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Jeff Samardzija thinks player options should be changed

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Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija recently reached 10 years of service time, an achievement he celebrated with his teammates. Samardzija was thinking about the big picture, though, realizing that is going to take players longer and longer to reach 10 years of service time now that front offices have become so adroit with service time manipulation.

Per Kerry Crowley of The Mercury News, Samardzija said, “I think we need to make sure as a union that we reassess our work time when it comes to days of service and options. We need to make sure one option can’t be 10 call-ups and call-downs where you can just use this guy as a swing guy and he never accumulates any time.”

A player who still has minor league options (they start with three) can be yo-yoed between the minors and majors as many times as his team deems necessary while only using one option. In this sense, the player has no control over his fortunes. Teams hadn’t really taken full advantage of this imbalance of power until recently as front offices became increasingly savvy. This has worked in tandem with the annual song-and-dance from GMs every year in which they make up phony excuses to keep their top prospects stashed in the minors until they secure an additional year of contractual control.

Samardzija said, “It’s easy to say we need you to go down to Triple-A and work on your glove or work on hitting left-handers. ‘Well you don’t ever start me against left-handers so how can I improve my numbers there?’ I definitely think it’s happening on both sides, I’d say it’s just as prevalent with pitching and position players.”

This kind of service time manipulation may not seem like a big deal, but it snowballs over time. A player can be held down and/or optioned to the minor leagues just enough to prevent him from accruing a full service year (172 days). Players become eligible for free agency after six service years. A team that opens a season with a 24-year-old and never options him will see him leave for free agency after his age-29 season. If that player is instead promoted in mid-April, when the player’s maximum service time for the season is 171 days, the team will have contractual control over his age-29 season as well. That player won’t become a free agent until he’s 30 years old. As free agency has shown us in recent years, front offices have grown quite skeptical of free agents in their 30’s, so this tiny bit of service time manipulation could cost players millions of dollars down the road. The spirit of this is not that much different than employers cutting a full-time employee’s hours so they no longer qualify for employer-based health insurance.

Samardzija is right to express concern over service time manipulation. It is heartening to see an increasingly labor-conscious group of players as well, as the members of the union seemingly grew complacent over the years which allowed ownership to take decisive victories with recent collective bargaining agreements. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021. We should be hearing plenty more about the players’ concerns within the two-plus years remaining.

The harrowing tale of the end of Bobby Jenks’ baseball career

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Bobby Jenks was a key part of the 2005 world champion White Sox. By 2010, his effectiveness as a closer fell off and he signed with the Boston Red Sox for the 2011 season. He’d pitch in only 19 games that year, suffer a back injury and would never pitch again.

In the year or so after that, we heard that Jenks was arrested for driving under the influence. And then we heard that his back surgery was botched, and his baseball career was over. Then, after years of silence, we learned last spring that Jenks won $5.1 million in a medical malpractice suit against the doctor who performed his surgery.

We did not, however, know all the details until Bobby Jenks wrote about them at the Players’ Tribune this morning. This is must-click link stuff, folks.

Jenks talks about how a seemingly innocuous pitch to Jorge Posada in an early-season Red Sox-Yankees game in 2011 was the last pitch he’d ever throw. He talks about the presumably simple surgery that would supposedly get him back on the field. And then the scary complications in which he almost died due to leaking spinal fluid resulting from the botched surgery. Then, after using painkillers to deal with back pain, Jenks’ fell into drug addiction, all of which culminated in him finding himself half-naked and crazed in a car that didn’t belong to him with police and rescue workers surrounding him.

Jenks got clean but his wife left him. And then he mounted a multi-year lawsuit during which he learned that the reason his back surgery was screwed up was because the surgeon was performing two surgeries at one time, which is an apparently common practice called “concurrent surgery,” that sounds like it totally should NOT be a common practice.

Yet Jenks has survived. He’s been sober for over seven years and he seems to be in a good place. But boy did he have to go through something harrowing to get there. Definitely take the time to read it.