Rozner: The time of year when baseball math is confusing

  • The Cubs got an extra year of service from third baseman Kris Bryant when he was called up after the 2015 season started.

    The Cubs got an extra year of service from third baseman Kris Bryant when he was called up after the 2015 season started. Associated Press

  • The Phillies' Bryce Harper is one of many players called up shortly after their first season began, in his case in 2012.

    The Phillies' Bryce Harper is one of many players called up shortly after their first season began, in his case in 2012. Associated Press

Updated 4/2/2021 12:03 PM

When was the last time Adam Sandler did anything funny?

Eye of the beholder, I suppose, but he's reportedly inked multiple deals with Netflix for $250 million a pop.


Good for him. Capitalism, right?

In baseball, Bryce Harper was able to sell himself as a free agent and made a choice to sign with the Phillies for $330 million. Sounds like a lot of money.

Good for him. Capitalism, right?

You are worth whatever the market says you're worth and if you're fortunate enough to have choices, you get to make a decision and cash in huge.

In a perfect world, there would be no salary caps in sports, fewer CBA rules and players could have annual auctions.

Capitalism, right?

The problem is sports unions have signed agreements that restrict salaries and movement, and in baseball the players have agreed to a luxury tax that does the same, acting as a de facto salary cap.

There are other rules in baseball -- rules the players have agreed to -- that govern free agency and arbitration. These are the laws of baseball, but as is increasingly the case today, there is confusion about whether laws apply to everyone.

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It's either a rule or it's not. It's black and white. In baseball, you must have six years of service to be a free agent.

I was a vendor during the strike of 1981 -- which cost me a lot of money -- and have covered the various strikes and lockouts of 1985, 1990, 1994-95 and the many CBA negotiations since.

I don't think players should ever give the owners anything, but they have. That's their fault. If there's something in the CBA they don't like, they should get it fixed after this season when the CBA expires.

What's odd is the baseball experts like it when players sign very big deals that are allowed by the CBA. That's when they cheer and celebrate the rules.

But the experts don't like it -- and this is a relatively new development in sports -- when owners follow the other rules agreed upon in the CBA, chiefly those involving service time.


Perhaps, this will help. Here's what the CBA says about free agency under Article XX:

"Following the completion of the term of his Uniform Player's Contract, any player with six or more years of Major League service who has not executed a contract for the next succeeding season shall become a free agent."

OK, six or more years. Got it.

And then there's this from Article XXI:

"One full day of Major League service will be credited for each day of the championship season a player is on a Major League Club's Active List. A total of 172 days of Major League credited service will constitute one full year of credited service."

OK, 172 days. There it is. Right there in black and white. The CBA -- agreed to by the players -- states in plain language that 172 days equals a full season. Less than that is not a full season.

It's not picking and choosing which rules to abide by, it's just math.

It's not a loophole. It's not service-time manipulation. It's not a stain on the game. It's not a circumvention of the laws. It's not ignoring players' rights. It's not owners stealing from players.

These are pejorative words and phrases used by those with an agenda who only want owners and players to use the rules that fit a specific narrative, when in reality it has been spelled out quite simply.

It is crystal clear.

Sorry for the trigger, but no volume of crying changes that. Screaming loud doesn't alter fact. Likes on Twitter don't change wrong to right.

It's a symptom of a greater ill, the one in which like-minded people speak only to those who agree with them, get together, build a myth and then present it as reality with alarming arrogance.

Just because you want something to be true does not make it so.

The list of players called up shortly into a season -- thus missing out on a full year of service time -- over the decades is very, very long, but the likes of Harper, Kerry Wood, Kris Bryant, George Springer, Ronald Acuna and Vlad Guerrero Jr. are just a few that come quickly to mind.

The Cubs and White Sox have done it many times, and the Sox in particular have used it as leverage, ultimately signing some of their young players before Opening Day and then immediately promoting those players who possess long-term deals.

Until a player becomes arbitration eligible, that is the time clubs have a measure of financial control, and any owner or GM would be derelict -- and ultimately blamed by the fans -- for not playing by the rules and keeping the numbers 7 and 6 in mind.

The Braves rostered Jason Heyward on Opening Day his rookie year and were forced to trade him after his fifth season when they knew they wouldn't be able to sign him before free agency.

That was a shameful failure to protect the franchise and fan base.

But if the agents now taking control away from union boss Tony Clark want a change to the five-plus-172 rule, they can try this fall when the CBA expires.

They can go for something similar to Super-2 arbitration status. Call it "Super-5" status, where -- to pick a number -- the top 10 percent of five-plus players are granted a full season of service.

Of course, the owners will never go for it, not without major concessions elsewhere.

Or pick a date. Any player called up by May 1 gets full credit for April and thus a full season. Know what owners will do? Call players up May 2.

The players will have to give something back if they want this changed, but a year of service time is a very big deal for both sides. You're not going to get it fixed by giving up chefs at the ballpark, suites on the road or spring training meal money.

The reality is players don't care about other players, and agents don't care about any players except their high-profile, big-money clients.

This is not a hill the average player wants to die on in a work stoppage while canceling a season of baseball and a year of salary, not when it affects only special players who are going to make huge money down the road -- if they perform.

But it is that time of year.

The time of year when math becomes an issue, the simple adding and subtracting of digits slightly more difficult to understand than any of Einstein's theories.

Numbers can do that to people.

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