Opinion: MLB Service Time

Today, we focus in on the issue of MLB Service Time and how it’s calculated. With both Arbitration and Free Agency eligibility currently riding on it, a Player’s Service Time is a big deal – it essentially determines when a Player gets to “Pass Go” and collect on their big Payday. The biggest complaint of the existing Service Time formula is the fact that it counts days – and when you count days, you leave it prone to manipulation by MLB Front Offices. No matter what the required number of days are to earn one-year of Service Time (currently 172/187 calendar days), that type of limit allows MLB Front Offices to make strategic moves around it, and as we’ve seen in recent history, that hurts the Players. Exhibit A of Service Time manipulation is Kris Bryant, and Exhibit B for today’s study will be Jarred Kelenic. Before getting into the specifics of those two examples, let’s take a look at how this could play out starting today, hypothetically, for one of the game’s hottest prospects: Adley Rutschman.

The “Manipulated” example above is exactly how Kris Bryant’s reality played out. Leading up to the 2016 Regular Season, Kris Bryant’s resume included: HS Player of the Year, AZ Fall League MVP, Baseball America’s College Player of the Year, the Golden Spikes Award and Minor League Player of the Year – giving the Cubs essentially every reason to pencil him into their Opening Day Lineup. Then on top of that, Bryant led the team in At-Bats during Spring Training and finished with an impressive .310 BA and .941 OPS – reinforcing that he was ready to put the Cubs uniform on everyday. But who started at Third Base for the Cubs that year? Mike Olt, a career .168 hitter. By waiting until April 17th, 2016 to call up Bryant, the Cubs delayed his Free Agency by a full season, allowing to “test the market” in 2021, not 2020. Kris Bryant and his agent Scott Boras have since been fairly vocal about these issues surrounding MLB’s Service Time and rightfully so, but then again, Boras later made his client the all-time highest paid pre-Arbitration in 2017 ($1.05M) and all-time highest paid first-year Arbitration eligible player in 2018 ($10.85M).

Jarred Kelenic, as I noted earlier, is our Exhibit B case study but not for the same reasons as Kris Bryant, mainly due to how his 2021 Season turned out. Where Bryant put up a .276/.369/.488 stat line and won Rookie of the Year, Kelenic showed just a .181/.265/.350 performance and finished with a -1.8 WAR in his debut season. The interesting aspect of the Kelenic situation is what the Mariners President and CEO (Kevin Mather) said about it while on a video call, that was later made public. Given the context of Kelenic’s resume at the time: Gold Medal with Team USA 18U, 2018 6th Overall Pick, 2x Minor League All-Star (not to mention, he was the key piece of Seattle’s return for sending Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets); when Mather verbalized that Kelenic (and other top prospects) had no shot of making the 2021 Mariner 40-man Roster because it would start their service-time clock, it was not received well by the baseball community. Kelenic accumulated a total of 0.105 (105/187 days) Service Time during the 2021 Season, but his rough debut year now make it tough to argue that he should have been in the Show on Opening Day. Nonetheless, Kevin Mather’s comments certainly reignited this CBA topic, resurfaced the distasteful Kris Bryant memories, and helped steer negotiations to the point of needing a Service Time revision.

Naturally, The Hum Now blog isn’t the first, nor most qualified, to propose a new and improved way of calculating Service Time. Some proposals to date suggest that Arbitration and Free Agency eligibility should be based strictly on a Player’s age, rather than Service Time. Other’s feel there should be Performance-Based metrics to award high-caliber players extra Service Time and/or earlier Arb/FA eligibility (adding onto the Super Two player rule). The Hum Now Solution, leans toward the latter, but offers additional aspects in an effort to accomplish one thing – reward both Teams and Players for serving the fans of the game. Serving the fans, by producing the highest-level of baseball every day of every season.

Currently, MLB Front Offices earn an extra year of “saving money” by holding their best prospects down in the minor leagues for just fifteen calendar days – that’s ridiculous. Here’s to a solution that would provide a greater reward when Teams successfully home-grow the game’s best talent. And by creating a formula that successfully achieves that feat – encouraging Teams to bring young talent up to the 26-man roster as early as possible – the result, would reward Players with earlier opportunities to cash in on their performance.

Specific Terms of The Hum Now Service Time Solution:

Reminder: This is in fact a negotiation, so each bullet below notes whether it would be a benefit to the Player’s Union or to the MLB Owners.

SERVICE TIME RULES

  • Service Time required to earn one full-year reduced from 172/186 calendar days (92.5%) to 148/186 (70%). (PLAYERS)
  • “Super Two” regulations (players within Top 22% percent of those between 2-3 years of Service Time are eligible for early-Arbitration – an extra year, does not move their Free Agency up a year) are eliminated completely. (OWNERS)
  • Players become eligible for Free Agency after six (6) full-years of Service Time – no change from current rules. (N/A)

Added Team Incentives

  • Each season, the players eligible for their first year of Free Agency, and still rostered by the team they debuted with, are pooled together and sorted by WAR (Wins-Above-Replacement), highest to lowest.
    • Team’s with a homegrown, Free Agency eligible player, that ranks in the Top 15 of the corresponding WAR player pool are awarded a Draft Pick between the 1st and 2nd Round of the upcoming MLB Rookie Draft – picks awarded in the order of highest WAR to lowest. (OWNERS)
  • Each season, the players eligible for Arbitration are pooled together and sorted by WAR (Wins-Above-Replacement), highest to lowest.
    • Team’s with a homegrown, first-year Arbitration eligible player ranking in the Top 10 of the corresponding WAR Player Pool, are awarded a Draft Pick between the 2nd and 3rd Round of the upcoming MLB Rookie Draft – picks will be awarded in order of highest WAR to lowest.
    • Team’s with a homegrown, first-year Arbitration eligible player ranking between the Top 11 and Top 20 of WAR are awarded a Draft Pick between the 3rd and 4th Round of the upcoming MLB Rookie Draft – picks awarded in the order of highest WAR to lowest.

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