Yesterday, every Braves fan on earth had a I-know-where-I-was-when-that-happened moment, when Jason Heyward destroyed a Carlos Zambrano fastball in his first major league at-bat. For anyone who even casually enjoys the game, it was a great moment. The crowd going insane, his parents jumping around and hugging everyone they can find, and Heyward rounding the bases on Opening Day in Atlanta – it was just a lot of fun to watch.
Meanwhile, up in the capital city, the Nationals got pounded 11-1 at home, as John Lannan and Miguel Batista made the first Washington game of the season a thoroughly miserable affair. Stephen Strasburg was nowhere to be seen.
This is a problem for Major League Baseball. The rules of the game currently incentivize teams to take the Nationals path. Washington is going to retain Strasburg’s services for 2016 by keeping him out of the big leagues in April, and everyone understands why they’re doing it. But, realistically, is it in the best interests of baseball to make their product worse every April by setting up a system that encourages teams to start the season with inferior rosters? Does MLB want to really continue a system where most organizations willingly choose to give up the moment that Heyward had yesterday? Does anyone want less of those?
Baseball needs to be in the business of promoting goosebumps and memories that will live forever. They need to fix the service time issue so that teams like Washington have no reason to send their best pitcher to the minor leagues for a month.
In yesterday’s chat, when this came up, I suggested one possible alternative; reduce the amount of days needed to count as a full year of service towards free agency. Right now, the number is 172, which means that a player has to be on the active roster or the disabled list for about 95 percent of the season in order to accumulate enough days for one full year. A player who is on the roster for 90 percent of the season will not get enough days of service to count it as a full season, which makes no sense whatsoever.
If you lower that number to, say, 100 days of service, now you’re making teams hold players back until July if they want to get that extra year of club control. That is a much tougher sacrifice to make when you’re staring at a big league ready prospect at the end of March. Would the Nationals have been willing to keep Strasburg in the minors until July? I really doubt it. Given the shifted incentives, he would almost certainly have broken camp with their big league team, and Washington fans could have had a Heyward moment of their own to look forward to.
Lowering the days of service causes some other issues that would have to be addressed, and it’s not a perfect solution, but at least it addresses the point of MLB actively discouraging teams from giving their fans once-in-a-lifetime memories. If baseball wants kids to grow up loving the game, they need more moments like what happened in Atlanta yesterday. It’s time for the rules to change.
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