The Cleveland Indians have a number of exciting prospects in the organization fans can’t wait to see.
But anytime we bring them up, the idea of service-time manipulation must be mentioned.
So what does that term mean?
It has to do with MLB’s convoluted financial structure and how long players have to wait before hitting free agency.
Let’s break it down in simple terms.
The Practice of Service-Time Manipulation
There are many caveats to this system, but we will go over it in its most basic sense.
MLB players need six years of service to qualify for free agency.
A year of service is 172 days on the active roster.
After three years of service, players are eligible for arbitration.
Teams want to keep players cost-controlled for as long as possible, even if they can help the team in the present.
So what do teams do to ensure that happens?
They manipulate the service time.
For example, it is not uncommon for teams to call up a top prospect right at the time when he won’t qualify for a full year of service.
Someone like Nolan Jones, who may be ready now, will be called up in May or June to prevent him from getting his first full year of service.
Roster moves today:
Optioned to @CLBClippers
INF Nolan Jones
RHP Carlos Vargas
LHP Scott Moss
RHP Eli Morgan
RHP Jean Carlos Mejía
Reassigned to Depth Camp
RHP Kyle Dowdy
OF Billy Hamilton
Traded to @Reds for cash
INF Mike Freeman
+Roster at 48 players
— Tribeinsider (@tribeinsider) March 12, 2021
This is the manipulation in its most basic sense.
Teams have their timelines and know exactly when players can be called up.
That is why Francisco Lindor only appeared in 99 games for the Indians back in 2015.
He was already talented enough to start right away, but the team waited on his clock and it started ticking in 2016 instead.
Will This Happen in 2021?
The short answer is yes.
This always happens.
This is an open secret by front offices who may claim they want young players to get just a bit more time in the minors before reaching the majors.
Ultimately, it is a bad lie.
Things are also different in 2021 as the entire minor league season has been pushed back to start in May.
Teams will opt for prospects to go to minor league camp or the alternate training site instead of getting live game action in April.
That is just the way the league operates.
Service time manipulation isn’t a Dolan issue. It makes a lot of sense for certain teams because of the construct MLB has created.
There are plenty of reasons to hate on the Dolans, but Nolan Jones is not one. https://t.co/Pv1K6YWU6t
— Gage (@GageEHC) March 12, 2021
Obviously, this causes tension between players and clubs.
Why would a player want to re-sign with a team that purposely limited his play for a year?
Anything can happen on a baseball field and ultimately, players shouldn’t have their earnings limited by this manipulation.
This explains why the Indians routinely have had players in the Opening Day lineup who are gone within weeks.
The players and owners are going to have to figure out how to solve this problem during the next collective bargaining process.
Both players and fans are hurt when top talent is not on the field strictly for financial reasons.