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Call-Ups Reveal the Idiocy of Service Time Rules

What an exciting week to be a Brewers fan! The results were mildly disappointing at best following a home split against a poor Giants team and a series loss in Arizona. But the games took a bit of a back seat to the call-ups of pitcher Josh Hader and outfielders Brett Phillips and Lewis Brinson. It’s always an exhilirating time for fans of a rebuilding club when the first wave of big-time prospects ascend to the majors. For fans who tire of being sold a far-off future, it’s awesome to see some of that.

For them to do so while the Brewers on to first place, however tenuously, is particularly special. While it was extremely difficult to imagine the Brewers making the playoffs with just the talent on their opening day roster, adding talent like Brinson, Phillips and Hader makes it far more likely they can make something of this surprising start.

But at the same time, it feels disappointing to know the Brewers’ start could have been that much better if such talented players hadn’t been stuck playing meaningless games in the minor leagues. This Brewers team has played Nick Franklin in 45 games, allowed Kirk Nieuwenhuis to appear 15 times before his release, and has had terrible pitching performances from has-beens and never-has-beens like Tommy Milone and Jhan Marinez.

Milwaukee’s roster management isn’t significantly different from how it is anywhere else across the league. Hader and Brinson were called up Thursday and Friday specifically because mid-June is typically when the deadline for Super 2 players passes. By waiting this long to call them up, the Brewers ensure they get the pair, arguably their best advanced prospects, for another guaranteed year at the minimum salary. Those 100-plus days Hader and Brinson spent in the minors this season will end up saving the Brewers multiple millions over the next few years.

It would take a ridiculous level of hindsight to suggest that the Brewers should have brought the kids up north with them when they broke camp. What I hate, though, is that Major League Baseball’s salary rules incentivize this kind of behavior from teams, no matter whether that team is gunning for a World Series or tearing it all down to start from scratch. The result is that we as fans have to sit through watching the Nieuwenhuises and the Marinezes of the baseball world flail around for nearly three months while some of the game’s most exciting talents play in the minor leagues.

There are plenty of examples of this phenomenon. I think the most egregious was when the Cubs kept Kris Bryant down in the minor leagues  for 11 days in order to ensure he wouldn’t accrue enough service time to declare for free agency a year early. From a front office perspective, this is a no-brainer. Even in Bryant’s absurdly great rookie year, he was only worth 0.43 wins over the course of 11 games. Trading that for another guaranteed year in a Cubs uniform by stashing him in the minors for a couple of weeks is an easy decision. But that doesn’t stop it from reading as extremely cynical, especially when done by a franchise that, until last season, had gone over a century without a championship and had a fanbase that was clamoring for a shot at a World Series.

So yes, I get why the Brewers did things the way they did with Brinson, Hader and Phillips. But the fact that they could have been there contributing from day one will be in the back of my mind if the Brewers can’t hold onto this National League Central lead. Here, I don’t think I can blame David Stearns or the Milwaukee front office, though: Major League Baseball’s service time rules are stupidly restrictive, and I wish they didn’t mean we as fans had to miss out on talents like those the Brewers have added in the past week for nearly a third of the season.


 

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports Images.

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