Will Los Angeles Angels manipulate Jo Adell’s service time?

Los Angeles Angels’ top prospect Jo Adell was originally slated to make his MLB debut in 2020, but the shortened season could cause the team to use service time manipulation to delay his climb.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell is seen nearly unanimously as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Whether it be Baseball America (#3), MLB.com (#6), or Baseball Prospectus (#2), there is a consensus that he has the potential to be a five-tool player at the game’s highest level.

Making his way to Triple-A and then starring in the Arizona Fall League as a 20-year-old in 2019, Adell was looking forward to staking his claim to a big-league job with a strong camp in 2020. Across three levels, Adell hit .289/.359/.475 with 10 home runs and 36 RBI despite a late start due to a leg injury suffered in spring training 2019. He followed that up by producing a .273/.351/.444 slash line with three home runs and nine RBI in 99 at-bats during the AFL.

His climb got delayed in spring training 2020, as the world of Major League Baseball came crashing down due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, as the season is about to get underway and teams will begin reporting back to spring training 2.0 on July 1st, Adell is looking forward to getting back to work and continuing his march toward the 40-man roster.

However, claiming that spot on the roster coming out of spring training may be out of his hands.

As noted when discussing another member of the top prospect class (Nate Pearson of the Blue Jays), ESPN’s Jeff Passan spoke on Sportsnet’s Writer’s Bloc podcast (h/t  Bill Baer at NBC Sports). He mentioned that teams could continue to manipulate service time in order to gain an extra year of contractual control over players, even in a shortened season. In Pearson’s case, that would be just seven games where he doesn’t appear on the 26-man roster or the equivalent to one turn through the rotation.

Typically speaking, a player has a year of service time accrued when he plays is on the roster for 172 of the standard 187 days in a normal season. Applying that 92% of the formula to the expected 60 games being played across 66 days in 2020, that would seem to line up with the seven-game delay Passan mentioned.

In that regard, it is almost a certainty that the Angels could do the same thing to Jo Adell. By sacrificing having him available for seven games, the team avoids arbitration by one season and gains an extra year of contractual control. Given the nature of the shortened season, it hardly seems to be a huge sacrifice by the team to do so, even if it is a sticking point for the players themselves.

That doesn’t mean that Adell won’t get playing time during the delay. Teams will have taxi squads available as well, which will be comprised of players that are traveling with the team and training on the off chance that they are needed. Adell could simply be placed on the taxi squad, allowing him to get repetitions and staying ready to go, but since he won’t be on the 26-man roster (30 to start the season), he won’t be accruing service time either.

The manipulation of service time has long been a thorn in the players association’s side, and will certainly become a key talking point in the next collective bargaining meetings. For now, it is a reality of the current deal, and teams have been exploiting it with top prospects for years. Jo Adell and Nate Pearson are just the latest to fall victim to this contractual loophole. It’s a shame, but the rule’s presence and the shortened season make for the perfect storm to play the game despite the optics.

But make no mistakes. Jo Adell is slated for big things at the MLB level, and a seven-day delay by the Angels won’t prevent that from being a reality.

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