The Business of Baseball Series: Major League Service Time


This is the first in a series of posts covering areas of baseball that are not well known by the casual baseball fan.  This week is the start of the season when arbitration amounts are exchanged and deals with arbitration eligible players are made. This first post is about major league service time, the basis for all transactions involving arbitration and free agency and a few other areas respecting a player’s contractual services.  I will give an explanation of what major league service time is, how it is calculated, and how it is used in major league baseball.

Jun 29, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; A major league baseball and glove sits in the bat rack in the Pittsburgh Pirates dugout before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Major league service time is essentially the amount of time a player has spent in his career on an active major league roster.  The active roster is also known as the “25-man roster”.  This number is the basis for determining when a player is eligible for arbitration or free agency, and for some contractual rights, such as the ability to veto any trade, or “10 and 5 rights”, or to not be sent to the minors without your consent.  The amount of major league service time any individual player has is available on sites such as Baseball-Reference and Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

A year for the purposes of calculating major league service time is 172 days.  This is a little shorter than an actual baseball season, which is around 183 days.  A player accrues a day of service time for every day he spends on a major league active roster, including days spent on the 15 day or 60 day disabled list, the suspended list, the bereavement list, the paternity list, and any player on a minor league rehab assignment.  A player on the restricted, disqualified, or ineligible lists do not accrue service time.  A service time number will show the number of full years a player has accrued and the number of days in a partial year.  So, for example, if a player’s service time is 5.113 it means he has spent 5 years and 113 days on a major league roster.

As previously stated, service time is used for the basis of a number of a player’s contractual rights.  To be eligible for arbitration a player has to have at least 3 years of service time.  One exception to this rule is what is known as a “Super Two” which will be explained in a later post.  A player reaches free agency when he accrues 6 years of service time.  These are the major goal posts for a player with regard to service time.  Other contractual rights that involve service time will be the subject of further posts.

From understanding what major league service time is and how it is calculated, one can then understand how and when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency.  Arbitration will be the subject of the next post in this series.  Stay tuned.