Earlier this week David Phelps of the Blue Jays hit his 10-year milestone of big league service time. That’s significant and meaningful for a few reasons.
First of all, it’s gotta be a point of pride for any big leaguer to be able to play at the highest level for a decade or more. The average length of an MLB career is between 5-6 years, so Phelps has already long surpassed the mean.
He’s also done this while navigating some significant injuries in his career, including what he went through just last year. He’s part of the Tommy John surgery club, and after getting healthy and performing at the top of his game to start the 2021 season with the Blue Jays, he lost the majority of another season to a lat injury that also required surgery.
Despite having to battle in the rehab room to save his career once again, Phelps has returned to the mound with authority this season, and has reclaimed his place as a trusted reliever in Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen. So far this year he’s 2.70 ERA and a 0.900 WHIP over his first ten appearances, covering 10.0 innings (stats reflect games through May 2, 2022). The Blue Jays’ bullpen has been performing very well as a collective unit, but I would argue that Phelps has been one of the biggest highlights.
Getting back to the service time milestone, Phelps debuted with the Yankees back in 2012, where he spent three reasons. From there he made stops with the Marlins, Mariners, Blue Jays (the first time), Cubs, Brewers, and Phillies, before two more stops with the Jays over the last two years. He’s been around the block, but he has also evolved into an effective reliever after beginning his career as a starting pitcher.
Now that he’s passed the 10-year mark, he’s joined a tier that sees less than 10% of MLB players with that long of a career. It also means that he’ll be “fully vested” for a pension from the league, which can be significant for many players, even if they’ve earned significant money throughout their careers. From an article from USA Today in 2018 that nicely explains a few things:
"“The plan pays fully vested members a minimum of nearly $68,000 a year for those who start drawing at 45, with a sliding scale that goes up to $220,000 for beneficiaries who wait until age 62.”"
That’s a significant amount of money for anyone as they enter “retirement”, and while Phelps will still be a young man when he hangs up his cleats, this pension has to be a nice feeling of security. According to spotrac.com, Phelps has earned a little over 22 million over the course of his MLB career. While that sounds like a ridiculous sum of money, it’s not what it seems by the time he’s paid taxes, agents, trainers, etc. If he’s been smart with his money throughout the course of his career, he could likely retire on whatever he has in the bank these days. However, that’s not necessarily the case for many professional athletes, especially the ones that aren’t receiving the mega-contracts that make headlines in baseball.
Regardless of the money involved in reaching the 10-year service mark, I can’t help but cheer on a guy like Phelps for the accomplishment. He could have easily retired after another significant injury last year, but he worked very hard to come back and it’s paying off in a big way. He’s pitching as well as he has at any time throughout his big league career as part of a team that should be in contention this year, and he just earned himself a pension, as well as another feather in his cap.