Ronald Acuña Jr. and MLB’s Service Time Rules

Ronald Acuña Jr. may already be the best player in the entire Atlanta Braves organization. The 20-year-old outfielder has only appeared in a handful of MLB games, but his talent has been obvious for years. He dominated Triple-A pitching last summer, and was the consensus number one prospect in the sport heading into 2018. However, no one was surprised when he was sent back to the minors to begin the season.

Ensuring that they will get that extra season

Clubs have control of players for their first six seasons of major league service. One year of service time is considered 172 days. If a team waits and calls a promising player up from the minors for the first time at a point in which accumulating 172 days of service in that first season is impossible, the team gets an additional year of control of that player. The Braves promoted Acuña on April 25, when there were only 158 days remaining in the 2018 season, ensuring that they will get that extra season.

It’s not the first time

This is nothing new. The Yankees did it with their best youngster, Gleyber Torres, earlier this year. George Springer had it happen back in 2014. But the premier example of this service time manipulation remains the Kris Bryant case to begin the 2015 season.

Excited to welcome @tflowers25 back to the lineup tonight! #ChopOn

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Bryant was coming off of a monster campaign in 2014 in which he smashed 43 home runs and hit .364/.457/.727 across the two highest minor league levels. He was 23 years old at the time and clearly ready for the majors. The Cubs, for their part, were ready to be relevant once again after five consecutive losing seasons. Yet, instead of assembling the best possible roster, they sent one of their top hitters to Iowa for the first week of the season.

The mind wonders

Chicago got by without their wunderkind, going 5-3 before Bryant was called up on April 17. Would the future Rookie of the Year and MVP have made a difference in those losses? It’s impossible to know, but the Cubs did finish just three games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for both the NL Central crown and the best record in baseball. Would home field advantage have made the difference in that season’s NLCS, where they lost to the New York Mets? The mind wonders.

Budding talent is being valued more than ever before in professional baseball, but teams want to hold off on paying the players their true worth for as long as possible. This fact, paired with the increasingly limited funds made available to aging players in free agency, could see the players and owners on a collision course for 2021.

The current MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement is the law of the land until then. Service time manipulation is sure to be a topic of discussion.

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