2017 Reds

Service Time: Who Is In Control And For How Long?

During the run up to the Reds setting their opening day roster, it seemed like  the hottest topic among RLN commenters often was whether the Reds should prioritize gaining an “extra year” of team control over their emerging prospects. Here’s my extended take on the “extra year  of control” discussion. 

First, how is it possible for teams to gain an “extra year” of control over players? Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) states  a player remains under team control through the end of the season during which he reaches 6 full years of MLB service time. The CBA further stipulates a full year of service is comprised of 172 days on  an active MLB roster or disabled list during the regular season. Equally important for our conversation, even though the regular season in longer than 172 days,  in any given season, a player can earn no more than a full year (172 days) of service time.   These rules allow a team to manage a player’s service time to achieve just short of  7 full seasons of team control over the player at the MLB level, essentially gaining an extra year of control over the player.

The situation of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant brought the extra year of control process to public attention and provides us with an excellent illustration of how the process works. In 2015, the Cubs left Bryant in the minor leagues at the start of the season. Bryant was called up for the first time around two weeks into the season. At the end of the 2015 season, guess what? The Cubs had done their math perfectly. Bryant was one day short of earning a full year of MLB service time. A year later at the end of the 2016 season, he was one day short of 2 full years of service time; and, so it will go each successive season until the end of the 2021 season when with 6 years and 171 days of service time — one day short of 7 full years — Bryant will finally be eligible for free agency if  he has not  signed a contract extended past that date.

Is it a good practice to for teams to always pursue the “extra” year of control over players? Count me among those who questions the propriety of routinely seeking to establish the extra year of control over prospects. The reality is for the vast majority of prospects, obtaining the extra year of team control would be a meaningless procedure because they are gone or replaceable with a less expensive alternative before team control ends. Thus actively managing a player’s service time to  extend team control into a seventh season only makes business sense if the player clearly projects as a long term core player.

For the Reds currently I see two position players who  seem to fit this description, Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel, though others may emerge over time.  Part of the reason Winker didn’t receive a September call up to the Reds last season likely was that Dick Williams had an eye on Winker’s service time clock.  If we see Senzel in a Reds uniform any earlier than ~2 weeks into his rookie season, be that 2018 or later, it will be a major surprise to me.

Pitchers, especially starters, are a somewhat different case from position players because of their unique skill sets, the central role they play and the fact it is usually easier to move them back and forth between MLB and the minors for (at least ostensibly) performance based reasons.  Let’s look at where the Reds stand with their corps of young potential starters.

By the time you read this, Sal Romano has been at AAA too long to earn a full year of service in 2017. If he is called up to start the game on Easter Sunday, relax and enjoy (hopefully) watching his debut.

Rookie Davis is currently on the MLB disabled list, and thus still earning service time.  However, the Reds can easily enough option Davis to AAA as he comes off the DL; and, two weeks or so later, the extra year of control over him would be established.

Amir Garrett could also be optioned to AAA later in the season to save enough service time to extend control over him; but, if he keeps on pitching as well as he has at the start of the season, his situation could get stickier.

Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed are currently in line to remain under team control through at least the end of the 2022 season.  Stephenson’s 2016 service time was low enough his control date could eventually be pushed back a season. Reed looks locked in.

Brandon Finnegan and Michael Lorenzen  appear to be locked into team control through the 2021 season.

I hope the Reds manage to extend control over Amir Garrett through an additional season. Otherwise I am OK with how things stand because with the end of control over this group of pitchers spread across 3 seasons, another debacle such as beset the Reds at the end of 2014, when 4 of their 5 rotation pitchers were eligible for free agency, is not likely.

That’s my say. What’s yours?

To learn more about MLB service time go here,  like I did, to access Fangraphs’ service time glossary entry.  Service time data and related material from Baseball Reference.com and  Cot’s Baseball Contracts

9 thoughts on “Service Time: Who Is In Control And For How Long?

  1. The Reds have done a good job on building a core group of young talented players to be together (with Votto) for a long time. This year we’re seeing the affect of Price on the young pitchers. When they’re dominate, they’re dominate. Yeah, they’ll have rough patches too – but so did Cueto and Leake and they turned out just fine. I currently see a strong 2018 and a peek in the 2019-2020 range. Well managed, that perk may be longer!

  2. Good breakdown of things, Jim. This is a favorite topic of yours to be sure. I agree with your conclusions. I had hoped the Reds would keep Garrett down the first 2 weeks, since he seemed like a good candidate to be a long term fixture in the rotation and establishing that extra year so to speak gives the Reds a better picture of their roster construction priorities going forward.

    That said, best laid plans are meant to be laid to waste. The Reds have unfortunately experienced a number of injuries to their pitching staff very early this season. I think their hand has been forced somewhat in bringing up the young guys early and often. And thankfully Garrett has looked outstanding in his first two appearances. I don’t think it’s going to be so easy to send him down to AAA for a 2 week spell now unless he really struggles later this year.

  3. With Winkler sent back down, and Finnagan going to the ten day d l, Sal R and Addleman have been recalled. If they send rookie Davis to the minors to work out (stretch out) his arm, Who do they bring up? Winkler, or another pitcher?

  4. I want to know the purpose of bringing Winker up to sit the bench 2 games? Especially with both corner outfielders receiving a day off on those 2 days. It seems to me that Price must not want him here, or he would have started him at least 1 of those games. If Romano is safe for an extra year of control based on April 16, Winker is either safe as of April 14, or had no business being here for these 2 days.

    • Maybe Winker needed the 7 grand to pay off a gambling debt? Seems as likely as anything! 😉

      • I’m starting to think they just wanted a bat on the bench for a couple days and he was the best candidate. 2-3 days up and on the bench wasn’t going to kill his development.

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