You’ve heard it before. A budding star gets sent back to Triple-A after beating up on Big League pitching during Spring Training and the team says its so he can get “more seasoning” or “play every day.” Now, it’s obvious to you, me, and your grandmother that the rookie is better than what the team has starting in the Majors now. So, why does this happen?
The answer can be found in the Major League collective bargaining agreement with the Players Union. The collective bargaining agreement says that a player can become a free agent once he has 6 years of service. A year of Major League service means that a player needs to spend 172 days or more on the Major League roster.
For the 2011 season, there are 181 days in the season. If a team keeps a player down in the minors for at least 10 days to start the season, then that player will not be eligible for free agency until one full year later. Therefore, a 2011 rookie who spends just 10 days in the minors this year would not be eligible for free agency until 2017 instead of 2016. This can amount to a considerable amount of savings to the team and ensure that the player will be with the club for one more season than he would otherwise.
So, now you know why somebody like Michael Pineda may start the season in the minors for 2011 even though we all know that he’s a better choice than any of the other journeymen that the Mariners will trot out to the mound in the early season.