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Service time matters because of the way salaries are structured and free agency is granted.
A team has the rights to a player until that player earns six full years of MLB service time (there are special rules for players who spend many years in the minors).
That means if you’re on the roster for 178 days, you earn 172 days.
If you’re on the roster for 183 days, you also earn 172 days.
Some teams will give modest raises each year, but in general, the first three years of service are worth just over 0,000 each for the player.For the next three years of service (years 4-6), the player may go through salary arbitration.This allows them to make more money based on their quality of play to date, although the structure does not allow them to make free agency level dollars and is based on somewhat imperfect methodologies.A 4 WAR player making million and a 4 WAR player making million produce the same number of wins on the field, but if you have the second player, you have those 4 WAR and you have an extra million to spend on another player who could help your team.
Assuming every team has some type of budget and cares about the bottom line in some fashion, it’s better for teams to accumulate good players who have cheaper contracts. Players who have not reached free agency are cost-controlled.
Generally speaking, this clearly defined cutoff point means that most players spend their first seven major league seasons with their original team (unless they are traded or released, of course) because teams know not to call a player up until they can no longer earn 172 service days in their first year.