Delaying Free Agency

Some teams don't concern themselves with service time manipulation, for example the Braves in the case of Jason Heyward last year.  Others are all about it, taking great pains to ensure the player's free agency is delayed by a year and that he avoids Super Two status.

By my calculations, the MLB regular season is 182 days long this year (March 31st through September 28th).  172 days of service time represents one year, so a team just has to make sure their top prospect makes his MLB debut at a point where it's impossible to accrue more than 171 days.  In 2011, that point appears to be April 11th or later.

For example, if the Mariners feel Michael Pineda is ready to join their rotation, they can at least wait until April 11th to call him up.  This would ensure he's eligible for free agency after the 2017 season at the earliest.  Call him up on April 10th or earlier, and if he stays in the Majors continuously you only control him through 2016.  Jesus Montero, Zach Britton, and Matt Dominguez are a few other top prospects in the running to break camp with their teams and have their service time clocks start on March 31st.  Brandon Belt and Brett Lawrie, meanwhile, appear ticketed for Triple-A. 

The best recent example of a possible intentional free agency postponement is the Rays' Evan Longoria, who started the '08 season at Triple-A and spent 13 days there before making his big league debut.  He ended up accruing 170 days of service time in '08, two days short of a full year.  Rays players were unhappy when Longoria was reassigned, but executive vice president Andrew Friedman said service time considerations were "virtually irrelevant" in their decision because the Rays expected to sign the third baseman long-term.  Longoria didn't get much Triple-A seasoning that year, but his April 12th call-up was necessitated by Willy Aybar going on the DL.  Whether Longoria would have gotten the call had Aybar's injury occurred three days earlier, we'll never know. 

The Rays managed to lock Longoria up to an unprecedented contract less than a week after his debut.  But in that contract, 2014 represents his first free agent year, when it would have been 2013 had he broken camp with the team.  As it stands, Longoria gave the team club options on three free agent years.  Had he been called up a few days earlier, the contract might only allow for options through 2015 instead of '16.

Regardless of their intent regarding Longoria's debut, the Rays at least couldn't be accused of trying to prevent him from going to arbitration four times as a Super Two player.  That may have been the plan for Jay Bruce and Matt Wieters, though the Reds were probably surprised to see Bruce eligible for Super Two status with two years and just 125 days of service time.  Super Two manipulations may be more trouble than they're worth, especially with possible changes coming in the next collective bargaining agreement.


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