Front offices make decisions based on a player’s service time quite often. Most prominently, we saw that several years ago when the Cubs had third baseman Kris Bryant start the 2015 campaign at Triple-A despite being obviously ready for big league action. Once so many days passed in the season, the Cubs were guaranteed an extra year of service time and they called him up. The Phillies also handled third baseman Maikel Franco differently based on his service time and, as a result, both players filed grievances after the 2015 season. We also saw service time influence the Braves’ decision to initially keep outfielder Ronald Acuña at Triple-A.
We all know front offices make decisions against their players’ best financial interest, it’s no secret. Their only trick to getting away with it is never admitting it publicly because that would give legs to a potential grievance. So it’s all the more surprising that Twins GM Thad Levine admitted on Saturday that service time was part of the organization’s reasoning for not adding outfielder Byron Buxton to the big league roster now that rosters have expanded.
Buxton, 24, has been rehabbing a wrist injury at Triple-A Rochester. Since returning to action on August 14, he has swung a hot bat, hitting .365/.400/.596 in 55 plate appearances. Certainly the Twins’ former No. 1 prospect could benefit from regular playing time in the final month of the season, since Rochester’s season ends on Monday.
Per Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Twins will gain an extra year of contractual control over Buxton by refusing to add him to the active roster. Buxton will be 13 days of service time shy of reaching a full year (172 days). Levine said, “Needless to say, neither the agent nor the player were happy to hear this information, and I think for all the right reasons. We totally respect and understand their position in these intstances.”
Levine continued, “I think part of our jobs is we’re supposed to be responsible for factoring service time into every decision we make. I still feel pretty resolute in saying that the other three factors [the wrist injury, on-field performance, and lack of opportunity for major league playing time] were more present for us in this decision-making process than that. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t at least aware of service-time impacts on decisions we make.”
Levine said the quiet part out loud. Typically, grievances like Bryant’s and Franco’s don’t end up going anywhere because it’s nearly impossible to prove nefarious intent. But GM’s don’t usually go on record admitting to their motivations. If Buxton and his agent at Jet Sports wanted to file a grievance, they would have a better chance of winning than many others had in the past.
Understanding the possibility of a grievance, Levine said, “Their recourse has not been laid out to us. They’re certainly entitled to whatever they think is in the best interest of Byron Buxton. From this day forward, I think we recognize a responsibility to make amends and that we’re going to need to invest in the relationship with Byron Buxton. We understand this is a blow to the player, a potential blow to the relationship.”
This situation also adds more potential fuel to the fire in the clash between players and ownership. The most recent collective bargaining agreement, ratified in December 2016, consolidated more power in the hands of the owners and has led to some strife, foreshadowing a conflict ahead of the CBA’s December 1, 2021 expiration date. Service time manipulation could certainly be one issue the players’ side brings to the negotiating table.