If you’ve ever spent hours pouring over Cot’s Baseball Contracts trying determine how many years a specific team controls a player – or when a player will become eligible for arbitration – you certainly know how tricky and confusing untangling service time can be. In short, service time is a way to measure how much time a player has spent at the major league level. Players accrue service time each day they are on a team’s 25-man roster, even if they are on the 15-day or 60-day DL.
Service time is important to understand, as it affects how long prospects are under team control. In general, prospects that are called up to the majors are under team control for six years of service time; almost always, three of these years they are paid at or near the major league minimum and three of them they are eligible for arbitration. However, teams can be creative, promoting prospects to the majors late enough that they don’t accrue a full year of service time and therefore are under team control for one extra year.
A year of service time is equal to 172 days, and there are normally around 183 total days in the major league calendar. This means that if a team wants to keep a prospect from accruing a full year of service time, they simply need to leave that player in the minors for around 15-20 days out of the entire season. For example, the Rays left Evan Longoria in the minors for the first two weeks of the 2008 season; as a result, if Longoria hadn’t signed his long-term contract, he would have been under team control through the 2014 season instead of the 2013 season. Technically, this demotion could happen at any point of the year, but it’s most common for teams to leave a prospect in the minors for the first month or so of the season before calling them up.
Service time is also important when considering a player’s Super Two status. See that page for more details.
So the next time you’re on Cot’s Baseball Contracts trying to figure out how much service time a player has, take a look at the section below their contract information that says “Service Time: 2.130″. In this example, it means the player in question has accrued 2 years and 130 days of service time (as calculated during the most recent off season, I believe). While before that may have been indecipherable gibberish, now you should know enough to say, “Oh, that player is under team control for another four seasons.” Win!
Links for Further Reading: