Relations between Major League Baseball and its players' association are already frosty thanks to the slow free-agent market.
Now, MLBPA head Tony Clark is publicly taking aim at another issue which has raised the ire of many players.
Clark, who visited Cincinnati Reds camp in Goodyear, Ariz., on Saturday, discussed service-time manipulation when asked about it possibly applying to top Reds prospect Nick Senzel, a candidate to crack the team's Opening Day roster as a rookie center fielder.
"The players - and we believe the fans - want to see the best players on the field," Clark said, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "We understand the business. But the business is getting in the way of our game."
Service time has become a hot topic in baseball as teams continue to value control and lower salaries. Teams are delaying bringing elite prospects to the majors to delay their free agency by one season; instead of becoming free agents after six years in the majors, these "Super Two" players need seven seasons.
Top prospects, including San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez, and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are likely ticketed for Triple-A in April regardless of their spring performances.
Guerrero's case is especially controversial because he was already considered a big-league caliber hitter last year. Despite slashing .381/.437/.636 in the minors (including an absurd .402 in Double-A), he didn't get a September call-up. General manager Ross Atkins said this week there's "no firm timeline" on his potential promotion.
The use of the tactic is catching the attention of players as it never has before, and some are starting to speak out against it on behalf of those affected.
"We're going to see it (manipulation) this year, right?" Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said to Gabe Lacques of USA Today this week. "With Vlad Jr. Saw it with Kris Bryant (in 2015).
"They're being punished for being too good."