How the Astros are affected by MLB service time negotiations

Josh Reddick #22, George Springer #4 and Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Josh Reddick #22, George Springer #4 and Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Houston Astros will be paying close attention to ongoing MLB service time negotiations

On Wednesday morning, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that negotiations are continuing between MLB and the players’ union on how service time will be affected by a shortened season. The Houston Astros and their players are likely watching this closely.

“MLB has agreed to grant a full year of service to players who remain active for the entire 2020 season regardless of how many games the schedule includes, according to sources familiar with the discussions,” Rosenthal wrote.

New York Post MLB writer Joel Sherman writes that nothing is finalized, but says the two parties would like to come to an agreement by Thursday.

The issue of service time is a pretty big one. MLB players accrue it for each day they spend on the roster. Service time is used to calculate how many years a player has been in the league for purposes of arbitration. A player must reach 172 days on the roster to attain a year of service.

Several Astros, including outfielders George Springer and Michael Brantley, as well as first baseman Yuli Gurriel, will be watching the outcome of the negotiations especially close, as they were set to become free agents after this season. Those four were worth 15 WAR to the franchise in 2019, per Baseball Reference.

Fellow position player Josh Reddick and pitcher Brad Peacock are also set to become free agents after this year.

Another bunch of players will be watching for the outcome closely because this coming offseason was set to be their final year of being arbitration-eligible. Those include closer Roberto Osuna and shortstop Carlos Correa.

Clubs have been known to manipulate service time to their favor by delaying when a player makes his major league debut in order to keep him from being one year further along the arbitration and free agency process.

So it would appear as long as MLB returns in 2020, no matter how short the season, players will receive credit for the year and be eligible for free agency or their final year of arbitration, which generally results in a higher pay.

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Sherman’s report noted that players are asking for service time even if no portion of the season is played, and that remains a big sticking point as the negotiation nears completion.

It does appear as if the season will continue at some point, although nobody knows when. MLB has stated that it is following CDC guidelines which prohibit groups to no more than 50 people, through May 10. With several weeks of Spring Training likely needed to get players back into shape, that would put the start of the season sometime in early June.

That would likely be the best case scenario. The season may be as shortened from 162 to as few as 110 or even 81 games, which could hurt the Astros’ playoff chances in 2020.

Rosenthal notes that the collective bargaining agreement allows the commissioner to withhold salary in the state of a national emergency, which the United States is now under due to the COVID-19 epidemic. That has not been used, and negotiations are ongoing about payment schedules.