Twins opt not to add pitching reinforcements on September 1 and pay the price

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Last night’s Twins-Tigers game was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, as the two teams combined for 13 innings of sloppy, mistake-filled play that included a seemingly endless array of botched double plays and blown leads.
As a Twins fan there are approximately 100 different things I could complain about from the agonizing evening, but the one that stands out is Minnesota’s refusal to call up pitching reinforcements from Triple-A when rosters expanded Wednesday.
Third-string catcher Jose Morales and infielder Trevor Plouffe were the only two players added to the roster by the Twins and they paid the price last night. Scott Baker left his start after two innings with elbow soreness and the Twins had several relievers unavailable because of minor maladies, so when both Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain blew leads in regulation the pitching choices got very strange.
Crain pitched for the 21st time in 34 games–which is an arm-wrecking 101-appearance pace–and was allowed to throw a season-high 40 pitches after never being used for even 30 pitches before. After running him into the ground the Twins then turned to Brian Duensing for two innings despite the fact that he just threw 103 pitches in a start Tuesday. And then they brought in Nick Blackburn, who was scheduled to start tonight.
Obviously teams don’t plan for 13-inning games in which their starter departs after two innings, but if the Twins had simply called up a few pitchers from Triple-A when rosters expanded Wednesday none of that would have been an issue and they wouldn’t have overworked Crain and Duensing while screwing up the rotation for the next week. Alex Burnett, Anthony Slama, Pat Neshek, Rob Delaney, and Anthony Swarzak are all on the 40-man roster and could have been added to the bullpen two days earlier.
Instead the Twins added zero pitching reinforcements, blew out the entire pitching staff in a 13-inning loss, and are now planning to call up various fresh arms for tonight’s game. In fact, the rotation is so screwed up now that they’re adding 27-year-old Matt Fox to the 40-man roster just so he can make his big-league debut starting tonight against the first-place Rangers. Without last night’s disaster there’s a decent chance Fox never pitches in the majors. Good for him, bad for the Twins.
And it all could have been avoided by simply expanding the roster on September 1.

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.