Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Money on Both Sides

Bringing back one veteran starting pitcher was deemed necessary. Gambling on another was judged prudent. Signing a third seemed a little overzealous. But as one of the most highly touted prospects in the minors continues to throw pills past hitters, it's natural to ask - why not start the kids?

It turns out that just as their is a financial incentive to rush youngsters onto the major league roster, there is also an incentive against it, and it can be similarly lucrative. To understand it, you need to understand exactly how service time works and how it affects players salaries and team payrolls.

Every day a player is on a major league roster (or on the DL from a major league roster), they're earning service time. Service time is tracked in years and days, and you can find how much service time a player has at Cott's, an indispensable baseball resource. For instance, if you click over there and look at the Twins, you'll find this:

Justin Morneau 1b
1 year/$4.5M (2007)

  • re-signed 2/07 (avoided arbitration, $5M-$4M)
  • 1 year/$0.385M (2006), re-signed 3/06
  • 1 year/$0.345M (2005), re-signed 3/05
  • drafted 1999 (3-89), $0.29M signing bonus
  • agent: SFX
  • ML service: 2.168

That last bullet point means that Morneau has 2 years and 168 days service time. (To be honest, I don't know how many days constitute a year, but I assume it's around 175 or 180). That's less than three years, which is significant, because there are two points on the service time clock that are VERY important to ballplayers and their teams.

6.000 (Six years)

A player who ends the season with a six full years of service time can become a free agent. This is why it is so important that Morneau is just short of three years of service time right now. When the 2009 season ends, Morneau will have 5 years and 168 days of service time. Which means he won't be eligible for free agency until after 2010 and should (knock, knock) be able to play in the new ballpark (knock, knock).

~2.135 (About two years and 135 games)

A player who ends the season with about two years and 135 games of service time is eligible for arbitration for the first time, meaning a several million dollar raise ala Joe Mauer and Morneau this year. That's significant to one other young Twins player...

Remember how last year Jason Bartlett was sent down to Rochester at the end of spring training? And nobody could believe it? Coincidentally Bartlett had earned 148 days of service time prior to last year. If he had been with the Twins from the beginning of the year, he would have undoubtedly been eligible for arbitration after this year.

But, because he spent two months in Rochester, he finished last season with one year and 86 games. Which means that even after this year, he’ll still be a full year away from arbitration. That could save the Twins a couple of million dollars in 2008. And 2009. And 2010.

There’s no evidence that the Twins took this into consideration. In fact, it was reported that they offered to put Bartlett on the disabled list to begin the season, which would have extended his service time. Also, had they really just been trying to dodge an early arbitration, they could have called him up at the end of April and still accomplished that goal.

But it's probably wasn't an unpleasant side effect.

Which brings us to Matt Garza, who enters the year with 55 days of service time. If the Twins can wait until the end of May to call him up, they'll delay his ability to become a free agent until after 2013, instead of 2012. And if they can wait until shortly after the All-Star break to call him up, they'll delay his arbitration date until after 2010, which means he'll still be pitching for peanuts just as the Twins are facing Mauer's and Morneau's free agency. The future savings for keeping a high-impact rookie like Garza in the minors for another half year could be a couple of million dollars per year.

It's easy to see the obvious costs of signing veterans could probably be replaced by a rookie. But beyond the risks that it includes, there are costs down the road that might otherwise be mitigated. A tweak in a rookie's service time, made possible by a veteran carrying the load for just a few extra weeks, can provide a significant financial windfall.

Twins Takes

  • Machado is going to start the year on the DL (savvy move for a Rule V guy) and Gardenhire seems to have talked himself out of "needing" a new backup shortstop or necessarily keeping Alexi Casilla on the roster. (Casilla, by the way, has 31 days of service time. )
  • That's all great news. What isn't great news is that my research about who the Twins might trade for as a backup shortstop likely won't see the light of day. I still think I'm coming out ahead.
  • If you're not stopping by MNGameday.com for the GameDay writers and the updated list of Twins blogging posts, you're missing some good stuff.
  • Speaking of good stuff, Friday's and Monday's posts should be interesting, as The Voice of Reason™ and I will be spending a long weekend in Las Vegas. If you're looking for Twins news, there likely won't be much. If you're looking for drunken debauchary and disconnected ponderings, welcome home.
  • My favorite comment of the week come from T Dog: "My real question is what do Perkins & Garza have to do to make the rotation? Bounce around the majors for 10 years and then sign a minor league contract with the Twins?"

Thanks for stopping by. We'll see you tomorrow.

1 comment:

TwinsJunkie said...

That's a great post. It's a confusing system, but this explains it well.