Every spring, we're treated to the bizarre sight of teams, sometimes even competitive teams, leaving good, probably useful players in the minor leagues because of service-time considerations. The clubs want to delay free agency, and they want to delay salary arbitration. You can't blame them.
You also can't blame the players and their agents for crying foul, especially when it's ridiculously obvious. And as Jeff Passan notes, it sure seems like Ruben Tejada's got a good case ...
While teams regularly manipulate service time to keep players from reaching arbitration early, Tejada's case is unique not only in keeping him from free agency but the Mets not trying to hide it.
The Mets planned on calling up Tejada from Triple-A Las Vegas once it lost in the playoffs, and in late August manager Terry Collins said Tejada would "play quite a bit."
On Sept. 1, the Mets summoned relievers Vic Black and Tim Byrdak and utilityman Zach Lutz from Las Vegas. On Sept. 7, they brought up reliever Sean Henn. Las Vegas lost its final game that day. On Sept. 9, outfielder Mike Baxter, starter Aaron Harang, catcher Juan Centeno and reliever Greg Burke arrived.
One day after that, the Mets finally recalled Tejada. He was their last September call-up.
Has a team ever lost a grievance over a matter like this? Passan doesn't actually mention any penalties for the Mets. If they lose, Tejada's eligible for free agency a year early and
Doug Fister Charlie Furbush eligible for arbitration this winter instead of next winter (it's complicated; you'll have to trust me, or rather you'll have trust Jeff Passan).
Oh, I suppose the Mets will lose some organizational capital, in the form of man-hours. Win or lose. But a few dozen man-hours are a small price to pay for delaying a starting shortstop's free agency for an extra year.
Essentially, teams are expected to manipulate service time, but not quite so blatantly. And the Mets were so blatant because the Las Vegas 51's had the nerve to get into the playoffs, and then to get eliminated just a day or two too soon to give the Mets the excuse that would have been so incredibly convenient.
Maybe if the 51's hadn't made the playoffs ... Actually, I don't know what might have been different. Sure, it would have looked terribly strange to leave Tejada in limbo for a week before calling him up. Weirder, though, than waiting that extra day after the 51's were eliminated? Given the particular situation, anything the Mets did was going to look weird. So they figured what the hell. Take a shot. Nothing to lose.
For which you can hardly fault them. Following the rules, even pushing the envelope, is just business. Now, if Tejada does file a grievance and there's an actual hearing and some poor Mets employee is actually ordered to argue that Tejada was held down on the merits ... Well, then I suppose we can fault someone. If only because the poor arbitrator might rupture something while trying not to bust out laughing.
Seriously, though, wouldn't it be wonderful if we didn't have to worry about such quotidian things? I just don't see any way around it, though. Not as long as arbitration and free agency exist, and are tied to service time.
There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This was one of the more ridiculous of them.