Brett Baty’s Opening Day Assignment Highlights Lesser-Known Option Rule 

Image credit: Brett Baty (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

When the Mets optioned 23-year-old third baseman Brett Baty to Triple-A Syracuse late in spring training, critics of the move concluded that service time manipulation appeared to be alive and well.

But in this case, appearances were deceiving. 

When the Mets recalled Baty on April 17, he had spent approximately 18 days on the Syracuse roster, and players who spend fewer than 20 days on optional assignment in a season have that minor league time converted into major league service.

The rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement reads like this:

If a Player is optionally assigned for a total of less than 20 days in one championship season, the Player shall be credited with Major League service during the period of such optional assignment(s).

Assuming that Baty is in the big leagues to stay, he will accrue a full season of service in 2023, thereby (1) putting him on track to reach free agency after six seasons—following 2028—rather than seven, and (2) qualifying the Mets for a potential Prospect Promotion Incentive draft pick in the seasons before he reaches arbitration.

Baty satisfies the prospect pedigree and rookie status requirements of PPI. To satisfy the third, he must accrue 172 days of MLB service as a rookie. The path is now clear for him to do just that.

So why didn’t the Mets simply carry Baty on their Opening Day roster if he was going to receive credit for that MLB service time anyway? Three reasons come to mind.

• By optioning Baty to Triple-A for a couple weeks, the Mets allowed him to get offensive and defensive reps in a lower-pressure environment and build confidence prior to an inevitable callup. Baty certainly did that at the plate by hitting .400/.500/.886 with five home runs in nine games.

• Baty’s time on optional assignment bought time for the Mets to evaluate incumbent third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who is owed $10 million this season including buyout. 

• The temporary extra roster spot also allowed the Mets to gauge the utility of carrying the speedy Tim Locastro as an extra outfielder and designated pinch-runner—often for Daniel Vogelbach. 

As it played out, Baty hit at Triple-A and Escobar didn’t hit in MLB. And when the changing of the guard occurred on April 18, the Mets’ corresponding roster move for Baty’s callup was Locastro’s placement on the injured list with back spasms.

In 10 days, the Mets will have another roster decision to make.

The scenario outlined for Baty also applies to other prospects who were optioned to Triple-A in spring training and recalled prior to April 18, including Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez, Yankees shortstop Oswald Peraza and Orioles righthander Grayson Rodriguez. It may also apply to Rays righthander Taj Bradley, depending on how many total days he spends at Triple-A Durham if he is optioned again later this season.

Provided that Alvarez, Peraza and Rodriguez remain in the big leagues all season, then all three will receive a full year of MLB service in 2023. 

Because they would also satisfy all three PPI requirements, then all three also would make their clubs eligible for a draft pick after the first round if they win Rookie of the Year or place top three in MVP or Cy Young Award voting in any season before they reach arbitration.  

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