Bradley: Ins and outs of service time

TAMPA, Fla. -- Everything you wanted to know about Jackie Bradley Jr.’s roster status and how his future free agency could be impacted by the timing of his callup by the Red Sox, as explained patiently Wednesday by an industry source:

First thing worth noting: Bradley is not currently on the team’s 40-man major league roster. A full year of major league service time is considered 172 days. There are roughly 183 days in a major-league season, which this year begins March 31, the night Houston plays Texas in the first game of the 2013 season. Six years of major league service are required before a player is eligible for free agency.

First scenario: The Sox call up Bradley on April 12, adding him to the major-league roster, and he will accrue 171 days of major league service. That would fall a day short of a full year of service, so Bradley would not be eligible for free agency until at least the end of the 2019 season.

Another scenario: The Red Sox place Bradley on the Opening Day roster. In order for him not to earn a full year of service, the Red Sox would need to option him back to the minors for 20 or more days cumulatively over the course of the season. By rule, if a player is optioned for fewer than 20 days total during the season, he gets those days back credited as major league service days, so he would end up with a full year of major league service. Thus, if Bradley made the team out of spring training but was optioned for a total of 19 days during the season, he would still be credited for a full year of major-league service because instead of having 164 days, he would be credited those 19 days, giving him 183, more than the required 172.

A full year of service time in 2013, and Bradley would be eligible for free agency after the 2018 season.

Explanation: The 20-day rule doesn't apply in the first scenario above because he would not have been "optioned" at the beginning of the year. He would just be on a minor league contract until called up on April 12. So he would not get those first 12 days back and the maximum major league service he could get in 2013 would be 171 days.

“Keep in mind,’’ the industry source said, “he could also theoretically be optioned in future years as well, so that could affect when he would be eligible for free agency. A player needs a total of 6 years of service to be eligible for free agency. So if he ends up with a full year this year, but is optioned for 20 or more days in 2014, for example, he would end up with less than two years of service at the end of 2014, and therefore couldn't be eligible for free agency until at least the end of the 2019 season.

My conclusion: There are ways that the Sox can make it work that Bradley begins the season in Boston, and yet they still maintain contractual control of him through the 2019 season. And if Bradley plays so well that the Red Sox decide they can’t send him down? That’s a great problem to have.