Teams can take advantage of players’ service time during the pandemic
MLB owners and the MLB Players Association already had labor tension even before the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down the sport in March and forced drawn-out negotiations over a reformed 2020 season during the last two months. One of the more prominent pre-pandemic issues was the manipulation of players’ service time by front offices. In recent memory, Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed grievances against the Cubs and Phillies, respectively. Other players -- including Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Eloy Jiménez -- have had their service time obviously manipulated but nothing came of it.
Craig mentioned last week that teams were offering undrafted free agents contracts that begin in 2021 instead of this year, which slows the clock on the players’ eligibility for the Rule 5 draft and for minor league free agency. There are even more ways teams will take advantage of service time, even during a pandemic.
Eireann Dolan, wife of Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, refuted a report from Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports in which he said that players who cohabitate with “high risk” people would be able to opt out of playing while still receiving pay and service time. Players, in fact, won’t be paid or receive service time if they choose to opt out because of those with whom they cohabitate. Only the players themselves who are considered “high risk” can opt out and still receive pay and service time, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich. It is on the individual teams to be “accommodating” to players with “high risk” family. Thus, those players -- such as Doolittle -- have to choose between protecting their families during a pandemic, and getting paid and receiving service time.
Furthermore, ESPN’s Jeff Passan appeared on Sportsnet’s Writer’s Bloc podcast. He mentioned that teams can continue to manipulate service time during the 60-game season. As an example, he said that the Blue Jays could hold pitching prospect Nate Pearson (pictured) in the minors for just the first seven days of the season in order to get an extra year of contractual control.
Teams will also be able to take advantage of “taxi squads,” a small group of players who work out and travel with the team. Those “taxi squad” players are not on the active roster and, until they are, are paid their meager minor league salary and do not receive service time. It is possible that, during a pandemic, a player travels with his team all season but gets zero service time and zero major league pay. These players are pressured into taking on responsibility and risk for very little reward just to enhance their future job prospects.
The upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations should be fun. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021.