Following up: Service time debate reignites; José Abreu held out

You have to hand it to Kevin Mather, who managed to incense his players, staff, the league, the MLBPA and fans with 45 minutes of unprompted Thomas Nast-grade fatcattery at a friggin’ Rotary Club meeting, then resigned to leave everybody else in the Mariners front office to deal with the mess.

As far as messes go, this one is going to take more than elbow grease. It turns out that “[x] doesn’t speak for the organization” is a tough line to pull off when [x] oversees the organization.

Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has plenty of work remaining after his first attempt at addressing the matter, because the debate over the alleged manipulation of Jarred Kelenic’s service time is only starting.

Kelenic’s agent talked to Bob Nightengale, saying that Kelenic had been offered an extension 14 months ago that would have paved his way to the big leagues at some point over the 2020 season.

“It was communicated to Jarred that had he signed that contract, he would have debuted last year,’’ said Brodie Scoffield, who represents Kelenic. “It was made crystal clear to Jarred — then and now — that his decision not to call him up is based on service time.

“There’s no question that if he signed that contract, he would have been in the big leagues.”

Said Kelenic, who spent last year in the Mariners’ alternate camp: “It wasn’t just communicated one time to me. It was told to me several times. That’s the God’s honest truth. It got old.’’

Dipoto maintains that no promises were made, and that Kelenic’s lack of traditional high-minors experience explains everything:

“I’m not sure how you construe service-time manipulation with a 21-year-old who has played 20 games above A ball and has not yet achieved 800 plate appearances as a professional player,” Dipoto said. “That would be an unprecedented run to the big leagues. While Jared is a wildly talented player, we do want to make sure he has checked off the boxes in development because it’s incumbent on us, not just for the good of the Mariners but for the benefit of Jarred Kelenic, to make sure he has been fully developed.”

We’d already talked about Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez having no company when it comes to the size of the contracts they signed their first MLB games, and I’m guessing the offer put forth by Seattle isn’t on their tier.. Another White Sox reason to follow this fight: The bare-bones, pandemic-ignoring description of Kelenic’s experience also applies to Andrew Vaughn.

Unlike previous springs and Septembers, the White Sox are talking up what Vaughn can do, rather than all the reasons their top prospect du jour might need more time in the minors. While Tony La Russa said Vaughn’s name is written in pencil, not pen, on depth charts and lineup cards, he outlined all the things Vaughn has going for him, and in great detail.

“I’d say (I’ve seen from Vaughn) probably the three most important things a hitter has to have,” La Russa said Tuesday. “First of all, if it’s in a cage or if he’s taking live batting practice — and I’m sure it would be the same in a game — he doesn’t ever step in there where he’s not ready to do damage. He’s got that hitter-ish attitude.

“Second, he’s got no fear. And third, he works left-center, right-center, which is what high-average hitters do, produce a lot of RBIs, a lot of home runs, they start a lot of rallies.”

I’d argue that La Russa’s first two elements aren’t so much 1) and 2) as they are 1) and 1a), but either way, I’ll take him talking up young players over dwelling on things they can’t or may never be able to do for in the same of suppressing immediate earnings.

Beyond the Sox angle, you’ll probably hear lots of people on the players’ side referring to Mather’s loose lips when negotiating the next collective bargaining agreement. It’s worth getting acquainted with this story at one level or another for when the economic angle comes roaring back to life in six to eight months.

* * * * * * * * *

José Abreu wasn’t able to report to spring training on Wednesday as originally planned due to a positive COVID-19 test. That said, the statement released by Rick Hahn suggests that Abreu isn’t actively battling the illness.

“Jose, who is completely asymptomatic, believes he contracted a mild case of the disease in January, which is reinforced by the presence of COVID antibodies in additional testing,” the statement said. “Other than being frustrated, Jose feels great and, like the rest of us, is looking forward to when he rejoins the club in the not too distant future.”

CDC guidelines advise against testing an asymptomatic person with a previously confirmed COVID-19 case within 90 days of the original infection because they can still test positive while shedding the virus. However, if Abreu was never tested for his suspected case in January, the league has no documented case to work with, so it might be trying to reverse-engineer a timeline with the antibody test. La Russa said Abreu could be back in action as soon as Friday, but more likely early next week.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Greg Nix

The Kevin Mather thing is absurd on a number of levels, but one underdiscussed part is the ROTARY CLUB. My mom is in Rotary and picturing her and a bunch of other near-retirees staring at computers in confusion as this guy rants about Hisashi Iwakuma is kind of hilarious.


Rotary Club reevaluates open bar….


One of the features of the pandemic. Lots of people who get way too comfortable in a remote setting but might otherwise be able to “read the room” and recognize they are going down the wrong path


Like Josh Donaldson said yesterday, Mather did the players’ union a big favor by publicly stating what most organizations do regarding service time. I don’t think the players will allow this system to continue in the next agreement, and we know the owners won’t give that up, so I would fully expect a strike/lockout next year. It’s going to be really ugly.


Counterpoint: Minor Leaguers aren’t part of the MLB Union, so I don’t see this being a high priority on the Union’s agenda. Their #1 goal is going to be securing the interests of veteran players, then young players, then maybe future Union members. I would be shocked if service time games are in their top 5 or 10 issues at this point.


I would argue that it’s in the best interest of the veteran players to try and increase the salaries of the younger players. As it is the price disparity is massive. So many teams asking “why should we sign the $5M guy, when the $600k guy can give us 70% of the production?”

It’s probably going to look like 1. An increase in the minimum salary and 2. A change in service time rules so that players hit free agency sooner (fewer years of cheap control). I think the service time solution is to just start the clock when the player is signed/drafted.


Guys who are currently in the league but have had their free agency delayed a year or two are in the union and they have huge reason to care.

This isn’t a minor league player issue. It’s a MLB player with less than 6 years of service time issue


I would think the players who have gotten screwed by this system are going to be much more concerned about getting their money down the road as veterans; nothing in the next CBA will be able to go back and compensate Kris Bryant for getting screwed. But the next CBA could protect him from getting tagged by the QO.

I certainly hope I’m wrong; minor leaguers have been getting screwed for a long time. But right or wrong, nothing the union has ever done has seemed to be with minor leaguers in mind.


It significantly impacts the ability of the best 10% (pulling that out of thing air but feels about right) players to max out their first contracts in a league where most guys don’t get more than one significant contract. If the union doesn’t care about this, what do they care about?


Everyone loves to use KB as their example. The guy would be completely screwed this year looking for his big pay day after he hit at the mendoza line last year and barely scratched a .600 ops. Keep that guy out of the outfield for his own well being.


Counter-counterpoint: These aren’t standard minor leaguers. If a team is manipulating a players service time it is because that player stands to be very good at baseball. This isn’t about wide ranging Quality of Life improvements for minor leaguers. This is about not suppressing the earnings of some of the surest young players early salaries. The Union definitely cares about that



Oh, I’m dizzzzzzy.


Genuinely curious; do we have any evidence from past CBA negotiations that the Union has any interest in fighting for guys who aren’t in the Union yet? I certainly don’t remember the union wining them any significant benefits in the most recent CBA negotiations. In fact I would argue the Union has allowed conditions to get worse for pre-mlb players (caps on singing bonuses for Latin American players, for example).

Last edited 2 years ago by mikeyb

This will be a huge part of the negotiations. It’s limiting salaries/free agency for the brightest young stars. Not your run-of-the-mill minor leaguers.


While I think mikeyb is wrong for the reasons stated above, I think this is a bigger issue for fans than the PA. It just impacts such a small number of players. I mean, how many players have legitimate claims to service time manipulation in the last 5 years? Probably less than 20 (maybe less than 10). It *seems* like a lot because when it happens its so blatantly obvious and is a big story.


You think an issue that impacts 2 to 4 players per year is going to be at the heart of the next CBA negotiations? I just don’t see it, but would love to have the union prove me wrong.


I have to think it’s more than that. Guys on the White Sox who have been impacted off the top of my head: Robert, Jimenez, Madrigal, Kopech, Anderson, Rodon


Rodón & Anderson are outside of my 5 year window (but Anderson debuted in June & Rodón only had 20 IP above A ball, so both are tough sells, anyway). Kopech made his debut in August, so I don’t see it.

Robert & Jimenez for sure. Madrigal may have a good case, too, so let’s count him. That’s 3 from the team that probably called up more top prospects than any team over the last five years. Acuna & Vlad Jr. are two other cases I can think of.

I even did a little digging for other names but only found this article from early 2019 about service time manipulation that, unbeknownst to the author at the time, ironically heavily features the two best examples against his argument: Tatis Jr. and Pete Alonso.


I don’t necessarily agree. It’s literally killing MLB’s middle class. The owners aren’t interested in fielding their most competitive teams if it means spending more on a middle tier player. They would rather run out an unproven youngster with cost control and pocket the difference. Having the players reach free agency sooner would force the owners to spend on players in the 26-28 age range.

Look at the list of current players without contracts and you’ll see what the impact of this rule is.


I suppose this is the place to wish Jerry Reinsdorf a happy 85th birthday?

Trooper Galactus


Trooper Galactus

Him too.

Joliet Orange Sox

Grieve it to Leaver

Starring Barbara Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont, Tony Dow,

and Kevin Mather as the Leaver.

S1 E1 Pilot: The union grieves MLB over service time manipulation.


well done

LuBob DuRob

I hate the service time games and would like to see changes to the system. Are there ideas out there on what can be done to prevent manipulation? It seems like a difficult thing to fix. Obviously when you have a team dangling a contract for MLB assignment, that player should be up. But under average circumstances where a team is saying a player isn’t ready, what can be in the next CBA to force them to bring a player up? Some sort of arbitration process with an independent body?

Last edited 2 years ago by LuBob DuRob

This is my question too. All I can think of is to make the threshold for a year of service much lower. It’s easy to hold a player out for a month to start the season when your team depth is at it deepest. If you had to hold them out until midseason or something, then it’s a bit tougher


I look to the NFL for the answer. Obvious difference in a salary cap league, but I think the structure of exclusive vs non-exclusive rights free agency could be an option. Instead of Arb, players with 4 years of service time (redefined as any year with more time on a roster than a September call up) are exclusive rights free agents and the current team has matching rights on any contract offered by the market. Owners won’t like it but that’s best for players. So you negotiate off that and land on a couple of friendly team options in years 4 and 5, with Exclusive rights in year 6

Last edited 2 years ago by Red_Hair_White_Sox
Eagle Bones

I’ve seen several mention tying FA to just the players age instead of service time.

LuBob DuRob

Yes, I do remember reading this before. Tying FA to age makes sense and might not only discourage manipulation but also encourage promotion.


I’ve seen this too, but it’s not without problems. For one, what do you do with injuries? Dane Dunning is 26 but he’s only got a month of service time. I don’t see a good solution to this problem.

Second, it could have wonky consequences. College players become less valuable. Heck, college seniors would hardly be worth drafting. If you draft a kid at 21 or 22, after (optimistically) two years of the minors and a rookie year of adjustments, a team has him for, what, 3 more years? It could also encourage teams to rush players.


Yeah, if anything I would think best case scenario is tying it to signing date. Your service clock starts the moment you sign your contract as a draftee/international free agent, regardless of when you actually make it to the majors.


No system will be perfect, but you can tie it to age/professional service time so potentially high school, college, and international signings all reach free agency at nearly comparable times. If Dunning ends up with 4 years of major league service rather than the current 6, it’s not that big a deal. Teams aren’t concerned with the clocks of the Dunnings of the world. It’s the Roberts and Jimenezes of the world they care about.

Encouraging teams to put their best players in the majors is good for the sport.


But under this system, Dunning wouldn’t end up with 4 years of service time, he’d end up with like 2. Unless you drew the line at age 30, but that seems bad.

Of course teams aren’t worried about Dunning’s service time, but he was an easy example of a college player who dealt with substantial injuries in the minor leagues. It just throws off the timeline so much.

Eagle Bones

I mean, how is this any different than a player that gets hurt a bunch once they’re in the majors? Unless you’re proposing that guys don’t earn service time while on the IL, this is always going to be a problem.


It’s different because guys getting hurt in the majors isn’t a service time issue. They should earn service time when injured.

Although maybe Jim is right and there are some ways to work around it.

Eagle Bones

Maybe I’m not understanding your point? Teams have this issue with pitchers all of the time, even under the current system, where guys get hurt and spend multiple years of their team control on the IL. And yeah, Jim makes a good point that they could certainly allow for some kind of extra year in certain cases or something.


I was just pulling numbers out of butt. My point is that teams wouldn’t be too worried about ending up with just 4 years of MLB control over players at the Dunning level.

Both sides need to find a way to get the best players to the majors as soon as they’re among the best 26 in the system.

Eagle Bones

I mean, are those really “problems” or just consequences of changing the system?

Eagle Bones

The other easy option along this line of thinking would be, instead of tying to each players age, you just get a certain number of years of team control (including MiLB time) based on which avenue you acquired the player through. So something like:


– High school players: 10 years of control
– JUCO: 8 years
– College Juniors: 7 years control
– College Seniors: 6 years control

International… I’m too lazy to think the whole thing up now, but you get the point.

Last edited 2 years ago by Eagle Bones

This is more or less what I had in mind. You could introduce an age component to it, too.


I think they are problems. It shifts the incentives for drafting away from talent to how long you can get a player cheap. Why draft a college senior, who will almost certainly still need a couple of years in the minors, and get 3-4 years control when you can take a HS player and probably get at least 6?

I think the bottom line is this: people are thinking up some pretty radical solutions (in the sense that they would radically change how service time works) for a problem that effects a *very* small amount of players. And no matter what the system, teams are going to find ways to exploit it.

Other than those rare cases, this is a decent system. Like I suggested above, just tune the conditions where a player can win a grievance thereby disincentivizing manipulation.

(And, as Trooper suggested below, I think a partial solution to this is fix the tanking problem. Do that, and teams will already have less incentive to manipulate service time.)

Eagle Bones

I’m confused why you keep citing college seniors as an example of a demo that would get screwed? College seniors aren’t valued at all during the current system, so I don’t really see how this changes anything.

I feel like you’re overly focused on the specific numbers I threw out there which are just examples. Make them whatever you want to even it out across the different groups. And it’s not like the current sytem isn’t skewed in favor of certain demos. College players get pushed up every year because of the current system.

Trooper Galactus

College seniors are already on a short leash after being drafted because of their age. They’re considered more polished and maxed out on their potential, so the road to their 100% outcome needs to be short or else they’re busts. By the time they’re 26, they’ve either debuted or pretty much not advanced usefully.

Trooper Galactus

That and making reversing the draft order for non-playoff teams so that the losers of the Wild Card play-in games get first pick in the draft as compensation for their efforts and bottom feeders stop getting rewarded for tanking.


Yes! I think this plus making grievances easier to win (like much easier) and the manipulation problem would be fixed. This also stops teams from tanking, which is good for free agents and for the game as a whole.


Wondering to myself (and sharing), “Why do we just accept the concept of control beyond a contract in sports?”
Frankly, it is bullshit for the experts that have chosen to invest towards a profit in owning a franchise to have that kind of leverage over the players that actually create the product. I would have never conceded control of my future beyond the period of my contract while I was working; and, I think that all of the defenses of the practice are contrivances around protecting the status quo for the benefit of the owners.


James Fegan’s interview with Rick Hahn in The Athletic really set me off. This team expects fans to watch quality players who would fit the roster sign with other teams and be perfectly happy with it.

As someone else pointed out in the comments, when it was time to trade away the good players, intentionally lose games, and run a barebones payroll, the comp was the Cubs and the Astros. When it was time to bring in elite talent and run a top of the league payroll to finish off the roster, the comp is the Rays.

Somehow I don’t think many other front offices are going to be selling their own fans on pursuing the White Sox model of gaslighting and open contempt for anyone who questions them.


I read that article too this afternoon and agree it is not a good look for Hahn. His justification of “the money being spent” was not satisfying at all and will do nothing to quell the legitimate grievances of most Sox fans.

Last edited 2 years ago by Buehrlesque

I know what you mean. I felt like Hahn was speaking directly to me because I use the “money will be spent” line against him all the time here. He says that particular criticism irritates him apparently. Good. It should and that’s why I say it. It angered me because, while the Sox have signed some bigger money players (Grandal, Hendricks, Yoan extension I suppose qualify as recent big dollar spending by most club’s standards), I can’t believe he expects fans to be satisfied with the Sox being bottom half of the league spenders during the spending years of a re-build. Take a little risk on a short term piece they are missing for F sake, like SP DH or RF. The point of a rebuild should be to create a core of young, cost controlled players, so that the club can fill in the missing pieces simply by spending some cash, and they have achieved that more or less. Flexibility does you no good if you don’t USE the payroll flexibility. If you don’t take advantage of payroll flexibility, then it’s not flexibility, it’s just being cheap.


The closest thing to a benefit of the doubt I’ll give him is he had plans to spend a bit more this offseason but had his wings clipped by JR for (real or imaginary) pandemic reasons. I would say a path to continued spending could have been extrapolated after reasonable outlays after 2019 (Grandal, Keuchel, Encarnacion, Cishek). But after the offseason he just had, better for Hahn to just not say anything at all or at least sympathize with Sox fans than say what he did there. Here’s hoping he splurges at the trade deadline this year, which I think is a possibility.


If they spend at the trade deadline it would have to be for a player who’s going to be on the team beyond 2021, otherwise it changes nothing for me. My problem has always been that they refuse to just spend now to reap rewards later. They want to play the waiting game and have no risk when they spend money. The problem is that’s not how you maximize your competitive window.

If you are spending money at the trade deadline, that’s already money in the bank. You know you have a good shot at the playoffs, the risk is minimized by the likelihood of a windfall in October. Same old way of thinking: profits first, winning (maybe) later.


I have a longstanding theory that JR prefers in-season trades because they get a bigger PR bang for his buck with the fans, and he doesn’t want to over-commit to a team until it proves to be good so he’s not throwing good money after bad. But it’s been the Sox’ MO to make splashy midseason trades every time they’re in the race, back to Tim Belcher in 1993. Charles Johnson in 2000, Alomar/Everett in ’03 and ’04, Freddy in ’04, Griffey though it fell through in ’05, Manny in ’10, Youkilis in ’12, Shields in ’16. Bottom line, if the Sox are in the race this July, I see them adding payroll.

Michael Kenny

Does Manny qualify as flashy? He was basically a $3M corpse by that point.


Haha, true, he’s the worst example. Just a big name at that point. Does fit the Sox mold though! (Griffey in ’08, somewhat similar.) That would put the Sox squarely in line for a deadline trade for Albert Pujols this summer!


They want us to be content with being 15th in payroll right in the heart of our window of contention….Good luck selling the fanbase on that

The Padres are 9th which feels about right for us.

Last edited 2 years ago by dwjm3
Eagle Bones

I dunno, there’s a decent sized slice of the fanbase that’s not only accepted it, but seems to be actively advocating for it.


This is the crazy part to me. What’s the downside as a fan to them spending more money?

1. They lose money on balance? – don’t care

2. They don’t resign good players? – the last free agent of consequence they lost might be Mark Buehrle. I’m ready to get hurt again there.

3. It keeps them from spending on other areas of need – lmao at the total paradox of that one

4. They need to trade good players – you mean a team would trade away like 3 great players in their prime? Wow, I can’t imagine that happening /s


I don’t doubt those fans exist, but clearly the organization doesn’t feel they are the majority or Hahn wouldn’t be out there making the statement he did.


I feel it isn’t where you rank, it’s HOW you spend the money. Fans can’t cry Sox are cheap when they spend $12 million on Encarnacion…and how’d that work out? They got huge value out of a handful of youngsters for pennies. I feel they had shrewd signings on Anderson and a few others and their ace is basically on a league minimum salary. Ranking by payroll really shouldn’t be the measuring stick, IMO.


How is spending 12 million dollars on a one year deal significant in this day and age? It was money poorly spent but hardly significant. It isn’t a big money contract.

It is real easy to cry cheap when we join with the Royals, Oakland, Cleveland, and Pirates as the only teams that have never given out a 9 figure deal. Last I checked we aren’t a small market team.

In essence you don’t rank teams by payroll but when you see significant holes in the roster you start to question why more money wasn’t spent.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter if you have cost controlled players if you aren’t going to use that payroll flexibility to put your roster over the top.

Last edited 2 years ago by dwjm3
Trooper Galactus

And yet, it still ranks as one of the single largest free agent contracts in team history. Seriously.

As Cirensica


It’s all in context right? They spent $12M on Encarnacion instead of spending $18M on Marcell Ozuna for one year. Or instead of signing Nelson Cruz (like they were rumored to) in the ’18-19 offseason for $16M per year.

Spending more is a risk/reward proposition. Generally, spending more means there is more risk involved, but a greater likelihood of the player actually being good.

Unless the Sox suddenly become clever enough to hit on those sub-$15M signings (they haven’t shown it), the surest way to spend money effectively is to pony up for players that are more likely to be effective. There is only one Rays front office, everyone else is just a knock-off.

Trooper Galactus

The Sox have proven they’re capable of finding the most expensive short-term busts available on the market pretty much every single season. Hahn actually has an almost supernatural talent for doing so.


This is very accurate and Hahn continues to be a disaster when it comes to public relations I have no idea why he does interviews at this point. The fact he can with a straight face say he is annoyed by people using his quotes against him such as “the money will be spent” “this is the cub plan” etc etc because he actually thinks the money has been spent or that the grandal and kuechel signings are even in the same league as Lester, Heyward, and Darvish is comical.


Yup, you can tell Hahn has spent his entire career inside the Reinsdorf bubble. The lack of self awareness and a solid understanding of a fanbase is a trademark of an executive groomed by Reinsdorf.

John SF

Real question 9 mid-tier, short term, free agent / arb-trade deals:

Has literally any team in baseball done worse than:
-Wellington Castillo
-Ivan Nova
-Yonder Alonso
-Kelvin Herrera
-Stieve Cishek
-Edwin Encarnacion
-Alex Colomé (to be fair, I have to include him)

Those are all of the contracts we signed or traded for which had an AAV over 5m and under $15m. It leaves off Jay, Santana, and Mazara, but also leaves off McCann, Grandal, & Keuchal.

But like seriously. That’s > $75m in contracts and less than 0 WAR even with Colomés contribution.

It should also be noted that, by WAR & dollars, we lost the Colomé trade even though some babip luck a d old school save stats make us feel otherwise.

Trooper Galactus

Good lord, that absolutely set me off. It evoked feelings of when Kenny Williams was blaming their inability to spend on fans for not showing up in droves to watch a team scuffling to even keep pace in their division. Going after fans for expectations that HE SET is pretty much what puts Hahn firmly on the shit list with Renisdorf in my book.