Two players, Nationals star outfielder Bryce Harper and Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada are on course to challenge the MLB arbitration systems' rules in the near future. Both players could be filing grievances related to their potential status as "Super-Two players.
Harper might file such a grievance as a result of his unusual contract, which requires him to if he wants to reach arbitration prior to the end of that deal, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Tejada's motivation is related to the manor in which the Mets handled his service time, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
According to Kilgore, Bryce Harper's potential grievance stems from an atypical clause in his contract. When he signed a five year/$9.9 million major league deal as the number one overall pick in 2010, the Nationals insisted on leaving out the fairly standard opt-out clause that allows players to enter the arbitration system once they have three years of Major League service time.
Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, rejected the offer and a compromise was reached. That agreement states that if Harper becomes arbitration-eligible prior to the end of that five year deal, he can file a grievance with the league and the matter would be decided through that process.
After the 2014 season, Harper is almost certain to be in the Top 22 percent of players (by days with an MLB team) with between two and three years service time, making him eligible for the "Super-Two" status that would allow him to file for arbitration a season early. If that is the case, the grievance could allow him to become arbitration-eligible before the 2015 season.
There appears to very little chance that Harper and the Nationals will not find themselves across from each other in a legal proceeding at some point next off-season. Scott Boras's statement to Kilgore was unequivocal-
"We reached an agreement with MLB and the MLBPA memorializing that Bryce only signed with the Nationals on the condition that his rights were preserved...So, as planned when the issue arises, we will proceed under the terms of that agreement."
Tejada's case is less complicated, but it could have greater impact on the future of the arbitration system. Passan reports that Tejada currently falls just one day short of the three years required for arbitration, making him a Super-Two player. As such, he will be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season. Had he recived one more day of major league service, however, he would hit free agency after the 2016 season. The Mets Triple-A club where Tejada was assigned, finished their season on September 7 and most of the players the Mets added to the major league roster from that team were called up on September 8 or 9. Tejada was called up on September 10, leaving him one day short of the full three years service time and providing him with cause for the potential grievance.
If Tejada does file a grievance against the Mets for their manipulations of his service time, it would be a bold first step in a potential battle against the Super-Two status rule. The rule was originally intended to give top players a chance at arbitration earlier than the three-year requirement would allow, but in practice it is most often used to extend team control for an extra season, as in Tejada's case. Early arbitration salaries are typically less than half of the free market value for players and the final years of arbitration still represent substantial discounts, so teams jump at the chance to add an additional year of control over a player.
Tejada's case is an extreme form of the type of service-time management that teams use to earn this extra year, but the practice is common in less insidious forms. Top players like Harper are routinely left in the minors until mid-to-late June despite being ready to contribute at the major league level eariler, just to ensure they do not reach three full years of service time too soon. This practice has drawn the ire of some players and agents like Boras, while frustrating fans eager to see their top prospects reach the majors. This system is almost certainly going to remain unchanged as long as the current collective bargaining agreement is in place, but these two cases could indicate that players are interested in seeing those rules revised in the next CBA. At the very least, if Tejada were to successfully challenge the Mets' handling of his September call up, some restrictions on the methods teams can use to control service time would be established.