Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant will be kept out of the majors for a couple of weeks, because that allows the Cubs to control his rights for seven seasons rather than six. It is a farce that plays out most publicly whenever a big time prospect is held back, but the choice for teams is obvious; it is better to lose two weeks of a player's rookie season in order to gain control of another full season of the player's prime.
I never believe that the A's will keep a superior player in the minor leagues just to manipulate service time, but I do believe that service time considerations are a tiebreaker between similarly qualified players. When talking about holding a player back for service time purposes, there are two types of players that we are talking about: (1) players who, once they reach the majors, they are there for good; and (2) players who are on their final option year.
The Cubs' Kris Bryant satisfies the first, but the A's have several players that could satisfy either one.
Of the pitchers in the mix for the final three rotation spots, Drew Pomeranz, Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn, Sean Nolin, and Chris Bassitt all have options remaining. As Alex Hall pointed out on Wednesday, Graveman and Hahn are too good not to be in the rotation from the get go and have accumulated too much service time to make a Kris Bryant-like trade off edible.
At two years, 13 days service time, Drew Pomeranz is a prime candidate to be held back for the club to gain an extra year of player control. There are 183 days in the major league season, and 172 days in a service time year. If Pomeranz stays on the roster for the whole year, he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. If he accrues 158 days of service time or fewer to avoid clicking over to three years, the A's hang on to him for another year. To achieve that he must be on optional assignment for at least 25 days, so that the soonest he could be called up is April 30.
The A's don't have to send him down at the start of the season, however, if he is one of the five best pitchers available for the rotation right now. The A's can defer their decision until Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin returns from his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
The A's may also be able to avoid Pomeranz reaching Super Two arbitration eligibility. The 2014 cutoff came in at two years, 133 days, though the figure has been as low as two years, 122 days under the current collective bargaining agreement. If the A's want to keep Pomeranz at or below 120 days service time, he can only be with the club no more than 107 days, meaning he must be in the minor leagues for at least 76 days of the major league season.
Drew Pomeranz has actually used the three standard option years, but he has a fourth use-it-or-lose-it option year available because he only has four full professional seasons under his belt. The season in which a player is drafted is always a short season that does not count against the limit.
Briefly, let me note the other players who have a chance of obtaining significant playing time in the event of a player injury or might be demoted in the event Hector Olivera is signed, and are on their final option year.
- LH SP Sean Nolin: One option year remaining, and is sitting on 28 days service time. Can be up no more than 144 days this season, or not sooner than May 14 if up for the rest of the season. For Super Two concerns, 92 days would be the prudent maximum, which would mean waiting for July 4.
- LH RP Eury De La Rosa: One option year remaining, and has 148 days service time. If the A's want to hang onto him for an extra year, he can only be on the roster for 23 days. De La Rosa is fourth on the left-handed reliever depth chart, so it will be tough to see him even get a September callup barring an injury crisis.
- INF Eric Sogard: Sogard is on 3.064 years service time, and will make the opening day roster unless Hector Olivera joins the team. In that case, keeping Sogard off the active roster for 76 days gives the A's an extra year of a bench infielder. He has one option year left that can only be used before mid-2016, when he reaches five years service time and gains the right to refuse a minor league assignment.
- OF Alex Hassan: Hassan has 11 days service time and one option year left, so 23 days off the active roster will extend Oakland's player control. 74 days off the active roster will ensure the club avoids him becoming a Super Two player. Right now Hassan is something like the eighth or ninth outfielder on the depth chart, but Oakland's 2017 outfield right now projects to be Mark Canha, Alex Hassan, Billy Burns, and Tyler Ladendorf. Of course there will be more moves, but a lot can happen to a player's development in two years.
Drew Pomeranz will start the season in the big leagues while Jesse Chavez works long relief, or vice-versa, meaning the last bullpen spot is probably a battle between R.J. Alvarez and the out-of-options Evan Scribner. When either Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin returns, one way to ease that player into games is to have him pitch as long reliever, moving Jesse Chavez into the rotation, and optioning Drew Pomeranz to Nashville where he'll remain for at least a month.
For Pomeranz to avoid that fate, he'll have to show he is a better pitcher than Kendall Graveman or Jesse Hahn, but at best he is only as good as those two. If Pomeranz is only as good as the candidates to be demoted upon Parker or Griffin's return, the service time tiebreaker points squarely to Pomeranz.