Pirates Business: Explaining Service Time

Baseball is full of roster rules and regulations that aren’t always the easiest to understand. Well, these are my favorite parts of baseball, so I’m using this series to try and explain some of those aspects of the game. Previously, I’ve covered Optional and Outright Assignments, as well as being Designated for Assignment.

The baseball rule book is so deep that while fans don’t understand a lot it, it wouldn’t surprise me if even the players don’t focus on most of the intricacies, instead leaving the details up to their agents.

However, I have heard before that every MLB player knows exactly how much service time they have, as if it’s their lifeblood, a countdown to a real payday.

Players accrue service time for every day they are on the active roster, with a few exceptions. Despite not being available to play, players receive service while on the injured list for any length of time, while on suspension (but not while on the Restricted List), and during the period in which they are considered a “Designated Player” (designated for assignment). Players also can receive service while on optional assignment, if their assignments for any given season don’t equal 20 days or more.

The accrual of service time starts on the first day of the Championship Season through the final day, including any tiebreaking games following the end of regularly scheduled games. Despite the rules stating seasons shall be scheduled over no less than 182 days or more than 187, players can’t accrue more than 172 days of service in a single season—this is considered a full year of service.

Service time is measured in years and days, with one day being denoted as .001 and a full year (172 days) as 1.000. Also, counts are updated in real time, meaning a player’s service goes up during the season, not just calculated at the end.

As stated, this count is so important to players because as they hit certain service time marks, opportunities to be more in control of their careers—and salaries—become available.


After the season in which a player hits three years (3.000) of service time—and any subsequent season where they are short of six (6.000)—they are eligible for salary arbitration. This is the first time in a player’s career where they have some say in their salary—teams have the right to renew contracts at stipulated minimum rates in a player’s pre-arbitration years without the player’s approval.

There is an exception to this, however. Those who fall in the top 22% of players between two (2.000) and three (3.000) years of service in any given offseason qualify as Super Two Players—as long as any qualifying player accrued 86 (.086) days of service during the immediately preceding season.

This allows for certain players to go through the arbitration process four times as opposed to the customary three.


Players who hit three (3.000) years of service time also have the right to decline an outright assignment and elect free agency; however, it’s not enough time to keep their termination pay. Therefore, players in this situation will often accept the assignment in order to receive the rest of their guaranteed salaries.

Two more years of service time (5.000) allows players the right to decline an optional assignment, meaning they can’t be optioned to the minors in any way without their consent. Since said player can’t be assigned anywhere other than another Major League team, a team must release them if they want rid of them, meaning they are still entitled to their guaranteed salaries.

Free Agency

Players who are able to stick around and accrue six (6.000) years of Major League service are able to achieve the players’ Holy Grail—free agency. This allows for much more freedom than has been afforded up to this point, with destination and salary having largely been up to the player’s team.

Any subsequent year a player finishes with over six years of service and no guaranteed contract for the following season means they will become Article XX(B) free agents — the section in the Collective Bargaining Agreement allowing for players to hit free agency after six years.


While a limited number of players ever actually hit free agency, fewer still achieve ten (10.000) years of service. This is the next and basically final significant milestone, as it allows a player to receive the maximum pension benefit after retirement.

While ten years may bring a full pension, it takes 43 (.043) days of service to qualify for any kind of pension from MLB, with every subsequent 43 days of service serving as another qualified quarter—a full pension is 40 quarters.

Contributions to a player’s 401k are also made based on these 43-day increments.


Building off this topic, next week this space will cover another important facet of service time—service time manipulation.

Offseason Calendar Update

—It’s finally here! Spring Training opens on Wednesday, February 15th, with pitchers and catchers kicking off the festivities.

This isn’t just the first day of baseball’s spring, however. The rules stipulate that the earliest teams are allowed to report is 43 days before Opening Day, which is also the first day teams are allowed to place players on the 60-day IL. This year that date is in fact Wednesday.

The Pirates aren’t in need of a spot immediately, but certainly will need one at some point, if only for whoever wins the yearly Spring Training backup catcher battle between non-roster invitees.

It is anticipated that Max Kranick will open the season on the 60-day IL, so it’s just a matter of when the team decides the best time to use that move would be.

Pirates Payroll Updates

— No updates here as of this week

—For 2023, the payroll estimate stands at $73,202,372 for the Labor Relations Department, while it’s $89,619,039 for CBT purposes.

A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.

Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.

When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.

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I love these columns. The business of this game, as (generally) dictated by the labor agreement, is fascinating to me. A couple issues raised in this column that I’d like to learn more about:

  1. More detail on compensation for those who are sub-3.000. They automatically renew at minimum, I think, unless the team chooses to give them a little bit (aside from the ROY/MVP/Cy bonus structure). What’s their per diem like? Is it the same regardless of tenure (I hope)?
  2. How’s the pension calculated? I’m from a pension admin background and know there’s usually some sort of ‘years of service/final average salary’ calculation. .043 will get you vested — what’s that worth and when can a retired ballplayer start collecting?
  3. A 401K? Good for them — I think Garrett Cole hits the annual contribution limit when he throws his first warm-up pitch of the season.

Great info, Ethan!


The only reason Brian Reynolds was a super 2, if you recall, was because of injuries. They though they would send him right back down but he hit so well they had to keep him up. He and Cole Tucker called up the same day, if I recall, after Marte and Eric Gonzalez collided.

At the time we thought Tucker was the player and weren’t worried about BRey getting the call.


EH – you should take this a step further and apply it to the 2023 Pirates. I think the dates for guaranteeing control through 2029 for rookies
(with guys like Ortiz and Bae’s independent dates). etc.


Not sure if this is what you were looking for, but there are plenty of young Pirate Prospects who enter 2023 with less than a year and will probably finish the year with at least a year of service: Of the necessary 172 days

Marcano – 148 days
Castro – 127 days
Suwinski – 118 days
Smith-Njigba – 115 days
Cruz – 110 days
Mitchell – 96 days
Vilade – 16 days
Bae – 13 days
Peguero – 3 days

Kranick – 159 days
YDLS – 136 days
Holderman – 130 days
Moreta – 120 days
Contreras – 112 days
Ortiz – 19 days

Are the Pirates young and talented?

Wilbur Miller

On an unrelated rules subject, they’re keeping the bogus runner for extra innings, which sucks. They’re also putting limits on position players pitching, which is good as far as it goes, but the limits aren’t strict enough.


I absolutely detest the fake runner rule. To me, it just isn’t real baseball and to a stat lover it really messes with history.

On another topic – just watched Facing Nolan recently. Ryan averaged 300 IP for three straight years in the 70s. Now we had what – 10? starters in all of the majors last year that even got 200! Over an 11 year period, Ryan only threw under 200 IP twice – once was the strike year of 1981 and the other he threw 198. He threw over 200 IP in each of his age 40-43 seasons. Most of our minor leaguers didn’t even throw 100! (Ryan threw over 200 IP as a 19 year old minor leaguer.) There will not be another Ryan and even if there was, he wouldn’t be permitted to exist.


They should adopt hockey’s OT rule — pull a player from the field, maybe one per inning. 10th inning, only 8 defenders on the field. Would be much more interesting, strategically at least, than ‘bunt, sac fly’.


I am waiting for a team that’s down by something like 8 runs going into the top of the 9th to just tell the chief umpire that they’re forfeiting, instead of running out Joe Utility Infielder to throw three dozen BP changeups and give up 6 more runs.


I like the extra runner but now that we’re developing some good pitching depth I think more innings would put us an advantage.

Wilbur Miller

Yeah, the usual thing is you want to minimize bullpen innings, but there are a bunch of guys in the pen now I’d like to see pitch a lot, within reason of course. They’re always gonna have guys in AAA they can bring up.


It will be very interesting to see how they manage the BP carousel between AAA and the bigs this year. They have a lot of intriguing arms, hoping some start to establish themselves as bonafide relievers.

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