Manipulation of service time toes the line of shrewd business and being unfair, and Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s situation has drawn ire from the MLBPA.
Major league baseball players reach free agency after six years of service time, once team control via low salaries and arbitration eligibility expires. Vlad Guerrero Jr. had his season derailed by an injury, but a .381 average (1.073 OPS) with 20 home runs, 78 RBI and 29 doubles over 95 games earned him MLB Pipeline’s Minor League Hitter of the Year.
As the Blue Jays play out the string of a bad season, calling up Guerrero would seem obvious. But they’ve decided not to, and when questioned on it this week team president and CEO Mark Shapiro told MLB Network Radio it had “nothing to do with business” with an eye on Guerrero getting some development time in the Arizona Fall League.
Manipulating a top young player’s service time to delay his hitting free agency is not new, and it’s a good move from a team’s perspective. But a spokesman for the MLBPA has spoken up in regard to Guerrero specifically, in a direct reaction to Shapiro’s words.
The union’s position on service-time manipulation is clear, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and other great young talents around baseball have earned the right to play on the field for a major-league team,” “The decision to not to bring him up is a business decision, not a baseball decision. It’s bad for the Blue Jays, it’s bad for fans, it’s bad for players, and it’s bad for the industry.
Guerrero will have a chance to earn a spot with the Blue Jays during spring training next year. But the team could keep him in Triple-A until mid-April, as the Chicago Cubs did with Kris Bryant a few years ago and the Atlanta Braves did with Ronald Acuna Jr. this year.
It might be bad for the “industry” as a whole, but there’s nothing to stop the Blue Jays from delaying the start of Guerrero’s service time clock for as long as they deem necessary.