Does Super Two Make Any Sense by Joe Luchok
“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday-but never jam today
It must come sometime to jam today, Alice objected
No it can’t said the Queen It’s jam every other day. Today isn’t any other day, you know”
Lewis Carroll-Alice in Wonderland
There is a clamor among the Pirate fan base to bring up Gregory Polanco. Pirate GM Neil Huntington says Polanco still has some things to work on. The problem is that fans care about results on the field while GMs care about results on the field and the economics of the situation. Huntington can’t say they are keeping Polanco in the minors to prevent him from being a super two player because he could be sued by the player under the CBA. This is common in MLB, teams keep a player to avoid super two while winking and saying the player needs more development.
When we look at bringing potential star players to the majors there are several things a GM must consider, including whether the player is ready for the majors, how many years of control they will have, and when they will be eligible for arbitration.
Polanco is hitting .400 with 4 HR, 6 doubles 2 triples and 25 RBI at Indy. Looks like he is ready for MLB.
Years of control is easy to determine. The common thought is that a team controls a player 6 years before they can be a free agent. The reality is a team controls a player for almost 7 years. A year of service time is 172 days on an MLB roster and a major league season is about 183 days. If you wait two weeks into a season to bring a player up you control him for the rest of that season and for the next 6 years. The service time date has already passed this season so if they brought up Polanco today he would not accrue a year of service time. Polanco would not be a free agent until after the 2020 season.
Since he looks ready for MLB and service time is not an issue that leaves super two status as the controlling factor. What is super two? When a player is brought up he can be paid the minimum salary his first 3 full seasons. He then has 3 years of arbitration. However, a player with more than 2 years of service time but less than 3 years who is within the top 22% of all 2-year players in terms of service time is granted arbitration immediately and now has 4 arbitration years.
How does super two affect salary? Neil Walker was a super 2. He earned $437,000 his first year and $500,000 his 2nd year. Through arbitration his salary jumped to $3.3 million last year and #5.75 million this season. Pirates are paying more than $2 million more this season than they would be if had not been a super two. It can be much worse than that if the player becomes a star. Back in 2008 Ryan Howard won $10 million as a super two.
The problem with large salaries is not just the salary but that it takes money away from what you can spend on other players. Does super two make sense? The date you can bring a player up and avoid super two varies from season to season. Baseball is game of exacts. We know when the service time date is. We don’t put a base at 80 feet and allow the 22% slowest runners to be safe if they reach that base. We don’t have two mounds, one for pitcher who throw in the 90s and another for those who throw below 90. When changes are made they affect every player, such as lowering the mound. Even service time affects every player equally. Why have a rule which only 22% of the players benefit from?
Super two was most likely established so that some players could start earning big money earlier. The negative is it that keeps players from starting their MLB careers for almost two months. Does anyone think Polanco would not be with the Pirates now if there was no super two?
The fact that GM’s play with super two rule to avoid it tell me that it is bad rule. I’m sure the Players Union would like all players to be eligible for arbitration after two years while teams would like it to be four years. Just keep it three years and eliminate the Super Two.