Recognizing that both Steve Mancuso and Jason Linden have weighed in on whether Nick Senzel should start for the Louisville Bats or the Cincinnati Reds on Opening Day respectively, I would like to posit a slightly different, more urgent take. Nick Senzel should absolutely start for the Reds on Opening Day because everything sucks and we might as well enjoy the nice things we have while we have them as early and often as we can.

Yes, this is the amoral, selfish baseball fan’s argument for starting Senzel. And yes, it makes sense from a business, logical and moral perspective too.

Before diving in, two givens regarding the Reds top prospect and the state of baseball that must be established:

  1. Nick Senzel is good enough to play at the highest level right now. Both Steve and Jason agree on this. Pretty much everyone in baseball agrees on this. Nick Senzel is a major leaguer.
  2. Baseball, by many accounts, currently hurtles toward a work stoppage in 2021. Adam Wainwright explicitly said as much last Friday.

It’s not just Wainwright either. Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen, at Dodgers Fan Fest last year, said: “Maybe we have to go on strike, to be honest with you.” Jameson Taillon, the Pirates MLBPA representative, was more vague in his assessment but said: “The game is built on free agency, and if those guys aren’t getting rewarded, something has to change.” His teammate Chad Kuhl, currently rehabbing from Tommy John, also mentioned the possibility: “A work stoppage could be a very real possibility right as I come back.”

On Twitter, Justin Verlander, Collin McHugh, Whit Merrifield, and Jake Arrieta have pointed out the glaring labor manipulations. In a survey last summer by USA Today, 17 of 26 players said that baseball needed a strike with 37 players declining to answer the question. Veteran agent Jeff Berry circulated a memo advocating for a “work-to-rule,” in short a work stoppage without the stoppage. And lastly, the MLBPA has hired Bruce Meyer, the premiere sports law attorney, as its chief negotiator.

A strike itself may not be guaranteed, but a new, and likely radically different, CBA is.

The crux of Steve’s argument for keeping Nick Senzel off the Opening Day roster rests on service time manipulation. By having Senzel in the minors for another two weeks, the Reds suppress his service-time clock. That would allow them to gain another year of player control before he hits free agency. 162 games is greater than 13 after all. Logically, that tracks. But with the uncertainty of the new CBA, it just doesn’t matter.

The inherent assumption in Steve’s piece says that when the players and owners negotiate a new CBA, they’ll leave service-time considerations well enough alone. This offseason however, players have been making more and more noise about the service-time manipulation games ownership has played. Whether it be Kris Bryant years ago or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. this year, no one is happy that players’ future are being toyed with.

Previously, these kinds of decisions were accepted because if a player was a good enough to have his service time suppressed, he’d still likely make enough money in free agency to make up for it. No longer.

Bryce Harper and Manny Machado’s odyssey offseasons prove that front offices don’t care about production. They only care about production per dollar. Players have realized that the current CBA will screw them out of making what they are worth. Whether that’s at the beginning, middle, or end of their career. A re-evaluation of free agency, service time, and perhaps even salary arbitration is not simply expected, it’s imminent.

And when that change does occur, do not assume Nick Senzel will be grandfathered in.

Since free agency was first established in 1976, the service-time requirement to become a free agent was six years. Jason did the math a couple of years ago and showed that free agency has delayed the debut date of most prospects. Yet the six-year requirement has never been re-evaluated. Baseball has trended younger and younger in recent years. With more research about aging curves available, debut dates have trended higher and higher. It’s not hard to see that math, either. The window for a major league player to make their big money has shrunk on both ends.

When the players and owners do negotiate a new CBA in 2021 that six-year number will be amended.  As I see it, there are four probable changes:

  1. The service-time requirement for free agency is lowered to five or even four years. This seems like a given.
  2. In addition to a lowering of the service-time requirement, the definition of days required on a major league roster to record a season’s worth of days is also lowered. It currently stands at 172, a number which allows for the service-time games in the first place. I would not be surprised to see it reduced to 150, 130 or even less than 100. It could depend on how aggressive the MLBPA wants to be.
  3. Arbitration returns to its original service-time requirement of two years, not three. This number was initially increased in 1987, but with players realizing they need to get paid earlier, I can envision them advocating for a return to the original policy.
  4. The idea of service time disappears entirely. One potential scenario: Imagine a team is given four years of control of a player drafted from college and seven of one drafted from high school. To put numbers to it, a college player drafted in 2020 would be with the drafting team until the end of 2024. At the end of that period, if the player is on the major league roster, he enters free agency. If he’s on a minor league roster, he enters the Rule 5 draft.

If the definition of a season is reduced (option 2) or service time is eliminated (option 4), the Reds would hurt themselves for no benefit by keeping Nick Senzel down for the first two weeks. In either option 1 or option 3, playing for that extra year of control makes sense.

These options are neither exhaustive nor guaranteed, but the illustration holds. It’s an absolute toss-up as to whether service-time manipulation will even matter six years from now. If the changes are made retroactively to include those like Senzel and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. depends on the actual negotiations. Given the players’ vocal frustration with the system,  two years out from the actual discussions, I would not be surprised at all to see that anger manifest into demanding a retroactive agreement.

It’s easy to say the Reds should game the current system. You can’t predict what you don’t know obviously, but it’s also wrongheaded, backward-looking logic. What we know is that the current rules will change — the players have made that clear. What we know is that no matter what, that sixth year of Senzel service time will occur after the 2021 re-negotiation. What we know is that Nick Senzel is ready for the major leagues.

If we’re going to traffic in the maybes that enough of the current CBA will hold to make keeping Senzel down worth it, I’d like to posit some maybes of my own:

  • Maybe the Reds win an extra game because of him and sneak into the Wild Card with one game to spare.
  • Perhaps letting Senzel take the reins now endears him to the organization and the fans so when he does hit free agency he’s more inclined to stay because he’s still a human and humans tend to remember kindnesses done for them against another party’s better judgment.
  • Maybe he’s actually bad and nothing matters anyway.

The Reds could emerge from the 2021 CBA with another year of Senzel control earned from service-time games. Or perhaps the Reds could lose that gamble. No one but Nostradamus knows.

Morally, I agree with Jason Linden that Senzel should be promoted because it’s the right thing to do. Logically, I agree with Steve Mancuso on the business practicality of keeping him down. But selfishly, there’s so much we don’t know about what 2021 holds. So mostly I just want to watch Senzel play with Joey Votto and Yasiel Puig and Eugenio Suarez as soon as possible. After all, when I wake up in the morning and begin my trudge through the day, I don’t think to myself: “Dang, I’m so glad the Reds are going to have slightly more payroll flexibility six years from now.”

Instead, I think: “I get to watch baseball today.” And that thought makes me happy. No maybes about that.

49 Responses

  1. Matthew Hendley

    Working on hypotheticals is a dangerous things to do. Still going with Steve on this.

    • wkuchad

      Agreed, this is just a no-brainer. But we’re all entitled to our own opinion.

      Bryce or Manny would both be signed a month ago for $20+ million/year. They want $30 million/year, so they’re holding out. That’s not collusion by the owners. The players have the right to hold out for top dollar, but owners have every right not to pay. How many bad long term contracts have been given out the past 10 years.

      • Doug Gray

        There have been exactly ZERO bad contracts for 10 years handed out to players after their age 25 season. Which is what Machado and Harper are seeking.

      • ToBeDetermined

        Doug

        Can I rephrase that question ?
        How many good contracts of 10 years have been handed out after a players age 25 season?

  2. Stock

    If you believe this then the Reds need to sign Senzel to a contract similar to what the Phillies did with Kingery last March. 6 year contract with two option years and eliminate any concern about a new collective bargaining agreement.

    Just because Machado and Harper have not signed does not indicate there are not substantial offers out there. MLBtraderumors have the Padres offering Machado $240 – $280 Million for 8 years. That is pretty attractive.

    • Stock

      Senzel has hired the Wasserman Agency. Maybe this is an indication that the Reds have come to him suggesting a long term deal.

      I can really see a player signing a contract like this. First they get lifetime security. Second they get certainty they go north with the big club. That is their dream.

      • ToBeDetermined

        Is anyone familiar with how Wasserman Agency goes about representing their clients ?

        Obviously we are all aware of how Scott Boras handles his clients.

  3. AllTheHype

    It’s simple. MLBPA is not going to get the concessions listed in this article. They’ve been trying for decades, and similar articles have been written for decades. It’s not going to happen.

    • Thomas Jefferson

      The players have received many things that they have prioritized in their negotiations. The big mistake the players association made last round was to fail to recognize the shift away from paying older players (typical free agents). The MLBPA is generally recognized as the strongest union in sports. If they prioritize something, they usually get it.
      In an era of significant rises in revenue, the actual total payroll for players dropped last season. This is not a normal situation for baseball, and the players will have even stronger arguments than they had in the last negotiations.

  4. Eric Wormus

    Regardless of how the CBA changes in 2021, what are the odds that:
    A) The Reds in 2025 are as good or better than they are now AND
    B) The front office is willing to spend the money saved by keeping Senzel down two weeks on an impact free agent?

    We saw this song and dance with Jay Bruce in 2008 right? Jay Bruce would not have accumulated 6 years of service until the end of 2015. Granted, they bought some of that our with a team friendly contract, but that was also done to give the team “cost certainty” and “payroll flexibility.” And what did that get them in 2013? $4-5 million added payroll in trading for Choo? And in 2014 the big move was? Again, nothing.

    Play your best 25 players all year and see what happens.

  5. scotly50

    The view points are valid in both directions, depending if you coming from a “team” or “player” point of view.

    Senzel has played only 44 games in AAA. He may, or may not, be ready. It is my hope the Reds base their decision on Senzel’s’ readiness at the MLB level.

  6. The Duke

    Nick Senzel has all of 44 games in AAA in his professional career and has logged exactly 0 innings since little league in the position where people think he should start the year for the Reds in CF. The base assumption that he’s pro ready is a little flawed in my opinion. If Senzel destroys spring training and hits .450/.550/.800 then the “he’s ready” argument comes back a bit, but if he shows some rust in the spring, then a little time in AAA to start the year could also legitimately be about more than service time manipulation.

    • Michael Smith

      @theduke

      So we are going to base his readiness on if he lights up people in 40 spring training at bats?

      • The Duke

        They shouldn’t, but you run back into the perception issue if he looks the part in spring training. High draft pick, success in minors, team seemingly in to be competitive now, etc… I’m all for getting that extra year of service time unless we work out a Kingery like extension before the season starts. While I think it is overstated, there is some validity in player relations and fan reactions to service time manipulation.

    • scotly50

      Basing readiness by performance in Spring Training, is sketchy in my opinion. The pitchers are usually slower to progress than batters, and a batter will bat against minor league as well as major league pitchers. Both inflating their numbers. Come opening day, no more out of shape or Minor League pitching.

    • BK

      Duke, I agree 100%. The assumption that Senzel is ML ready is unproven, even if it’s widely accepted in the blogosphere.

    • ToBeDetermined

      How Senzel hits in spring training has nothing to do with him being ready. As a hitter he was clearly ready last year, but had no place to play.

      How he plays Centerfield in spring training determines if he is ready to play in the Bigs come opening day. He needs reps.

      • doofus

        Just curious, what if he hit’s the cover off the ball in ST, but shows that he needs CF polish? Is he sent down? Would this be the antithesis of Billy Hamilton?

  7. Oldtimer

    No one knows if Senzel is MLB ready or not. Opening Day is a good time to find out.

    In 1962 Tommy Harper (playing 3B) wasn’t ready. In 1963 he was ready (as OF).

    In 1958 Vada Pinson (playing CF) wasn’t ready. In 1959 he was more than ready.

    In 1963 Pete Rose was ready (as 2B) despite never having played at AAA level.

    • doofus

      OT you are on.

      This is the Cincinnati Reds. A team that has lost 90+ games for several consecutive seasons. I think they have the flexibility to allow a former 1st round draft choice (2nd Overall) the chance to work out any kinks (if they exist) at the major league level. He’ll be 24 years old this season.

      This analysis of Nick Senzel has gotten ridiculous. It’s time to fish or cut bait.

  8. WVRedlegs

    You can’t predict baseball. No truer words than those on a day like today.
    Padres to sign Manny no-hustle Machado.

  9. daytonnati

    Not sure this applies to anything, but this discussion reminds me of the Stanford University marshmallow self-control experiment back in the 70s. If I recall correctly, they left six-year-olds alone in a room with a marshmallow. They were told they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted, but if they didn’t, they would get two when the monitor returned (after fifteen minutes, an eternity to a six-year-old). Subsequent tracking of the subjects revealed that those who waited had better life outcomes than those who didn’t or couldn’t – better SAT scores, better educational attainment, better body-mass index, and better additional life measurements. We’ve waited five years now … another two weeks would kill us??

    • Thomas Jefferson

      The big difference between this and the marshmallow study is that the Reds are not certain of getting the extra marshmallow in 6 years. Depending on whom you ask, this uncertainty is great or small, but it absolutely exists. Given that the MLBPA is strong and the players are more aggravated by service time manipulations, count me as one who thinks there is a solid chance that this Senzel-on-Opening-Day-roster question is moot. Add in the upside of being seen as a team who treated players and fans well in any case, and I think he should make the roster if he is the best option.

    • greenmtred

      Good BMI’s and extra marshmallows are probably mutually exclusive. Otherwise, makes sense.

    • Wesley Jenkins

      I think this is largely well-past the Nick Senzel discussion now but the marshmellow experiment has been debunked. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jun/01/famed-impulse-control-marshmallow-test-fails-in-new-research

      Not to belabor the point, but most of the debunking pointed to parental and environmental effects as having a greater impact than any potential delayed gratification did. So essentially, to stretch the metaphor to its absolute limit, Nick Senzel’s success depends more on the Reds coaching and convivial environment than it does with service time games in the slightest.

  10. Roger Garrett

    Always have the same thought if guys are ready or not to play in the majors.Untill you actually play then nobody knows.Make a decision to let them play until they prove they can or can’t.Just nutty sometimes that guys get sooooooooo many chances while others just go for coffee and doughnuts.Senzel is as close to a can’t miss prospect the Reds have ever had.Just let him play.Heck we just cut Billy loose after 5 or 6 years of waiting on him to turn the corner and he did almost 70% of the time right back to the dugout.I would say Senzel is one of the best 25 players we have so lets play ball.

    • Oldtimer

      Jay Bruce was rated #1 prospect in all of MiLB not too many years ago. He averaged 30 HR and 90 RBI for Reds over 8 years (I think). Some Reds fan forget so easily.

    • Oldtimer

      Hamilton averaged 70+ R scored and 50+ SB in 5 full seasons as a Red along with superb defense in CF those 5 seasons. How quickly some forget…

      • Roger Garrett

        Yep but lets not forget his .298 obp and his .631 ops in those 5 seasons along with one of the top 5 hitters in Votto hitting behind him.Billy won’t be forgotten because we will discuss him every time somebody muffs a ball he would have caught or his replacement goes deep.

      • Oldtimer

        Regardless he scored a good number of R, had lots of SB, and played superb CF defense. On a better Reds team (or series of teams) he’d be welcomed.

  11. BK

    A couple of thoughts on the next CBA:

    – The first thing MLB and the MLBPA will agree to is how much revenue will go to the players. This will build on the audit verified process currently in place. The current split does not seem to be the source of disagreement. It’s unlikely the current percentages change much, if at all.

    – Next, MLBPA will have to develop a position that divides their portion of the revenue. The current system by design favors free agents. Baseball is trending younger. The owners will only care if proposals impact competitiveness or the overall revenue split. Better revenue sharing probably puts broader options on the table, but this could cut int the players’ share. This is the crux of the problem. The players aren’t fuming over service time for rookies, but rather veteran free agent contracts.

    – Unions often favor those who have “paid their dues.” Can the union adjust to prevailing market trends?

    – Machado’s contract has been agreed to. Based on what we know, an elite SS should out earn an elite corner outfielder. The players can’t possibly be disappointed in the reported 10/$300M value.

  12. jreis

    it is a win-win situation for the reds (which I am happy to say we are seeing more and more of these ). if he is a natural at center we will know after a week in spring training. then you bring him up and you having an opening day outfield of Winker- Senzel and Puig (ain’t bad). if he is not very good in center then plan b is to keep him in Louisville for the first few weeks or longer and you gain an extra year of control. either way the reds win.

    • DB

      One scout said that Senzel looked like a fish out of water playing CF. Hopefully Scooter is traded sooner than later.

      • Doug Gray

        That scout made that comment about 4 days into Nick Senzel’s transition to center field. It’s a completely useless thing to even bring up at this point. He’s spent months since that point in time learning the position and fielded, probably, 10,000+ fly balls. And worked with coaches on things to improve for months.

  13. Scott C

    I agree with you Wesley, that morally Jason is right and logically that Steve is right. But as a fan, not knowing what will happen during With the new working agreement, I still would trade 11 games now for an extra year of Senzel in Cincinnati. The new rules may change that but either way we just don’t know and have to play under the present agreement.

  14. Thomas Jefferson

    The best leaders always make their decisions based upon what they expect to happen going forward, not on the past or even the present. The new (and newly-empowered) Reds’ leadership has shown itself to be very forward-thinking. I trust them to make the best decision – they earned that trust with this off season body of work.

  15. BK

    @Redlegnation: nice job covering this from a variety of perspectives:

    Justin: player’s viewpoint
    Steve: ownership’s viewpoint
    Wesley: fan’s viewpoint

  16. Steven D

    Wesley,
    Great article I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of service time changing. However, I don’t think there is any way the owners allow all 4 of those scenarios to occur. If I had to guess I could see 2&3 taking place. I don’t think the owners will budge on service time. I could see them budging on the definition of a year. Which would essentially give the players another year. I could also see them budging on allowing for arbitration earlier which is something that needs to happen. I just can’t imagine them going from 7 years of service time (yes I know it’s technically 6 but like you said teams have been manipulating it to 7) to 4. I think changing 2&3 would help a lot. Players would reach free agency a year earlier and would be more in their prime when they sign. And top players will no longer be playing on league minimum deals. And hey who knows maybe the MLBPA will actually care about the little guys and try to get minor leaguers paid more. Would love to see those guys paid 40-50k a year.

    • Steve D

      Meant to say Doug,
      No idea why it came out as Wesley

      • Steve D

        Wait it is Wesley. Geez I’m a mess can’t even get the Author right. Sorry guys for all these useless posts

      • Doug Gray

        You did type Doug. I edited it to correct it lol.

  17. REDSMAN

    Good points Wesley.I concur…sort of. Let’s take that a step further and apply your logic to the overall roster. Statements made by DW seem to imply the Reds still have some money left. Regardless, why not really go all in? I mean Zach Duke doesn’t move the needle, but Craig Kimbrel?!? Dude has been a top 5 closer for the last few years now. The addition of him to the back of our pen would clearly be an upgrade and make a strong statement about the direction of this organization, probably as much as allowing Senzel to start the season as our CF’er. Either way, whether he gets 40 ab’s or not, ST games should count for something and if another candidate tears it up, they should get consideration as well.

    Shifting gears a bit. Note to Rob Manfred, Tony Clark and the 800 or so mlb rostered players for this season, as well as the thousands of aspiring minor league players, and finally the 30 owners. We are hearing a growing rhetoric that is rather disturbing. The drums seem to be beating out a tune of war on the horizon. I urge you all to lean over the edge of the precipice you are approaching and take a long, hard look into the abyss. It is not a pretty picture. 300 million dollar contracts, and windfalls for the owners alike, are endangered.
    I have friends who still have not returned to the game we love, due to the last strike. By all accounts, attendance has been dropping perilously. There are a variety of other challenges to be met, the least of which is the constant drone of ‘pace of play’, issues. Stop attempting to one up each other with quips and barbs exchanged in the media. Sit down together NOW and hammer out a new CBA. I can’t be alone in thinking another work stoppage could easily ignite an Armageddon from which MLB may never fully recover.

    • LWBlogger2

      Agree for the most part with your last 2 paragraphs. Too bad the decision-makers on this front don’t read RLN. Even if there is a work stoppage, MLB will recover. It will just take a long time to do so. The thing is though, as you mention, there are already some issues that MLB faces, especially when it comes to the young fans; the fans who are the game’s future. A work-stoppage would do significant damage and the game itself would have to evolve to bring in and keep young fans, likely further alienating the older fans that would be hard-pressed to come back if a work-stoppage occurs.

  18. doofus

    I am old. I am selfish. I want the Reds to win again. I want Senzel on the team opening day. I want this team and FO to have some balls for a change (that’s a purely baseball term). I want them to think about building a roster of WINNING baseball players instead of the bottom-line!

  19. doctor

    “…Maybe the Reds win an extra game because of him and sneak into the Wild Card with one game to spare….”

    or to be contrarian, he costs the reds a couple games in CF in april because he misplays a couple fly balls due to lack of experience, and Reds miss the WC by one game.

    he had enough issues last year(injury, vertigo) and lack of OF experience, minimal AAA time, that sending him down is justifiable beyond service time considerations.

    • matthew hendley

      indeed, I am not against having him on the roster on May 1st, but hugely against him being up their April 1st. Especially when not ready.