Austin Meadows, Super 2, and Baseball Ethics

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 12: Josh Harrison #5 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates with Austin Meadows #17 after the final out in a 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on July 12, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 12: Josh Harrison #5 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates with Austin Meadows #17 after the final out in a 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on July 12, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Austin Meadows was recalled earlier than expected, with Starling Marte‘s injury the Pirates called up their top position prospect in May.  However, he hasn’t played much of late and will likely be optioned at the break.

Austin Meadows ranked as the Pirates number two prospect on all sites.  Since being drafted in 2013, he has always seemed to be the heir apparent to the face of the franchise moniker.  Maybe expectations were too sky high, putting that much pressure on such a young player.  He’s dealt with injury history throughout most of his minor league career, and, at times, has shown no power.

For the first time, Meadows struggled in pro ball in 2016 when he was called up to Triple-A (hit .214/.297/.460 in 37 games).  The next year, Meadows only hit .261/.323/.384 while struggling to stay healthy, playing only 72 games in Indianapolis.  This year before being recalled, the 23-year-old hit .294/.336/.397, not really showing much power.

But with Starling Marte’s injury, the Pirates called Meadows up to Pittsburgh, a move they haven’t really done in the past with Super Two status concerns.  In his 46 games in Pittsburgh, Meadows has hit .300/.331/.480 and his five home runs matched his 2017 total.

But as of late, with Marte returning to health, Meadows has not played often, and the four man outfield rotation has slowly moved back to being a true three man outfield; Meadows has only started one of the last seven games.

That brings up the uncertainty of Super Two status, especially if he’s not going to play everyday, the Pirates might as well send him down to recoup some of that service time.  They can have a baseball reason for it, “We want Austin Meadows to get consistent at bats and play consistently everyday to continue to develop as a player.”

But how many days does he really need to be down?  MLB officially recognizes players as Super Two if:

"“Super Two is a designation that allows a select group of players to become eligible for arbitration before reaching three years of service time.To qualify for the Super Two designation, players must rank in the top 22 percent, in terms of service time, among those who have amassed between two and three years in the Majors.”"

Being recalled in mid May, Meadows will likely be a Super Two player if he is not sent down to the minor leagues in the near future.  Below are the Super Two cutoff dates according to MLB Trade Rumors, along with the average and the five year average:

YearSuper 2 Cutoff
5 Year Average2.128

That’s read as years.days, so the average of all nine years is two years and 132 days to be Super Two eligible (two years and 128 days over the last five years).  The Pirates will likely need Meadows to only accrue at max 120 days or so of service time to avoid this team issue.

Here’s a general time frame of when Meadows was recalled to the end of the season and the service time he will have at year’s end:

End of Season9/30/18
Service Time136
Sent Down7/16/18
Service Time Saved15
Total Service Time121

Meadows being sent down at the break is the perfect time, the Pirates can use a valid baseball reason of getting him playing time instead of having four days down.  He also has can’t be recalled until 10 days, saving precious days in the process.  At the trade deadline, with the assumption Corey Dickerson gets moved, Meadows can be recalled and be under the service time dates for Super Two status in any of the previous nine years.

Of course, the Pirates won’t push that, and a likely recall date would be around August 10th or so (110 days of Major League service time).  The team can certainly start Jordan Luplow in the outfield for a week and a half, it’s not the end of the world, especially considering he’s a projected league average bat according to STEAMER.

But here’s the problem, where baseball’s shaky ethical ground really shines.  By holding Meadows down – there are valid baseball reasons in terms of getting him reps – the Pirates save money over the first six years of club control.  Instead of being arbitration eligible for four years, Meadows will be arbitration eligible for three years, decreasing his overall total earnings.

The Pirates, like every team, use Super Two in order to suppress those wages, and with players not coming up until ages 23 or 24, by the time they hit free agency they’re 30 or 31, and teams aren’t paying for those ages either.  Meadows is clearly one of the Pirates top 13 hitters, and the club has made the four man outfield work.  Sending him down is to save money down the road.

Next: Chad Kuhl's Timetable For Return

By Meadows getting one start in the last week, and Dickerson, Marte, and Polanco playing well, the Pirates now have their baseball reason to send him down; the young player needs to continue to develop and the only way to do so is by playing everyday.  But make no mistake about it, Meadows was going to be sent down to retrieve those 20 or so days at some point, and the clear goal is to avoid the Super Two status, ultimately forcing Meadows to have three years of league minimum and three years of arbitration and not two and four respectively.

*Numbers entering games Friday