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Why the MLB Needs to put an end to Service Time Manipulation


The Toronto Blue Jays star rookie, Vlad Guerrero Jr., hit .381 with 20 home runs and had an OPS of 1.073 in the minors in 2018. Despite proving he was ready for the Majors, he did not break camp with the 2019 team. Instead, Guerrero Jr. was not called up until April 26 of this year. Almost an entire month of the MLB season had already passed. Why did this happen? Because of the MLB service time rule.

Michael Baumann of The Ringer went into depth about the rule. He stated, “According to league rules, an MLB regular season lasts 187 days; if a player spends 172 of those days on a major league roster or injured list, he earns a year of service time. Players can earn a year’s worth of service time incrementally—say, 90 days one year and 82 the next—but after earning 172 days in a single season, the clock starts. And after six years of service time, the player is eligible for free agency at the end of the season. But this also means that if a player finishes his rookie year with 171 days of service time, the club retains control over him for another full season.”

MLB teams are manipulating the rule to keep their players for an extra year. Guerrero Jr. was just another victim of the rule. Here’s why the MLB should do away with the rule.

The problems with service time manipulation

Players being called up to the majors later then they should just to accrue another year of eligibility needs to stop. It keeps amazing talents from shining earlier than they would be able to as well as keep the players from hitting the open market earlier. Baseball wants to improve their ratings, but allows for teams to keep their young marketable talent in the minors. Teams are more intent on making sure their young studs accrue another year of eligibility instead of putting the best roster on the field from day one. This is only the beginning of the problem.

Front offices are making excuses to keep players down for a few weeks before they are called up to make their debuts. This, in turn, is costing the players money in the long run. By being kept from hitting free agency a year early, players will be playing an extra year in their prime on a rookie contract. Most players don’t hit free agency until they are almost 30. By then teams are hesitant to offer premium long term contracts. This resentment from the players could cost the team in the long term. The plays may become more reluctant to hit free agency instead of staying with their initial team.

.Instead baseball should allow for players to be called up to the majors as soon as they are actually ready. This will force teams to try to be more competitive.  It will also prove to the players that the front office cares more about winning than their own personal gain. In turn, the players will be pleased with the owners’ dedication to winning and will improve team relations.

Examples of service time manipulation

Image courtesy of ABC7 Chicago.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. is only the latest star in a long list to be affected by service time manipulation. Bryce Harper didn’t break camp with the Nationals in 2012 despite being the number two prospect entering the season. He was only called up because injuries decimated the team to the point he was needed. He made his debut on April 28 and took the majors by storm. Harper went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award and helped Washington make the playoffs for the first time since moving from Montreal.

Kris Bryant who also won NL Rookie of the year in 2015 is another similar case. He was the number three prospect in baseball entering the 2015 season. He was coming off a season in which he hit .325 with 43 homers and an OPS of 1.098. Bryant was kept in the minors to start the 2015 season to work on his defense. He made his debut on April 17, in the 2015 season and was in the majors for 171 days. Just one day short of the rule and thus the Cubs were given an extra year of Bryant.


Unfortunately despite the problem of numerous cases of service time manipulation, fixing it is easier said than done. Both sides will need to come to an agreement which is very unlikely. The owners like having the ability to control their players for another year while the players feel cheated. In two years the current Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire and service time manipulation will be atop the list of issues. This will be the best time for a resolution to the problem.


Feature Image From Yahoo! Sports.

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