to be out any more then 2 weeks they will probably bring him up so bruce can go back to playing outfield otherwise probably not.

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