With April 13th now firmly in the rear-view mirror, the ability for a player with zero current MLB service time to get in a full year in 2018 has come and gone. In the complicated world of MLB service clock jargon, it’s easy to get a bit fumbled with the details, but with top Cincinnati Reds prospect Nick Senzel currently on the cusp of his first big league call-up, wading through the specifics becomes a bit more pertinent.
For players to accrue a full year of MLB service time, they’ve got to be on the active roster for at least 172 days of a season. And, if they only finish with, say, 171 days on the active roster by the end of 2018, whichever MLB club controls their rights would still have them for six full seasons beyond 2018. In other words, if the Reds chose to call Senzel up today, on April 17th, he’d only be able to log 168 big league days in calendar year 2018, and the Reds would still have control of him for six full years afterwards - or clear through 2024. If he’d opened the season with the big league club and stayed on the active roster all year, he’d be eligible for free agency a year earlier, at the end of 2023.
It’s that decision that’s usually the easiest one for front offices to make. Unless the presence of said prospect for some 16 games might be the tipping point in an otherwise make or break season, it’s hard to argue that only having them up in their rookie season for 145-ish games instead of a full 162 is worth sacrificing a full extra season of their production - production that will also come in a more in-prime age than their rookie season. That’s the one that GM Dick Williams and his cronies in the Cincinnati front office settled on with Senzel, of course, despite the injury to incumbent 3B Eugenio Suarez.
Williams spoke about Senzel and the decisions around him with MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon yesterday, also mentioning that the way Senzel is playing at the time will also be a significant factor in when he’s called up - not just the scenario in Cincinnati. And while that’s certainly a prudent line of thinking, there’s also another complicated service time issue that’s undoubtedly a factor in the decision - the possibility of Senzel earning Super Two status.
As all 30 MLB teams are juggling their own top prospects on the cusp of their big league roster at the same time, Super Two status effectively rewards those prospects who log the most big league active roster time during their first year up. In fact, the top 22% of service time earners land Super Two status, which effectively means they get to be arbitration eligible after finishing their second full year of service time - meaning they get four years of arb-eligible raises instead of the standard three years. And considering those arbitration salaries benchmark and grow off of one another, it gives Super Two players a platform to earn many more millions before reaching free agency.
Unlike the ‘year of service time’ deadline - which was fixed at April 13th - there is no fixed deadline for Super Two status, as it all depends on which players get called up league-wide, and when. It isn’t determined until after the season, either, so teams don’t even get the extra few months of future payroll preparation after calling up their top guys. Usually, though, the cutoff is around the beginning of June, which means if the Reds choose to wait until after that point to call up Nick Senzel, they might well save themselves as much as $8-10 million down the road (assuming his career blossoms as we all hope). Considering that even Senzel performing masterfully beginning today likely wouldn’t propel this current Cincinnati team back into the playoffs in 2018, that’s the kind of financial consideration that Williams & Co. are up against when determining how to operate.
It’s a decidedly large gamble, one that the Reds lucked out on big-time back in 2016, as they found out in October that Dan Straily - who’d had a breakout year for them and was in the mix to qualify for Super Two status - missed the cutoff by a mere five days. That meant that his salary for the 2017 season was only the league minimum - some $512,000 - instead of the projected $4 million he’d have made if he qualified. While that financial commitment doesn’t break the bank for any MLB team, it’s still a significant amount, and the lower price made Straily that much more of an attractive trade piece around the league - eventually helping the Reds land Luis Castillo from the notoriously stingy Miami Marlins.
In related news, The Athletic’s Cliff Corcoran looked into all the service time shenanigans teams are playing at the moment with their top prospects, and Nick Senzel’s situation is mentioned.
The Enquirer’s Dave Clark looked at the 2-13 start to the 2018 season for these Reds (prior to last night’s victory), and compared it to the miserable 2-17 start the 1931 Reds slogged through. It’s a cool look at the numbers, as well as how the local news covered that particular vintage of the Reds.
Finally, Cuban signee Alfredo Rodriguez landed on the MiLB DL today with a broken hamate bone in one of his two - I think it’s just two - hands, as RedsMinorLeagues.com’s Doug Gray relayed. It’s one more bummer for Rodriguez, who cost the Reds some $12 million in signing bonuses and overage penalties to sign and who will already turn 24 years old in June, as the slick-fielding, wet-noodle-swinging shortstop will now be sidelined for potentially a few months. Hamate injuries are notorious power-sappers, too, as former Cincinnati prospect Yonder Alonso once had to fight through. Similarly, 2016 2nd round draftee Chris Okey attempted to play through a busted one just last year and struggled mightily before disclosing the issue over the offseason and having surgery - and, to date, Okey has yet to appear in a game on the Reds farm in 2018.