Comment of the Day: Shin-Soo Choo's plight is no laughing matter

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Ron Rollins is probably my oldest commenter, having now followed me to three different blogs in the past three years.  He’s a baseball blogger himself. We often disagree with one another — he doesn’t much go for the steroids and other trivia in which I often delve, and his threshold for sabermetrics is not as high as my own — but when he talks I always listen because there’s 0% bullshit about the guy.  Oh, and he’s retired from a military career that took him all over the world, and unlike a lot of soldiers, he paid attention and learned an awful lot about the local culture wherever he was. Between him and Old Gator, I get the feeling I could get a recommendation for a great restaurant on six continents.

Anyway, Ron weighed in on the Shin-Soo Choo post this morning, and it’s definitely worth a read:

A lot of people are laughing about this, but it really isn’t funny. It’s the law in South Korea, and people take it seriously.

Remember, they are still in a state of war, and there are live fire incidencens in the DMZ on a regular basis. The North Korean army is the 4th largest in the world, and 75% of it is on the South Korean border.

The South Korean people revere their military. They have television shows specifically for their soldiers, and not serving is a serious crime.

Choo could face jail time, or loss of his citizenship. Which means he can never go home. And just because that might happen doesn’t mean he’s free and clear. If he loses citizenship, where does he go? That situation doesn’t qualify for political asylum. He becomes a man without a country.

How would you guys feel if you were stripped of citizenship while in a different country, faced certain jail time, and knew you could never visit home again to visit your family?

If you’re a Democrat, remember all the fuss you kicked up about Dan Quayle and George Bush getting out of Vietnam because of political influence? If you’re a Republican, remember all the fuss you kicked up becaus Bill Clinton protested and stood by while the flag was burned? That’s nothing compared to what Choo will face at home.

There is zero tolerance with serving in South Korea. The speaker of the House of Representatives had twin sons who were attending the most prestigious university in the country. It was front page news they day they were inducted.

The government decided to award an exemption to athletes for a gold medal performance, because supposedly that brings glory to the country. No one remembers silver or bronze athletes. It sounds like a nice idea, but it isn’t exactly the most populare idea among military age males in South Korea, who don’t have the ability to play sports at a high level.

Roger Staubach and Willie Mays did their duty. Ted Williams did it twice. You guys might think it’s a joke, but I’ll bet you Choo doesn’t.

I thought of it as a jokeworthy story this morning, but after reading Ron’s comment, I can’t help but wonder if this situation will weigh on Choo this season.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment ‘egregious case of service time manipulation’

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.