Service Time Manipulation

This is probably deserving of a longer post, but I wanted to spend a few minutes to talk about the ethics of service time manipulation. Baltimore and Tampa Bay have both elected to send two of their best players to Triple-A to begin the season, opting to go with a sub-optimal roster for the beginning of 2009 in order to create a long term financial advantage by delaying the free agency for Matt Wieters and David Price.

From an organizational standpoint, there are all kinds of reasons why it makes sense. The value of having an extra year of club control over one of the elite talents in the game is tremendous, and far outweighs the incremental gains the team would get from having their best line-up on the field for the first six weeks of 2009. From a cost/benefit perspective, trading six weeks of Price or Wieters’ production in 2009 for an entire season of their production in 2015, it’s an easy call.

As fans, we usually want the organizations we root for to do whatever they can to better the organization, both short term and long term. In most cases, the fans are in total agreement with the organization and are willing to trade the benefit of seeing a player like Wieters or Price for six weeks now to get an extra year of their abilities down the line.

However, I have to wonder how we would feel if we were in the players shoes. There is no question that Wieters is the best catcher in the Orioles organization right now. No one would argue otherwise. He has done everything necessary to establish himself as the guy who can offer the most at his position, but he’ll begin the season in the International League so that the Orioles can deflate his future earnings. If this happened to you at your job, wouldn’t you be outraged? Can you imagine your boss looking you in the eye and telling you that he’s purposely giving you an undeserved negative performance review so that the company won’t give you the raise you’ve earned?

I mean, really, wouldn’t most of us want to take a swing at that guy? Somehow, though, because Wieters and Price are operating at a higher pay grade, they’re supposed to be okay with it. Why?

I’m not blaming the teams. They really are making the best decision for their own franchise, given the current rules. But isn’t it time to admit that these rules suck? Thanks to how service time and salaries are correlated, MLB is actively encouraging some teams to put an inferior product on the field to start the year. Isn’t that fantastic?

There are a lot of things in baseball that just don’t live up to common sense, unfortunately. Having rules that discourage teams from putting their best players on the field should be near the top of the list of things to get fixed.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.



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Evan
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Evan

I can see why the players would be annoyed, but they did (indirectly) agree to this. It’s a collectively bargained system.

I’m not comfortable criticizing it without having a better alternative to propose.

Trenchtown
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Trenchtown

I’m inclined to agree. Firms are profit maximizers and rent seeking in nature and the way the collective bargaining agreement is written it is their prerogative.

However, I wonder how these actions relate to long-term relationships between players and ball clubs. If a team is going to be partaking in this strategy I don’t think that they can complain when someone like Ryan Howard says he wants to shatter the arbitration award record.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in the long-term this is bad for business. By making contract negotiations a zero sum game rather then a collaboration between the team and the player it makes the players appear greedy and hurts them image and will draw less fans to the game. It’s in just as much the team’s interest to make sure their star players are well liked by their fans as it is for those players to perform.

The Typical Idiot Fan
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The Typical Idiot Fan

“but they did (indirectly) agree to this. It’s a collectively bargained system.”

Collectively bargained by current members of the union. How many first year amateur draftees and international signees are going to say “F this union, I wont play for MLB.” The current CBA is designed to help the veterans, not the rookies. This is exactly what Dave is talking about. You don’t walk into your new job as an 18 year old kid, piss on the union head, and say that we’re going to change stuff.

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