The momentum working through the media is that the Mariners are handing the fifth starter job to prospect Michael Pineda unless he bombs over the remainder of Spring Training. The reasons for doing revolve around Pineda being the team’s best option for that spot, the team not wanting to hurt their relationship with Pineda down the line, and the team not wanting blowback from the union or other players.
A year of Major League service time takes 172 days on the roster to achieve and no player can earn more than one full service year per season. That means if a player such as Michael Pineda spends 171 days on the Major League roster in any season from 2011 through 2016 and 172 or more in the other five seasons, he will end the 2016 season with 5 years and 171 days of service time, making him not a free agent until after the following year.
The 2011 season is 181 days long. In order to ensure that Michael Pineda does not earn a full service year this season, the Mariners need only to send him to Triple-A for ten calendar days. They could call him up on 11 April and keep him the rest of the season and he would not fulfill his first year of service. Coincidentally, 11 April is the Mariners’ tenth game of the season so if they wanted to game the system to the fullest, all they would forsake on the field is one single Major League start from Pineda.
It appears that they may not go that route. There are several possible reasons why, but I find none of them satisfactory. Is it fair in the strictest sense? No, not really, but it’s the rules agreed to by the clubs and the players’ union and it’s not like the whole concept of club control in the first place is exactly fair. Why draw the line on this one tiny issue?
Would it anger Michael Pineda to have his potential 2017 season shortchanged? Probably, but the Mariners would have seven years to make it up to him. If he turns into the sort of player where this move pays off for the Mariners, there’s nothing stopping them from paying better than expected dollar in his arbitration seasons.
I do not like the idea of using loopholes –and I think this is a loophole—to go against the spirit of the agreement. The problem is that this is not a public institution- it’s a private one and the other 29 teams are willing and have shown eager to exploit that loophole to their benefit. If the Mariners management team thinks it’s beneath them or unfair to manipulate service time, then they should lobby for to remedy it in the next round of CBA discussions.
There are likely other factors or a depth to the stated reasons that we as lay fans do not know. Maybe Pineda is a person who would be irrevocably angry with the team for sending him down this season. Perhaps the player’s union has already contacted the Mariners and served them notice they would file a grievance in the case. These are things we do not know, but I am not going to cede judgment solely because there are possible reasons to exonerate the decision that the team chooses not to share. One start from Luke French or David Pauley over Pineda is not going to sink the team’s 2011 chances.
Do not get me wrong, I applaud almost all attempts at being altruistic. But I can separate my morality from my critical analysis, and keeping Michael Pineda with the team on Opening Day is not a move wholly supported by any of the reasons so far stated by the team.