Service Time Clock Ticks Down for 2018

It is now late in the season – just ten games are left on the schedule, and many fresh faces brought up from the minors into “The Show” are quickly seeing their service time clock tick closer to the magic 100 days, giving them a complete year towards free agency.

Not only are some players approaching the 100-day mark, but several have hit it this year already. Chicago third baseman Jon Guillot, for example, just hit the 100-day mark and is now one year closer to free agency. Guillot, 22, is batting a soft .236 so far this season, but has shone in other areas, such as his 12 home runs (2nd on the team), 41 RBIs (to lead the team), and one of his best talents, hitting first pitches: he is batting .304 (including 2 home runs) on first pitches.

St. Petersburg’s Chris Zerkle has also completed one full year of service already, after crossing the 100-day threshold. Zerkle, a 2014 first-round draft pick who has been solid all season, going 9-5 with a 3.80 ERA, is currently out for four weeks with a hamstring strain, and may miss the playoffs entirely.

A small group of players will hit the one-year service mark before the end of this season, and it is not clear if teams will act to take them off the 25-man rosters and option them to the minors to avoid incurring a first full year of service. The significance, of course, is that players only have six years with a team before they are eligible for free agency.

A team that wishes to keep a hot commodity an extra year can tilt the playing field by either delaying the player’s debut, or pull them off the big league roster before the first year is up, perhaps if a team is facing the prospect of not making a playoff appearance in the current season.

The Admirals other hot rookie starter, Jose Ramirez, seems an unlikely candidate to be optioned. With an ERA of 2.92 through 9 starts this year, he is whiffing batters at a respectable pace of 9.3 K/9, and has been difficult to long ball off of, allowing just 6 home runs this year. Though his record is split at 3-3, he slots into the #5 in the rotation nicely, and could see even more action as the Admirals enter the final days of 2018 and a playoff berth without two of their top starters, Zerkle and last year’s Sandy Koufax and Rookie Award winner, Jose Soto.

Toronto third baseman Brock Deetz is already rumored to have been optioned, after nearing the full year of service. With 88 days on the record, he would have reached one year on the last game of the season, against New York. Although the Nomads are in a very tight pennant race, the 23-year-old from Cobleskill, NY, who was a 5th round pick in the 2013 draft, saw his average drop from the low .300’s in June to the .250 range by late August.

Deetz is seen as a future utility piece for the Nomads, with the potential of becoming a full-time third baseman as the team solidifies its left half of the infield. The Nomads will look to give him a bit more time to develop down at AAA, where the Brampton Longhorns are in a wildcard race, before evaluating him for future needs. And a fresh start in 2019 gives the team control of him until after the 2024 season before he is eligible for free agency.

The Nevada Speeders will have a similar decision to make with Troy Catley, a superb righty arm with a 97-mph fastball, and a considerable arsenal of good secondary pitches, and who started 15 games for the club this season, amassing an 8-5 record. Catley’s 4.22 ERA fails to generate Sandy Koufax Award chatter, but he has managed a respectable 1.23 WHIP, and whiffed 117 batters in 113 innings, posting even better strikeout numbers than in his AAA efforts over the past two seasons.

Catley has 88 days of service this season, and the Speeders have already clinched a playoff berth. As a 4th starter in a very healthy and robust rotation of Al Mota, Barry Requiem and Danny Tirado, GM Scott Dummler will have to decide whether he can dispense with Catley’s services for the remainder of 2018 and the playoffs, instead relying on those core three arms, and extend Catley’s service for an extra year.

Requiem is under contract until after 2020, but Tirado can go to free agency after next season, meaning Catley may find himself promoted to #3 in the rotation before long. Having him for six more years, instead of five, would be a wise strategy. The extra year before arbitration eligibility will also help the Speeders keep the payroll costs down, as Catley is sure to command a huge salary bump in four years.

GM’s should carefully monitor service time if they wish to extend their control over a player for as long as possible, and delay arbitration eligibility. In the case of great players, there is a huge costs savings in the long run.

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