FORT MYERS, Fla. – Major League Baseball's service-time rules are so silly that the Minnesota Twins spent this week refusing to admit that they made a sound decision.
They sent their most refined hitting prospect, Alex Kirilloff, to the minors following a spring in which he got four hits in 31 at-bats.
Two of the greatest misconceptions in professional sports are that spring training is an open competition for major league jobs, and that spring training statistics matter. The reality is that baseball decisionmakers care much more about the health of their better players than their spring training performance.
"It's a part of the discussion," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "But it's certainly not just simply results in spring training, that's not what it's all about."
I believe they intended to send Kirilloff to the minors to start the season. Here's why that's a logical move:
• If a player spends 172 days on the big-league roster in 2021, he accrues a full year of service and would be five years from free agency at the end of the season. And two years away from arbitration and a chance at a big raise.
• If a player spends 171 days on the big-league roster in 2021, he doesn't reach free agency until after his seventh full season in the bigs.
Had Kirilloff hit .400 this spring and the Twins had sent him down, they would have had a public-relations problem.
But which would you rather have: Sixteen more days of Kirilloff in the big leagues this year as an unproven rookie, or a full year of Kirilloff in his prime?
It's the structure of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that is the problem. Forcing teams to make this decision every spring is bad for the owners, front offices, players and fans. It benefits nobody. It's the definition of a bad rule, one that gives teams a good reason not to start their optimal lineups on Opening Day, a day that should be all about hope.
Kirilloff didn't lose a battle for the job in spring training. He lost a fistfight with logic.
Kirilloff will be given every opportunity to become the everyday left fielder this season, just about three weeks later than everyone would have liked.
In his absence, the Twins could rely on a platoon of Brent Rooker, who looked impressive with the Twins last year before he was injured, and Luis Arraez, who despite losing his second base job might still be the Twins' best at-bat artisan.
The two decisions that tell you what the Twins think of Kirilloff were made before this spring began.
They called up Kirilloff to make his big-league debut in the starting lineup in a playoff game.
And they decided not to tender a contract to Eddie Rosario, who in his past three full seasons hit 92 home runs.
Baseball is a game of statistics, and most baseball fans love analyzing statistics, which leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of spring training statistics.
No organization is going to abandon its grand plan because of a few spring training at-bats against a mixture of pitchers ranging from All-Stars to almost-out-of-baseball roster fillers.
If spring training statistics were important, Luke Hughes would be in the Twins Hall of Fame, if not baseball's Hall of Fame.
In 2009, Hughes, a Twins infield prospect, hit .429 in spring training. He did not play in the big leagues that season.
In 2012, Hughes hit .303 in spring training with an OPS of .984. Willie Mays' career OPS was .941. In the 2012 regular season, Hughes hit .130 in 23 at-bats with two teams, and never played in the majors again.
In 1995, the Twins signed former Yankees slugger Kevin Maas. A lefthanded hitter, he produced prodigious blows in batting practice, and in an early spring training game, he hit two doubles off the wall in left-center.
I asked Twins manager Tom Kelly whether he was impressed. He diplomatically suggested that Maas hit the ball to left-center because he couldn't get around on a fastball.
The Twins released him that season after 59 games.
Spring training can fool you, for better or worse.