Twins Daily Roundtable: Shifting Service Time
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsJohn Bonnes
I like linking free agency to service time as a professional player instead of service time as a major league player. I'm cautious because it could conceivably be a radical change, encouraging teams to move players through the minors at a rushed pace, but that might be a positive development. Both sides could embrace that change because it will result in players making it to the majors more quickly (and thus getting paid more) but teams could get more years of control at the major league level. I would think there would be three areas to negotiate:
- Different tenures of service time based on how a player signs, so 16-year-old international prospects have a higher threshold than amateur draftees, which are higher than college draftees. Something like 12 years/10 years/8 years. This is important for teams.
- An escalating level of compensation once a player is in the majors that leaves them close to their actual free agent value by the end of their service time, similar to arbitration, but with required changes. This is important for players.
- Perhaps modifying the service time based on the quality of the player? So exceptional players can make it to free agency a year earlier? I'm not as sure about this aspect, but I expect this would be important for agents.
Yes, the player's union needs to find a way to counteract the adjustment modern front offices have made. Teams know that even the very best players are rarely wise investments once they've surpassed 30. Accordingly, they've stopped throwing out big, long-term contracts to most free agents. At the same time, the system has been set up to suppress the earning potential of younger players and front offices are getting, let's say more creative, in the ways they're finding to delay a player reaching arbitration/free agency.
Basically, the owners are winning on both ends of a player's career.
Maybe the solution is something as simple as dramatically increasing the league minimum, which was $545,000 this season, or maybe they can find a way for players to reach arbitration/free agency earlier by updating the service time rules. The big issue in the short term seems to be that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which just went into effect last season, is in effect through 2021. With that being the case, it's difficult to see the owners to have any urgency to concede anything, unless there's (gulp) a strike.
Absolutely it's time for the rules to be revisited. The problem is that there isn't a great solution. Do you change it from six years of service time to something like six seasons of control after a player's debut? Or five seasons? Can it be only based on a player's age? Or some other counting stat? It's going to be difficult to find a way that a club can't continue to manipulate... but it definitely has to happen.
Service time rules will change as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. There was one simple solution I saw during the entire Buxton-saga. After a team drafts a player, they get:
- High school player= 10 years of team control, 6 years of arbitration
- College player= 8 years of team control, 6 years of arbitration
Injuries also present an interesting predicament. If a player misses an entire year because of Tommy John surgery, what would be the options for a team? Could teams get something like a “red-shirt” year where they get an extra year of control because of a season-long injury?
Changes are coming but the owners aren’t going to give up too much team control.
I definitely think it will be a big part of the discussion on the next CBA. There are always going to be problems (including plenty that could be pointed out with my thoughts below), but there are a couple things I dislike about what is done now:
1. Time on the disabled list counts toward service time.
2. A year of service equates to a full-calendar MLB season.
There aren’t many players who play all 162 games in a season, but to get a full year a player is required to be active the entire time. I would look to have only active MLB roster days count, and a full year of service be a number like 120 days.
A pitcher needing Tommy John surgery may have only pitched 2 games but earns a full year of service, while another guy who plays 130 games in the field doesn’t. The math is off to me. I don’t like to penalize injuries to a player, but that’s another wrinkle for the player’s union to tackle.
This way, teams have a much harder decision to make about keeping players in the minors to “gain” an extra year. Instead of a couple weeks and still getting a guy like Kris Bryant into 151 games during the season (how was that NOT a “full season”?!), it’s a couple of months and maybe 100 games. Something that can really affect a team’s aspirations for the season if that player could be a big part of it.
Most of all, I will never understand a rule that keeps potential superstar players, and other deserving ones, off an opening day roster. That is what is beyond stupid to me with the current rules.
When looking at the current CBA, how it’s interpreted, and how it’s exploited, I think it’s absolutely fair to question the validity of the current situation. In the case of Byron Buxton, Minnesota is well within their means, but it’s a situation that looks unethical and reflects poorly on the team.
When comparing millionaire players and billionaire owners, fans should always side with the product on the field. At the end of the day, there needs to be a better representation when it comes to the Player’s Association and the ideals that are fought over. Common ground can be found here, but there’s opportunity for it to land in more of a middle ground than it currently does.
Does it need to be changed? Probably.
Am I smart enough to know what the best system would be? Nope.
Will teams try to find the loopholes and ways around whatever a new system might be? Absolutely.
I have to imagine that service time is a part of virtually every CBA negotiation and I’m sure that will be the case on the next one, too.
I don’t think anyone should expect major adjustments to the current system, though. There almost has to be a line drawn somewhere and wherever it’s drawn, owners are going to do what they can to preserve as much control over a talented player’s salary as possible.
Any change that works more to the union/player advantage will come with a cost, of course. The players’ side will need to give up something and I’m not sure this issue has affected enough players to a significant degree that the other 98% of the union membership will be willing to give much to get better terms.
I do think the next CBA negotiation is going to be far more challenging than the past couple have been. Draft slotting, international pay limits and almost every issue affecting payroll have all been tilted heavily toward ownership lately and I sense that players are going to negotiate much harder on any number of issues.
I could see the owners giving a bit on service time in order to avoid get what they want in other areas of greater priority.
If you missed any of the most recent roundtable discussions, here are the links:
The Looming Mauer Decision
Grading the Front Office
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