Major League Baseball is currently negotiating with the Players Association over how to account for service time in a shortened season. If the proper deal isn’t worked out, Shohei Ohtani is one of a few Angels players who could be impacted.
As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, it is becoming less likely that a full 162-game schedule will be played in 2020. How a shortened season impacts service time has become a critical issue among Major League owners and players, and could impact Shohei Ohtani.
Service time measures how many days a player is in the Major Leagues. Players receive service time for each day they spend on the 26-man active roster, or Major League injured list. The amount of service time a player accumulates is important because it determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency. The more service time a player collects, theoretically, the faster he qualifies for a bigger payday.
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The player on the Angels for whom this point is most pressing is Shohei Ohtani. The two-way star earned a meager $50,000 raise this season, bumping his salary to $700,000 in the final season before he becomes arbitration eligible. Ohtani can reach arbitration eligibility by accumulating a full season of service this year, but over a shorter season, his count to Super Two status might become more relevant.
A player earns one full year of service after accruing 172 days as a Big Leaguer during a given year. Once a player reaches six years of service, they become eligible for free agency. The most noteworthy player looking to reach his milestone is Mookie Betts, who is currently 102 days short of the sixth year plateau. Super Two status is earned when a player has not quite reached three years of service but has played in the top 22 percent of players between two and three years of service. This is a moving target, but for 2020 the threshold is believed to be two years plus 120 days.
How will service time be calculated over what will surely be a shortened 2020 season? The answer to this question is what lawyers are arguing about over conference lines in Manhattan right now. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports a compensation package for minor leaguers is being held up over service time negotiations.
According to Sherman’s report, the Union has proposed that if no games are played in 2020, players should receive full service time for the 2020 season as long as they had played reached a certain time criteria in 2019; their initial plan offering 60 days as the previous season threshold. MLB countered with a proposal to give full service time to players who had played at least 130 games the previous year, and after that, players would receive credit for actual days played.
How does all of this impact the Angels?
This brings us back to Ohtani. If the MLB proposal of giving full service time to players who played at least 130 games the previous year passes, Ohtani would fall124 games short of meeting that criteria. He would thus need to accumulate service time within the 2020 season to become arbitration eligible. He would need 120 days to reach Super Two status. And therein lies the potential problem for the Japanese star: it’s possible the 2020 season won’t be 120 days long. A season that starts on June 1 and ends on September 30 would be 122 days long. Of course, the schedule could be extended into October, and it also could start later than June 1. It will be a close call to reach 120 days.
Another player who could be impacted by service time calculations is Tommy La Stella. He played only 80 games last season, also short of the possible 130 game marker. He is the only player on the Angels active roster who could reach their magical sixth year of service over the next year. To be precise, La Stella is 115 days short of obtaining free agency eligibility. Again, the schedule could be tight to allow the second baseman to reach his needed 115 days of service this year.
From the Angels perspective, this could work out in their favor. The longer it takes for Ohtani to reach arbitration eligibility, the less they have to pay him relative to his production. His arbitration case could prove ground-breaking for a player without a comparable case as a two-way star. It also could help to a lesser degree with Tommy La Stella, keeping him under team control for one more year.
Once MLB and the Players Association agree on service time criteria, you better believe players and general managers, alike, will be quickly counting the days on their calendars to understand the length of a season needed to meet key thresholds.