To borrow (and mangle) a concept from my Beloved Legion of Superheroes comics, The Great Darkness is upon us.
For some yet unknown period of time, surely too long to be adequately filled with diversions like Top Prospect lists, and so I fully admit that I, and everyone else who writes about baseball, are entering a season of grasping at straws. Such is our lot. Today’s straw relates to the reported proposal that MLBPA made to the owners in the last days of the old CBA regarding service time as it relates to free agency. Noting in passing that they both are ignoring my perfectly palatable proposal to solve their impasse. Aaaanyway…The Owners, for their part, were on record saying the only change they would consider relating to qualifying for free agency is a flat age standard of 29.5 years. This would indeed let some players, mostly more fungible guys like relievers, reach free agency before six years, but it would also allow the best (and thus most expensive) young stars to be retained even longer. For example, Vlad Guerrero will play next year at age 23, meaning the Jays retain control of him for seven more full seasons. Obviously, the players wanted none of that.
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Their counter-proposal “would keep [the] existing system for 2022-23 offseason, then would for 2023-24 and 2024-25 offseasons make eligibility six years of service or five years of service and age 30.5, whichever comes earlier, and then for 2025-26 offseason and later, six years of service or five years of service and age 29.5, whichever comes earlier.” The owners were not enthused, but it’s not a horrible offer and it may well be that some other trade-off in the deal would make owners amenable to this sacrifice. At least, I’m going to use it as an excuse to look at what the implications of such a plan would have on the Blue Jays’ current roster.
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By my count, there are 21 players on the Jays’ 40 man roster who are not under a long term contract that extends beyond their six years of service and who have at least one year of service already. One of these is an atypical case so let me get him out of the way first. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. had been presumed by most everyone to have an arbitration year left at the end of the IFA contract to which the Jays initially signed him. However, in recent weeks it was widely reported among the beat reporters that in fact, per that contract, he is to become a free agent when it’s done – after 2023, and so whatever the new CBA says that won’t change. So really there are 20 players to really look at: 8 hitters and 12 pitchers.
The news is mostly good among the hitters. The closest to free agency is Teoscar Hernandez, also set to reach the market after two more seasons. Given the proposal phases in with no change to next year’s class, his schedule would be unchanged. Next is Danny Jansen, who has just slightly over 3 years in the books and would, under the existing system, be free after the ’24 season. Per the proposal, that would only be shortened if Jansen has reached the age of 30.5 by the ’23-’24 off-season. He won’t. Janssen turns 27 next April and thus won’t be 30 until after he’s recorded three seasons more (all of these discussions presume the player in question is in the majors to stay for the coming few years).
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Now let’s consider the three progeny players that have a similar time frame – Vlad Guerrero, Jr, Caven Biggio, and Bo Bichette. Two of the three are simple. Both Vladdy and Bo are so young that they’ll get to six years service time before age 29.5, so under the player’s proposal there status is unchanged. Biggio, however, is a slightly different story. He turns 27 next April and while under the current CBA he’s under team control for four more seasons and would be a free agent after 2025, we’ll need a closer look. According to the proposal, in order to walk away with only five years of service time after the 2024 season (which would be five years for Biggio), he’d need to be 30.5 years old at the beginning of the off-season. But he won’t turn 30 until that off-season is over. So he, too, will remain a Blue Jay (barring trade, etc) for four more seasons.
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The next group is a more diverse set. The longest service time here is Reese McGuire, just 36 days behind Bo. But honestly, none of us expect him to be a Blue Jay through his free agency and the odds are maybe against him sticking for six straight seasons regardless of what organization he’s in. Still, this exercise gets needlessly complex, particularly as it relates to the relievers if I start trying to guess who’s future career success makes them relevant here. McGuire is about a month older than Biggio, and everything I said above applies here as well. No change. That brings us to the kids. Santiago Espinal is team property for five more years under the current arrangement, not eligible for free agency until after 2026. So for him to get shortened to five years of service time he’d have to be at least 29.5 at the end of the 2025 season. He will be. We have our first affected Blue Jay. Finally, there’s Alejandro Kirk. At age 23 next season, and with five years of team control, he would reach free agency under the current system before age 29, like Vlad and Bo, and so nothing changes for him.
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The pitcher closest to free agency is Ross Stripling, who’s hits the market next off-season and is not part of the affected group. The next most service time belongs to Adam Cimber who turned 31 in August so he gets to five years (instead of the normal six) in two more seasons. His free agency moves up a year. Then there’s Trevor Richards who’s one of the more close calculations. Like Cimber, he’d normally be 3 years away from free agency, so the question is, what would turn him loose after the 2023 season? He’d have to be 30.5 years old (presumably) as of the end of the season. He’ll turn 30 on May 15, 2023. That leaves 138 days until October 1. If I understand the proposal correctly, that leaves him short of the 183 days which would put him past 30.5 years old. So his status wouldn’t change. Ryan Borucki also has 3 years in the bank and is 3 years from free agency. You calculate him the same way as Richards, and he’s over 10 months younger so clearly he’s not going to be 30.5 in time to gain a year.
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Tim Mayza is a super-two this off-season, meaning four trips through arbitration and 4 years until free agency. But in a little more than a month he’ll turn 30, and be 32 after five seasons so he does gain a year under the new proposal. Trent Thornton is also a super-two, 4 years away, He turned 28 at the end of last season, so at the end of his fifth season, he’d be 31. Also gains a year. Jordan Romano is pre-arb, four years from free agency, but will turn 29 next April, so after three more seasons, he’d be 31 during the ’24-’25 off-season, and a free agent one year earlier. Now we get into the not-yet-established guys and have to squint and presume they make the roster next April for the sake of the exercise. This is an “earliest possible” calculation, if they don’t accumulate service time this quickly, and some of those remaining won’t, then it usually becomes a given that they’ll gain a year.. Take Thomas Hatch for example. He just turned 27, He’s got five years before free agency., but it’s easy to see that in four years he’ll be 31, and thus the new plan would benefit him. Assuming he accumulates the service time. In theory, you could imagine him taking more than 4 seasons to accumulate 5 “years” of service. Same with those who follow.
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Julian Merryweather will be 30 next year and hasn’t reached two years service time yet. I don’t need to explain this one, right? Anthony Kay is turning 27 next March, he’ll reach 30.5 towards the final days of the 2025 season. If he spends all that time in the majors he’d have five years of service time and be free a year early. Nate Pearson has 30 days fewer, but a MUCH better chance at being done with assignments to the minors. Big Nate is 25 as of this writing, in order for him to be free after four more seasons rather than five, he’d need to be 29.5 which is a mark he’ll reach in February of 2026, which is too late. Finally, there’s Anthony Castro. He’ll turn 27 next April. Four more years of service time gets you through the end of the 2025 season, at which time he’ll be 30 years old which is enough to set him free.
So, in conclusion, the overwhelming proportion of the potential effect on the Jays falls on relief pitchers – eight of the nine players affected (albeit two of those, Hatch, and Kay, may yet make their way into some starting rotation).
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