Top prospect Gavin Lux was set to take over the everyday duties at second base in 2020, but should the Dodgers consider holding him back?
Gavin Lux quickly proved in Triple-A Oklahoma City why he is ranked as one of the top prospects in all of baseball. As a 21-year-old last season, the second baseman batted an outlandish .392 with a .719 slugging percentage over 232 plate appearances. He was finally called up for his Major League debut with the Dodgers in September.
The 2020 season was set to be Lux’s first full season at Chavez Ravine. The betting odds putting him as the prohibitive favorite to bring home the National League Rookie of the Year Award (+200 versus the next closest player at +1000). It seemed only a matter of time before Lux was a mainstay in the Dodgers lineup.
Of course, that was before the novel coronavirus upset all aspects of American life, including the start of the 2020 MLB season. As public health officials grapple with more important issues than when to play baseball next, MLB and the Players Association are working together to try to plan for the uncertain. As part of their negotiations, a deal was struck to pro-rate service time based on the number of games played in a potential shortened season.
This means players can earn a full year of service without being active the typical 172 days required within a 187-day schedule.
How does this impact Gavin Lux?
Glad you asked. It means the super-prospect essentially earns double the service time over a compressed schedule than he otherwise would have earned during the course of a normal season. In other words, if the season is only 100 days long, Lux could earn his first full year of service by remaining on the active roster for only 77 days, sixty-seven days shorter than under normal conditions (keep in mind Lux already has 28 days of service from 2019).
A player’s service time matters because it indicates when they become eligible for arbitration, and ultimately, free agency. After six years of accumulated service, a player can hit the open market.
Could Andrew Friedman decide it isn’t worth losing an entire year on Lux’s count towards free agency by starting him right away with the Dodgers?
It’s not like the Dodgers don’t have other options at second base. Enrique Hernandez is already expected to see at-bats against lefties in place of Lux, perhaps he could play a more full-time role. He started 85 games at the position last season. Manager Dave Roberts also has Chris Taylor as another middle infield option, and even Max Muncy.
Lux could start the season by continuing to develop his swing in Oklahoma City and make his 2020 season debut only a short while later while preserving his first year of Major League service.
Manipulating service time is a concept that is never popular among players, or fans. The Dodgers are in the business of winning, looking for their first world championship in 32 years. If Lux gives them the best opportunity to win, then it seems logical to let him play, and that is probably what they will do.
However, as a front office executive who has to keep in mind both the short-term and long-term competitiveness of the roster, Friedman might find that holding back Lux to preserve his service time is something to consider.