Small market teams managing a prospect’s service time is simply an unavoidable reality. In an attempt to gain an extra year of control, and to avoid having to go to arbitration with a player for a fourth time before free agency, teams routinely keep their top prospects down at AAA for a couple of months to delay that service clock. It is just expected. That is part of why it may have been surprising that the Royals did go with Yordano Ventura in the starting rotation instead of keeping him in Omaha for a couple of months to start the season.
Yet, this practice may be coming under fire from the player’s union. After George Springer rejected the Houston Astros offer of a seven year contract extension earlier this spring, the Astros sent Springer to their minor league camp. Such an action, in a vacuum makes sense, as Springer has under 300 at bats at the AAA level. However, his agent and the players union may look to file a grievance against such an action, feeling that the move is being done just to push back Springer’s service time.
Such an action, if it is actually pursued, could potentially lead to a slippery slope for the Royals and other small market teams. Should the player’s union actually determine that this is worth looking into, the Royals, and other teams, may need to find ways to justify sending players down to the minors. The statement that they need more time in the minors may no longer be enough. If a top prospect is hitting at a .550 rate in Spring Training, but has concerns over his service time, teams may begin to find it difficult to send that player back to the minors, even if more seasoning is needed.
It is certainly understandable that the player’s union and Springer’s agent would want to protect their client. They have an interest in making sure that Springer is able to earn as much as possible, as quickly as he can. Naturally, these players do not care about the finances of smaller market teams. They want as much money as possible, which makes perfect sense.
However, for the Royals, such actions could be disastrous. The Royals, with their limited payroll, need to massage the arbitration clock as much as possible to keep their top prospects around as long as they can. If the Royals, and other small market teams, become forced to justify such actions for reasons other than service time, that could have a dramatic impact upon their payroll going forward.
Even though this issue is specifically with the Houston Astros, it could potentially have a far reaching impact upon other smaller market teams. This is certainly a situation that could bear watching for us Royals fans going forward.