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FanGraphs Top 100 Prospects

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Twins Daily Roundtable: Shifting Service Time

Twins Daily Roundtable is a weekly series. As part of this series, a question will be posed to the site’s writers and they will respond in 200 words or less (Some writers don’t like to stick to this limit). This will give readers an opportunity to see multiple points of view and then add their own point of view in the comments section.

There has been plenty of discussion in Twins Territory about Minnesota’s decision to not call-up Byron Buxton for the end of September. In doing so, the Twins are going to gain an extra year of team control. Some feel this is unfair to the player. Some feel it is the team utilizing the rules to their advantage.

This week’s question is: “Do MLB and the Player’s Union need to revisit the service time rules as part of the next collective bargaining agreement? Why or why not?”
Image courtesy of Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
John 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.
Tom Froemming
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.

Jeremy Nygaard
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.

Cody Christie
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
Even if a player hasn’t made the MLB level, he would still qualify for arbitration. Some hiccups in this rule would come from international signees. Would teams get 12 years of team control with the final six years being part of the arbitration process?

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.

Steve Lein
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.

Ted Schwerzler
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.

Seth Stohs
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.

SD Buhr

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
Grading Molitor
Closing Time
Prospect Promotions

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My solution which will not be popular with anyone is to start the six year clock after two years of service to the team - minor league and major league.I do not care how old they were when they signed - do they have different rules for high schoolers going in to the NBA?Sign them, develop them, get them in MLB as quick as possible.There will be other adjustments and I do not want to spend pages talking about career minor leaguers (although they would benefit from this) of slow developing players - contracts can adjust for this.But right now it is a joke and our FO is the one that spoke up and pulled the cover off the travesty.

Team control based on age when the player signs, with the goal that players will be free agents at age 28. Replace the last 4 years of arbitration with restricted free agency (like in football) giving the controlling team the right to match the contract.
Sep 13 2018 08:05 PM

Simple solution: Bring back the Reserve clause.


Wishful thinking on my part. I'd be a bigger fan of free agency if my team ever used it to their advantage.

Why are baseball and professional sports unions different than most other unions.If you have a carpenter crew, they all get paid the same unless you are an apprentice.So a player's first year is at a fixed rate as a rookie/apprentice.After that, the league takes 50% of the revenue and divides by the number of players.Everybody gets paid the same.Build in some type of bonuses for doing X, Y and Z.Maybe the bonuses can double or even triple your annual return.  
That's how the trade unions do it, or at least did back when I was building things.Why not baseball?

Another reason is that trade unions negotiate such that each member makes the same (or similar amount. I'm probably wrong, but maybe the WNBA, the XFL, and the CFL have collective bargaining agreements with less dispersion in salaries.

I'm sure that if the MLBPA decided to go that route-- where each and every player received (and I'm making these numbers up) $10,000,000 / 162 (or $62 -$63 K) per game, something could be worked out. But, I'm not sure how that would go over. And the allocation of players would be tricky.

My point is simple-- its not just the employer that determines the salary structure, but the employees as well.
By the way, there will not be a labor stoppage because the Montreal Expos won't be leading the NL East. As any Quebecois(e) will tell you, the last two labor stoppages corresponded with the only two years the Expos were leading their division.

The pain of the current system also means you have to make decisions on players...take Trevor Plouffe, for example. Not worth his arbitration salary, yet the Twins might've kept him if they could've signed him for what Oakland signed him for. So in that way, the system works against both the team AND the player.


You can argue how much time a team should have control of a player before overpaying, so to speak. Is six years outrageous (or more if you have parts of seasons). If the player does produce, they make big bucks. If they don't, they go into a limbo...sometimes having an okay years (see Escobar this year) which results in some riches.


Sometimes you do forget the up front money some of these guys do make now in the draft.



Sep 15 2018 03:08 PM
If players are generally hitting free agency around 28...

What factor should competitive balance play in any restructuring?

Should there be a concern that the large market teams will have the majority of the best players in their peak seasons?

Two kinds of players might populate the mid market teams. They might have good prospects in their initial struggling years with a good season or two prior free agency. The others might be players in their decline in their 30s. These might be guys originally signed by a large market team but traded off for the last one or two years of their contract or players they signed as free agents at 28 who were near average in their primes but mediocre in their early 30s (and the last few years of their contracts).

I don’t think they can fix the service years without also addressing the current lack of competitive balance that could become more imbalanced.

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