As the Phillies offense limps out of the gate, the calls for Domonic Brown's return will no doubt come soon. And although the Phillies never mentioned it publicly (they really are not allowed to), I think they sent Brown back to AAA partly to scrape an extra year of team control out of Brown.
A quick review of how service time and team control work:
- Players accrue a day of service every day they are on the active roster or major-league disabled list.
- Players can accrue up to, but no more than, 172 days of service in one season. For MLB's accounting, 172 days equals one season of service. There are typically about 182 calendar days in the regular season.
- Players are eligible for arbitration at the conclusion of the first season where their service clock runs over three seasons. The exception is Super Two players, who get an extra year of arbitration.
- Players are eligible for free agency at the end of the first season where their service clock runs over 6 full seasons (long-term deals and options aside).
Brown finished last year with 1 year and 13 days of service time, meaning he needs another 159 days in the bigs to clear 2 full years of service. The 2012 season ends on October 3rd, meaning Brown needs to be in the major leagues by no later than April 28th to achieve 159 days of service time.
Consider we are already 9 days away from that date, and there has been nary a whisper from the Phillies front office of bringing Brown back into the fold, it is almost a lock that they are going to squeeze an extra year of team control out of the 24-year-old former top prospect. Brown most likely won't be a free agent until after the 2017 season.
As for Super Two status, which Brown could hypothetically achieve after the 2013 season? MLB Trade Rumors has 2 years and 134 days as the projected cutoff number for Super Twos after this season, which is down from the 2.147 cutoff last year. The cutoff has generally been trending down because of teams gaming service clocks by delaying the promotions of top prospects.
Let's say Brown could become a Super Two after 2013 if he gets to 2 years and 130 days by then, and let's further assume he is a full time player in 2013. He would need 117 days of service this season to get to 1.130, which puts his latest possible arrival date for eventual Super Two status as June 9th.
Of course, the Phillies haven't mentioned holding Brown back for service reasons publicly. They have maintained he needs to work on his defense (which is very true) and they have not put any kind of expected return date out. And no one has speculated about it, until I just did. Even if they didn't evaluate service time considerations at all when making the decision to pack Brown back to the minors, the implications are positive for the long-term.
- Brown comes up after April 28th: extra year of team control
- Brown comes up after June 9th: likely no Super Two status after 2013 season
Whether on purpose or not, the Phillies have successfully extended their control over a very valuable asset, and they have likely saved themselves some money at the same time.