When the Yankees added Luke Voit and Gio Urshela in the summer of 2018, not much attention was paid towards these transactions. Fast forward a year later, however, and both players have become fan favorites. Cases like these have became a norm in New York because the Yankees’ front office continues to prove they can find untapped talent arguably better than any other organization.
Mike Tauchman makes for another example, as well as in-house option Mike Ford. Players like Voit, Urshela, Tauchman, and Ford, are usually considered late bloomers. They’re each 27 to 28 years old, well beyond their prospect status, and recently were able to prove they can perform at the highest level of the sport.
While their on-field production gets appreciated, the current financial system in MLB doesn’t value them. Since these four players recently showed that they can be difference makers on the diamond, they can finally accumulate service time. Considering it takes six years of service time to become a free agent the chances of any one of these four players being able to set up their life during their professional baseball career drops drastically because it’s becoming rare to see a player over 32 years old receive a multi-year contract.
How can that problem get solved? I thought through some rules that could help late bloomers find the financial rewards they once looked for heading into their professional baseball careers.
Three promotions equal one option
Because of the Scranton Shuttle, many Yankees fans are familiar with seeing roster transactions that have to do with relievers. When one reliever is called up to be a long man, or promoted to cover an inning after the regulars have been used frequently over the last few days, another is then sent down to make space for a fresh arm. Unfortunately, this has made it difficult for relievers to accumulate six years of services time to join the open market. What this rule would do is force an option to be exhausted if a player is called up after a third demotion in one season.
We all know how valuable options are because the fewer options a player has it becomes less likely that a player will be sent down to the minors again. This way at least one player would be on the road towards free agency rather than multiple players gradually receiving service time having to wait more than six years. Additionally, because 2020 would have a 26-man roster, teams now have the ability to carry an extra reliever or hitter. Whichever way you look at it the 26-man roster makes it easier for teams to carry enough relievers to lower the amount of call-ups and demotions a reliever gets. Even with the extra spot, if teams are still taking advantage of the system by using multiple relievers, something will have to change.
This one is simple: each player will be granted the ability to decide whether they want to become a free agent for their age-30 season. This allows small market teams to keep their ability to control younger players, but also allow late bloomers the ability to reach a long-term contract since they are hitting free agency at a younger age.
With recent offseasons, we have seen organizations feel less inclined to offer substantial contracts to older players because younger ones are easier to afford. The problem is players who are stuck in the middle and reach free agency around age-30 or older aren’t paid what they are worth.
Take Dellin Betances for example. He’s been a consistent force in the Yankees’ bullpen since 2014. He became a regular on the active roster at 26 years old, meaning Betances knew he would have to wait until his age-32 season to finally play a baseball game under a free agent contract. Unfortunately for Betances, he suffered an Achilles injury that will likely hamper the contract he will receive during the most important free agency of his life. If Betances were given the possibility to be a free agent for his age-30 season, not only would he have already produced four great seasons for the Yankees on a controllable contract, but he would have then been able receive a contract to set up his life during his professional career.
One of Eight policy
Ford is the perfect Yankees example for this one. The Rule 5 draft is essentially made to give players who have spent five years in the minor leagues the opportunity to be promoted and play on the major league level. However, some players are protected from the Rule 5 draft by being added to their respective 40-man but not their 25-man roster with the major league club. The One of Eight rule means if a player reaches eight years of professional service time, both minor and major leagues, and one year of service time wasn’t spent on the 25-man roster, then that player can chose to be a free agent.
Therefore a player like Ford who proved he was more than a Quad-A player, is no longer blocked by an organizations depth that is out of his control. Ford was blocked by Greg Bird, then Luke Voit, and next year Miguel Andujar could be added to this list. If clubs decide to hoard talent in one position, and the player hasn’t been given a real shot after eight years, he should have the ability to become free agent so all 30 clubs can evaluate whether they have an opportunity for these players. Not only does this help spread talent throughout the league, but most importantly, a player like Ford wouldn’t have to wait till his mid-30s to become a free agent.