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MLB Transactions Part Four: Salary Arbitration Wrapup and ML Service Time

Welcome to another session of Purple Row Academy, in which I have been going over some MLB Transaction rules in great detail the last few weeks. This week's topic is one that in retrospect I probably should have started the series out with, and that is Major League Service Time. However, when I set out to begin this column, Garrett Atkins had just settled his arbitration case so I wrote about that, then people wanted to read about options so I expounded on that topic, which led naturally to waivers. In any case, this session will go back to the basics a little bit with a description of player rights as they advance in service time.

However, there is something that I want to bring up first relating to salary arbitration since the period has just been completed.

A Note on Salary Arbitration

I'd like to shed some more light on the work of Maury Brown at the Biz of Baseball, who has now made a comprehensive 2009 salary arbitration chart. It contains all the stats you would ever need or want to know about this year's arbitration class. For each team Brown details who filed for arbitration, their contract details, and how big of a raise percentage-wise that they received from the process.

Most eye-popping for me after looking at the Rockies section is the fact that Clint Barmes got a 301% raise this year (to $1.625 million from $405k) and JDLR got a 380% raise (to $2 million from $417k)--outlining the problems with salary arbitration from the owners' point of view. After all, neither Barmes nor DLR even got to the process of exchanging figures with the Rockies and they were given huge percentage raises. On the whole, the arbitration process cost the Rockies a little over $17 million for six players. 

In MLB this year, the 111 arb-eligible players earned a 143% raise on average from the previous year for 2009 salaries. If you include multi-year deals signed by the likes of Ryan Howard and Ubaldo Jimenez, it was a 172% increase overall! In this bear market at least, it paid out on average much better to be arb-eligible than it did to be eligible for free agency.  This salary increase happened despite the fact that only three players actually went through the entire arbitration process to the hearings (winning two). And you know what? This salary acceleration pace is not going to slow down much in the coming years unless some reform is enacted to the system.

But I digress. Join me after the jump for details about service time!

Major League Service Time


As the title would suggest, ML service time is the amount of time that a player has spent on the active 25-man roster (not from the date he was given a major league contract), the 15 or 60 day DL, or while serving in the military or under suspension.

A year or service time is defined as 172 days of service in the CBA, even though the baseball season is around 183 days long. As a result, teams can push back a player's free agency by keeping him in the minors for the first two weeks or so of the season--most recently this was done with Evan Longoria last year by the Rays. This is smart--even if Longoria was soon signed by Tampa Bay to a multi-year deal scant weeks into his ML career, they will maintain control of his rights for a year longer than they would normally have. Players that are withheld in this fashion are pretty much always Super Two arbitration players, but this clause doesn't apply for free agency.

Note that when players are optioned down to the minors for periods of less than the minimum ten day requirement--which teams get around if they place another player on the DL--then the player accrues service time during that short option period (but not on longer options).

Super Two Players

As I explored in my arbitration article, Super Two players are the few that are eligible for arbitration before they accrue three years of service time. Once again, Super Two players:

1. Have played in the majors for at least 86 days in the previous season (or at least accrued that much in service time from the DL or other exceptions) 

2. Are among the top 17 percent for cumulative playing time in the majors among others with at least 2 years, but less than 3 years experience. As a result, the Super Two cutoff for arbitration eligibility varies from year to year, but the cutoff is usually somewhere between 2.130 and 2.135 years of service time (where the number after the period is number of days). Taylor Buchholz (2.140 years) is a prominent example of a Super Two player who was arb-eligible this year.

More Service Time Specifics

Courtesy of Jeff Euston at Cot's Baseball Contracts:

  • A player promoted from the minor leagues is credited with ML service beginning with the date he physically reports.
  • Service time is not interrupted when a Major League player is traded and reports to his new club in the normal course (within 72 hours).
  • A player demoted to the minor leagues is credited with ML service through the date of the assignment.
  • A player who is unconditionally released is credited with ML service through the date he was notified of his release.
  • A Major League player designated for release or assignment continues to be credited with service after the designation, through the date of the actual assignment or the date he is notified of his unconditional release.
  • For a player who appears on the opening day roster, ML service time is credited as of the earliest scheduled opener, without regard to the actual opening date of his own club.
  • ML service time is not credited during any period or periods of optional assignment totaling 20 days or more during a single season.

The gist of the above points is that if a player is subjected to transactions that don't involve being sent down, he is granted ML service time.

Rights Granted to Players with Service Time

As was mentioned above, player with three years of ML service time (or Super Two status) is granted salary arbitration eligibility. Another benefit of having three years' service time is that the player may not be removed from the 40-man roster without his permission (after being outrighted once to the minors). Instead, he can choose to become a free agent immediately or at the end of the season.

Furthermore, a player with five years of experience can not be optioned to the minors, even if he had options remaining, and may obtain his release. In addition, under the pre-2007 CBA, a five year player that is traded during a multi-year contract may during the offseason demand a trade or become a free agent--though if his wishes are granted, he loses free agency status for three years thereafter, making this a little-used option these days. The 2007-2011 CBA eliminates this provision.

A player with six years' service time is eligible for free agency, while a so-called ten and five player--one who has ten years of service time, the last five with the same team, can't be traded or assigned without his consent. Todd Helton is a perfect example of a ten and five player.

Colorado Rockies ML Service Time Breakdown

Since this is a Rockies blog and all, I'm going to list the service times of each player on the 40-man roster by the highest service time plateau that they've achieved, as well as a breakdown of how many pitchers and fielders are in each category:

Zero: Samuel Deduno, Shane Lindsay, Ryan Mattheus, Esmil Rogers, Hector Gomez, Chris Nelson, Eric Young Jr. (Seven Players, 4P, 3F)

Above Zero, Less than One (mostly September call-ups): Franklin Morales (.076), Juan Morillo (.040), Steven Register (.034), Greg Reynolds (.080), Dexter Fowler (.027), Carlos Gonzalez (.109), Joe Koshansky (.075), Seth Smith (.119), Ian Stewart (.154) (Nine Players, 4P, 5F)

Not Arbitration Eligible: Manny Corpas (2.076), Ubaldo Jimenez (1.087), Jason Hirsh (1.153), Ryan Speier (1.080), Greg Smith (1.000), Jeff Baker (2.049), Chris Iannetta (2.029), Matt Murton (2.107), Omar Quintanilla (1.159), Ryan Spilborghs (2.072), Troy Tulowitzki (2.033) (Eleven Players, 5P, 6F)

Arbitration Eligible: Taylor Buchholz (2.140), Jorge de la Rosa (4.015), Jeff Francis (4.040), Jason Grilli (3.118), Huston Street (4.000), Garrett Atkins (4.072), Clint Barmes (3.122), Brad Hawpe (4.058) (Eight Players, 5P, 3F) 

Options Ineligible (Five to Six): Zero players currently

Free Agency Eligible: Aaron Cook (6.020), Alan Embree (14.059), Jason Marquis (8.012), Yorvit Torrealba (7.030) (Four Players, 3P, 1F)

Ten and Five Rights: Todd Helton (11.059) (One Player, 1F)

Non-Roster Players of Interest: Matt Belisle (3.107), Randy Flores (3.130) Josh Fogg (7.030), Glendon Rusch (9.020 through 2007), Sal Fasano (6.044 through 2007), Scott Podsednik (slightly over six, exact data unavailable)

I will of course update this list as this data changes. Also, as I am not very good with table formatting, if someone wants to help me get both this list and the 40 man options list into a more visually pleasing form, that would be greatly appreciated.

Russ: Still need to make a few adjustments but here you go:


Zero UAY NAE AE FAE T&F Rights Non-Roster
Deduno Morales Corpas Buchholz Cook Helton Belisle
Lindsay Morillo Jimenez JDLR Embree Flores
Mattheus Register Hirsh Francis Marquis Fogg
Rogers Reynolds Speier Grilli Torrealba Rusch
Gomez Fowler G. Smith Street Fasano
Nelson Gonzalez Baker Atkins Podsednik
EY JR. Koshansky Iannetta Barmes
S. Smith Murton Hawpe
Stewart Quintanilla

Service Time Roster Analysis

As you can see from this basic table, the Rockies are very short on MLB experience, with only five of their players on the 40 man roster even accruing enough service time to be free agency eligible. Heck, only thirteen players are even arbitration eligible this year. While players like Glendon Rusch and Scott Podsednik will raise this number when the Rockies break camp, it will still be a very green, somewhat inexperienced Rockies squad in 2009.

Note that I didn't say young--some of these low service time players, like Speier or Spilborghs are hardly spring chickens. Of course, the 25 man roster will on average be more seasoned as my analysis included sixteen players without even significant major league experience. As for a breakdown by position, the Rockies have more experienced pitchers than they do fielders, which is hardly abnormal as pitchers tend to have longer careers.

In any case, I hope that you enjoyed this session of Purple Row Academy! I even kept it relatively short today--under 2000 words for the first time. For those wanting to review previous sessions, simply click on the "Purple Row Academy" link at the top of this post.

Sources and Additional Reading

A lion's share of the information came from these sources, and I recommend that any who are interested in further transaction enlightenment give them a read.

ML Service Time, courtesy of Jeff Euston

Some Service Time Notes, courtesy of Keith Law

Rockies Service Time Breakdown, Cot's Baseball Contracts