The Reds announced a slew of players who’ve been reassigned to minor league camp Friday, headlined by top prospect Nick Senzel. Cincinnati’s decision to do so has prompted a response from Senzel’s agent, Joel Wolfe of Wasserman, who spoke harshly of the organization’s decision to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (Twitter link).
“I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career,” said Wolfe, “but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service-time manipulation. We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.”
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams, unsurprisingly, told C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic that the decision was not tied to service time (Twitter link).
The Reds’ Senzel decision is, at the very least, more defensible than some recent service-driven minor league assignments (e.g. Kris Bryant, Eloy Jimenez, Ronald Acuna). Senzel is learning a new position on the fly after being moved from the infield to center field, and injuries limited him to just 44 games last year while also preventing him from taking place in the Arizona Fall League.
That said, Senzel is hitting .308/.300/.462 with six doubles and four stolen bases in 39 spring at-bats thus far, and he batted .310/.378/.509 as a 22-year-old in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching last season. There’s an argument that Senzel’s bat is ready for big league work, and the timing of his promotion to the big leagues will be an interesting situation to monitor in the coming weeks. The Reds would only need to keep Senzel in the minors for just over two weeks in order to secure an extra year of club control over the 2016 No. 2 overall draft pick.
Regardless of whether the move is service-driven, the Reds are well within their rights to make it and are arguably even wise to do so. The fact that they’re hoping to be more competitive and contend for a postseason berth in 2019, as Wolfe suggested, does muddy the waters a bit, and the Reds will unquestionably receive their share of criticism if they call Senzel up early in the season and narrowly miss the playoffs.
However, the current service time constraints were collectively bargained long ago and were not addressed in the latest wave of negotiations between the league and the MLBPA, thus maintaining a clumsy and antiquated system that is a disservice to virtually every party other than ownership. The game’s best young players are often held down longer than need be, slowing their path to significant earnings, while fans are deprived from seeing rising stars on the game’s biggest stage. Even front offices are left to make thinly veiled and often transparent statements to their fans, knowing full well that they’re setting themselves up to incur an angry backlash. It’s an out-of-date mechanism that would be better served to be restructured, and it’s likely to be a focal point as the league and union begin preliminary discussions well in advance of the next wave of the current CBA’s expiration.
In other Reds news, Cincinnati skipper David Bell announced that right-hander Tyler Mahle will open the season as the team’s fifth starter while Alex Wood heals up from back spasms that have plagued him throughout the spring (Twitter link via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer). Wood’s injury isn’t expected to sideline him long, so he may only be in line for a small handful of starts before either shifting to a bullpen role or heading back to Triple-A to continue making regular starts.