Photo via Baltimore Sun
Before the 2021/22 MLB regular season, both the owners and the union went through a lengthy collective bargaining negotiation. A key aspect of these negotiations was to encourage teams to promote their top prospects, or to ensure certain players secured a full year of service time, regardless of their actual games played. The goal of this was to eliminate service time manipulation by teams. Service time manipulation is when teams keep their top prospects in the minor leagues for more than 171 days to secure the team a guaranteed seventh year of control over that player. An encouraging sign that the incentive in the new CBA was positively impactful in some way is Orioles star catcher, Adley Rutschmann.
Rutschmann finished runner up in this year’s American League Rookie of the Year race. In prior seasons, this would be nothing but a disappointing second place finish, but with the “prospect promotion incentive” Rutschmann earns a full year of service time for the 2022 season. What this incentive spells out is that any prospect with less than 60 days of MLB service coming into this season who placed on at least two preseason top Top 100 prospect lists at Baseball America, ESPN or MLB Pipeline now receives a full year of service time if they can finish the top two in Rookie of the Year voting. This is beneficial for Rutschmann, and any future player that finds themselves in that position, because it expedites his path to salary arbitration and free agency by a year.
Although this clearly benefits players like Adley Rutschmann, Julio Rodriguez, Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, it is unclear whether the new prospect promotion policy is disincentivizing service time manipulation as a whole. One thing that is now clear to teams is that if they have confidence a prospect is a legitimate contender for Rookie of the Year, then there is no point for a team not to have that player on the big league roster on day one of the regular season. In turn, teams are incentivized to be more competitive from the start of the season, some of the games young and rising stars will get their turn at salary arbitration and free agency sooner than in years past and fans will get to see their favorite team’s best prospects much sooner.
The “prospect promotion incentive” on its face is a positive implementation of the 2022 CBA, and something that fans and players were desperately hoping for. At the outset, it seems as though it was successful in the year of its inception because of big name players like the ones mentioned above accruing a full year of service time for their performances. However, it is hard to really determine if this new policy is protecting a majority of the game’s top prospects, or just the best of the best. In the coming years this will be something noteworthy to follow to see if this could again be a talking point when the league and the union sit at the bargaining table in 2026.