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How will the Yankees manipulate Miguel Andujar’s service time?

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There’s a method behind the Yankees’ decisions.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made it official last week, optioning both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar to Triple-A. The club tossed about the usual platitudes, about how they’ll soon be stalwarts in the Yankee lineup - especially in Andujar’s case. The demotions, however, are what matters. The assignments weren’t about performance necessarily, as the roster status and accrued service time of both players proved paramount in this case.

Service time counts the numbers days spent on a 25-man roster or the MLB disabled list. It’s expressed as years.days, so a player with 3.25 years of service has three years and 25 days of service. Of course, players become eligible for free agency upon the end of their sixth year of service, which has led to teams juggling Triple-A assignments to squeeze an extra year out of a player.

The MLB season lasts 183 days, 172 of which count for a full year of service time. Therefore, teams need to keep a player off the 25-man roster for 12 days to delay free agency, At the end of that first, jerry-rigged season, the player would have no more than 0.171 years of service. For the 2018 season, teams must keep a player off the 25-man roster until April 12th to make that work. The Cubs used this tactic with Kris Bryant, and it seems clear that the Yankees have it in mind with a couple of their top prospects.

Torres was always going to be held in Triple-A for service time reasons, regardless of how he looked in spring training. Even the most pro-labor forces in baseball understand it makes too much financial sense to hold seven years of control over a top prospect. Torres’ struggles in camp gave the Yankees a convenient excuse for keeping him off the 25-man roster to start the season. Whether Torres is rusty or over his head a bit, he’s clearly not ready for the big leagues just yet.

Andujar is in a slightly more complicated case, as he accrued 20 days of major league service time in 2017. Obviously this means he’ll be held in Triple-A longer if the Yankee plan is to maintain an extra year of control. The 20 days from last year mean the Yankees immediately target 163 days of service in 2018, and then need to knock off another 12, down to 151. The earliest Andujar can be brought back up to the majors is then 32 days into the season, or May 1st.

For both prospects, the timing works as neither player would miss a significant portion of the season. Even if Torres and Andujar absolutely rake in their Triple-A assignments, the players penciled into their positions at the MLB level — Neil Walker and Brandon Drury — are good enough to justify the Yankees’ lack of an immediate call-up. Even the bench depth — Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade — have proven themselves to be capable enough to back this decision.

Of course, this isn’t news to anybody. The players, their agents and the union know how teams manipulate service time. Broadcasters, beat writers and 99% of fans do too. In fact, almost everyone agrees this is the right move long-term for the organization we all support. It’s this transparency and acceptance that drives me crazy listening to the textbook excuses teams issue.

It’s never said that a player is being sent down to massage service time. The player has maturity issues, or defensive concerns to work on early in the year. Then, two weeks later, those concerns have vanished, and voila! Prospect X is now fully mature, or defensively solid, and can play every day in the majors.

This facade applies to virtually all prospects, too. Ronald Acuña, the consensus best prospect in baseball, will start the season with the Gwinnett Stripers after receiving a Triple-A assignment from the Braves. Acuña is ready for the majors now — he had a 1.200 OPS in spring training! It just makes too much financial sense to keep him down for two weeks. I’d rather the Braves be honest instead of falling back on claims that his hat angle showed signs of immaturity.

Service time jigging is going to happen, and the only way to stop it is through a fundamental change in the CBA. Like so many other issues in baseball, that’s not going to be resolved in the near future. That means the practice of shelving prospects for a couple of weeks will continue. The Yankees have a huge incentive to keep Andujar and Torres down for the time being, but is it too much to ask they be up front about that incentive?