Super Two status opens the door to an extra season of arbitration eligibility for certain younger players. Among players in the 2+ service class that spent at least 86 days in the prior season on an active MLB roster (or the injured list), the top 22% in terms of total service receive the Super Two designation. We won’t know the specific service level required until the class has been fully defined.
The ability to achieve that status is dictated primarily by early-career promotion decisions. It’s a factor for teams to consider as they manage their rosters. But it isn’t as strong of a motivator as the math that strongly disincentivizes teams from placing top young prospects on Opening Day rosters. (Kris Bryant recently labeled that a “loophole” that needs to be closed.) Super Two players are still controllable for the same duration as any others, thus preserving teams’ abilities to control the prime years of their best young talent and maintain timing-based bargaining leverage in long-term contract talks.
It’s tempting to think that Super Two status doesn’t matter all that much. True, some teams can largely afford to throw such considerations out the window, figuring that any future payroll impacts can be dealt with if and when they arise. It’s unlikely that the Red Sox worried too much about Super Two status when they decided to bring up Michael Chavis recently. If it turned out he wasn’t quite ready or needed for the duration of the season, he’d go back down anyway. And if he produced — as he has thus far — the long-term sacrifices would be well worth it even for just another month or two of immediate production.
For many teams, it’s tough to be cavalier when the stakes can be so significant. Since the arb system rewards players via raises once they are in the system, the ability to start with a big number and add to it three times vastly increases a player’s potential cumulative pre-free agency earning power. It’s not always obvious at the time the decision is being made, but don’t doubt for a second the degree of potential impact.
Consider Edwin Diaz, the stud closer who was traded over the offseason from the Mariners to the Mets. You may recall that money was a significant aspect of that deal (even moreso than your average MLB swap). Seattle was able to shed a big chunk of Robinson Cano’s remaining salary and add some intriguing young talent by agreeing to part with Diaz. Beyond his abilities on the mound, why was it that Diaz was such a desirable asset? Since Diaz fell shy of arbitration, the Mets were able to renew his contract at just $607K. MLBTR’s arbitration projections would have valued things quite differently had Diaz made it through the door, predicting a whopping $7.5MM salary due to his rare combination of dominant innings and saves. Diaz should still be able to command a big first-year arb salary this fall, but he’ll have to stay healthy to do so and will be starting from scratch rather than building off that massive starting point. The M’s, meanwhile, are enjoying a significantly different payroll situation; had Diaz been a Super Two qualifier, the Mets would’ve had a completely different view of how much Cano salary they’d be amenable to absorbing.
It works the other way, of course. Nationals shortstop Trea Turner snuck in with 2.135 years of service and earned $3.725MM. Tigers southpaw Matt Boyd checked in with a 2.136 service clock and got $2.6MM. And Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who landed on the dot at 2.134, took home $1.5MM. Things can change quickly in baseball. Turner has been hurt early this year, so his extra arb year will help prop up his ability to earn this fall and beyond. Boyd has taken an ace turn early; if he’s able to sustain even this one monster big-league season, he could be able to secure life-long financial security as soon as this fall. As for Edwards, he was optioned down earlier this year, which demonstrates another of the perils that’s protected against by early arb qualification.
So, we’d love to know which young players will ultimately obtain that status. When is this year’s cutoff? Well, that’s a bit of a misnomer. There’s no way to know in advance how much service it will take. Even if you look at the other players being promoted, you can’t assume they’ll all remain in the majors. And others could still drop back into the 2+ service class if they’re demoted in the future.
Over the past decade, the Super Two cutoff level has ranged from a low of 2.122 to a high of 2.146. Last year’s 2.134 cutoff lands smack dab in the middle. Players that were promoted on or before May 7th of this year were in line to accrue 146 days of service this season, thus putting them on track to clear all the bars we’ve seen in recent campaigns. Players promoted today could accrue as many as 139 days of service this season. And a player can top out at 122 days if they make it onto the active roster on the last day of May. Generally, a June promotion point should be “safe” for teams that want to avoid eventual Super Two status (that is, for prospects that haven’t previously accumulated any time).
Of course, coming up doesn’t always mean staying up. Nationals infielder Carter Kieboom was optioned back after 11 days; Rays first bagger Nate Lowe logged ten. They could still return and boost those tallies. Or, the days could come into play for 2020 promotion considerations; that’s how Turner ended up with his tally. A fair number of other younger players are firmly on track for eventual Super Two status so long as they can stay up. Chavis, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Griffin Canning, and Nick Senzel are all tracking to reach 150 or more days of service this year. With his promotion on Sunday, Astros righty Corbin Martin could max out at 141 days in 2019. Most recently, youngsters Nicky Lopez (link) and Oscar Mercado (link) were tapped for call-ups, though the precise dates aren’t yet clear.