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Pirates Business: Explaining Service Time

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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.

Arbitration

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.

Assignments

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.

Pension

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.

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Ethan Hullihen
Ethan Hullihen
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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