How the Tigers Squeezed Another Season Out of Rick Porcello

When the Tigers promoted Rick Porcello to their rotation in the 2009 season, many questioned whether the top young prospect was being rushed too aggressively to the major leagues. Why, the question was asked, would the club use up the six seasons of "club control" before the star pitcher would be a free agent, so quickly, rather than waiting until he was further developed? Well, it turns out that Porcello's brief "demotion" to the minor leagues during the 2010 season will restore one more season of "club control" before Porcello can become a free agent.

Under the terms of Major League Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), a player can declare for free agency after he has accrued six full seasons of major league service time. 172 games days or more in a given season, and the player gets credit for a full season of service time. The most service time that a player can accrue in one season is one season's service time, and Porcello did that in his 2009 rookie campaign. But, as things transpired, Porcello was sent to the minor leagues for a period of time in 2010 to get his stuff right. When the days on the roster are added up, Rick logged 170 days on the major league roster in 2010, just two days short of the 172 days required for him to be credited with a full season of service time. In another four seasons, Porcello will still be at least two days short of six seasons, and will not be eligible for free agency. Had he spent another two days on the major league roster, and had he stayed full time every season in the major leagues for the next four seasons, he would have been a free agent after the 2014 season.

All is not lost for Porcello, however. Because he spent such a significant time on the major league roster, he should be eligible for arbitration after the 2011 season, provided he doesn't have to do another tour of duty in Toledo. He will gain that eligibility as a "super two" player. That is, a player with more than two years but less than three years of service time, who falls within the top 17 per cent (or about two years plus 140 days or so) of service time. As such, Porcello can go through the arbitration process up to four times in successive years, unless the Tigers sign him to a contract to buy out that eligibility (or trigger the club option for the 2012 season, which has certain contingencies).

Contrast Porcello's situation with that of his fellow rotation mate, Max Scherzer. Max has two years plus 49 days of service time in the major leagues entering the 2011 season. Both Porcello and Scherzer will be eligible for their first seasons of arbitration after this season, yet Max will be eligible for free agency a year sooner because of that extra difference in service time, unless he spends more time in the minor leagues prior to that time. In fact, Phil Coke is on the same arbitration eligibility track as Scherzer, while Justin Verlander's lucrative contract will also expire after the 2014 season. Tiger management will have some expensive renewals in their rotation each winter for the next few seasons, but you can tack on one more year for Rick Porcello, thanks to his tour of Toledo in 2010.

Note: I verified Porcello's free agency eligibility with folks "in the know" regarding such matters although none are affiliated with MLB or the Detroit Tigers.

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