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Messin' with rookies is not that big a deal

He survived the ordeal


Maury Chass is concerned about a competitive integrity issue that has nothing to do with steroids:

The integrity of the game is a phrase heard often in any discussion of steroids and baseball. Major League Baseball says players have to be tested to ensure the integrity of the game; each player who tests positive damages the integrity of the game. There is no test, on the other hand, for a practice that undermines the integrity of the game. Let's call it the June 1 Jaunt. That's the date, give or take a week, on which good young minor league players travel to the major leagues, belatedly summoned by their employers . . .

. . . What is behind this practice that undermines the integrity of the game? Four words: major league service time. By manipulating a player's service time, a team can delay his eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency. For service time purposes, a full year is defined as 172 days. A season is 183 days, meaning if a player isn't called up in the first 12 days of the season, he can't get a full year's service time for that season.

What Chass is describing, of course, is the whole "Super Two" dance in which teams engage in order to prevent early arbitration eligibility. The primary example Chass uses is Ryan Braun, who wasn't called up by the Brewers until the end of May in 2007 despite obviously being ready to contribute before then. Noting that Braun's absence may very well have meant the difference between the Brewers making and missing the playoffs that year, Chass says "When a team doesn't do everything it can to win games, it cheats its fans, and the fans have to ask why and accuse the team of deliberately not trying to win."

I sympathize with Chass' argument, because I like to see young prospects play, and I laugh at the people quoted in the article trying to claim that service time manipulation is not what's going on with these late call-ups. Of course it is. But Chass is being intentionally obtuse here. Chass was one of the first writers -- maybe the first to seriously cover the business and contracts side of baseball. He should know then, that while a team's manipulation of service time on the front end may cost some games in April and May of the player's rookie year, the purpose of the tactic is to basically buy a full additional year of that player's time during his prime by delaying free agency. We may not like the practice, of course -- and we can't deny that saving money is a huge factor here -- but if the Brewers cost themselves two or three wins in 2007 in order to ensure 160 games of Ryan Braun in 2013, I'd be loathe to say that harms the integrity of the game.

The issue of service time manipulation is the subject of collective bargaining. The owners take full advantage of this rule, and the players know the score on it. They have the power to fight for concessions on that point if they want to, however, an in light of this, I'm hesitant to make a competitive issue out of it like Chass does.