A New Fight Created By Games Being Cancelled? Service Time and Free Agency

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A New Fight Created By Games Being Cancelled? Service Time and Free Agency

Chicago Cubs

When games go off the schedule, in addition to all the other problems it creates, you suddenly have NEW fights to add to the mix. One of the big ones is about compensation, and we’ve already seen the players take the public position that cancelling games is unnecessary, and therefore either the games should be rescheduled or the players should be paid for them in any case.

But there’s another big, new fight that will arrive quite soon: service time.

Consider that, in the old system (which appears to be staying in place based on all offers over the past week), a player is under team control for six full big leagues seasons. And, since a big league season is defined as at least 172 days on the active roster (or IL) out of the 186-day season, that means teams can and do intentionally hold prospects down for at least 15 days to ensure they get not only that season of control, but then still get six seasons thereafter. It is a terrible incentive built into the structure of free agency and service time, but I won’t belabor that topic – you already know about service time games, and the problems they create.

Here’s where it matters for the lockout: with the first two series of the season off the schedule, what happens if there is no deal by this weekend? And then another two series get cancelled? What happens if 15 days of the season are cancelled? Well, arguably that means NO PLAYER can get a full year of service time in 2022.

We saw that this was a major fight before and during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, with service time ultimately being governed by a side agreement that treated the 60-game season as a full year. So, that year, as long as you didn’t miss more than a couple days, you would accumulate enough service time for a full year.

It seems very likely that, eventually, the same thing would happen this season. It is just so fundamentally unfair for MLB teams to unilaterally cancel games and then say, ope, now you can’t get a full year of service time so we all just got an extra year of team control over every player. Of course, I know the response: when has MLB owner behavior ever looked like anything approaching fundamental fairness?

So it’ll be a fight. It’s a fight that I would expect the players to win, since there is no circumstance under which they would sign off on a new CBA *without* an explicit agreement to pro-rate service time in 2022. A deal simply cannot get done without it. But now it’s another potential leverage point for MLB in the negotiations – one that they gave themselves with the lockout and the unilateral cancelling of games.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.