Typically, after several years in the minor leagues earning poverty-level wages and three seasons in the majors earning roughly the league minimum, a Major League Baseball player will become eligible for salary arbitration and the first sizable payday of his professional career. Salary arbitration allows a player to negotiate a wage with his employing team that is based off the work he has done to that point in his MLB career as well as historical comparisons of similar players at his position and service class. In some cases, however, players with between two and three years of service time can qualify for salary arbitration as a “Super Two” player, and thus be arbitration eligible four times instead of three before reaching free agency:
While players with 3.000+ years of service are eligible for arbitration, players with between two and three years of service may be eligible if they rank in the top 22% of service time among players with between two and three years of service.
The rule is designed to limit teams’ ability to restrict a player’s earning potential by keeping him in the minor leagues for a couple of extra weeks during his first couple of seasons. Teams still hold players back to avoid letting their players reach Super Two status, but holding them back that far typically means they sacrifice two months of playing time rather than just a couple of weeks. If all they had to do was make sure they only have 2.171 days of service at the end of year three, it would be much less costly to the club to hold the player down.
The Super Two cutoff date for eligibility is a moving target each season, as it is based off of when teams decide to call up their young players and how much service time those players collectively accrue in the big leagues. This isn’t much of a concern for larger market clubs like the Cubs or Yankees, who don’t have to worry about pinching pennies when it comes to their player budgets. It does, however, affect the way teams like the Pirates, Rays, and our own Milwaukee Brewers do business during the regular season. Smaller market franchises that are worried about having to pay an extra year of arbitration will often do their best to hold players back in the minor leagues until they are safely clear of the potential cutoff date.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, these are the service time cutoffs to qualify as a Super Two player dating back to 2009:
- 2016: 2.131 (read as 2 years, 131 days of MLB service)
- 2015: 2.130
- 2014: 2.133
- 2013: 2.122
- 2012: 2.140
- 2011: 2.146
- 2010: 2.122
- 2009: 2.139
This year, the 183-day baseball season began on April 2nd. That means that 64 days of the season have passed to bring us to today, June 5th. So if a player were to be called up today and stay with his MLB club through the end of the season on October 1st, that player would only accrue 119 days of MLB service time. Based on the last eight years of data, that means that we should be safely past the Super Two cutoff and that anyone called up now through the rest of the year should not qualify for a fourth year of arbitration.
The 1st-place Milwaukee Brewers have exceeded expectations thus far with a 30-27 record entering play today. As a team they rank 6th in the National League in fWAR from their position player group and 4th in fWAR from their pitching staff; they own a +29 run differential and their 31-26 Pythagorean W-L justifies the NL’s current 5th-highest win total. The Brewers have actually been a pretty darn good team this season rather than just a lucky one (like they were in the early stages of 2014), but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a few holes on the roster. With Ryan Braun on the shelf the club is currently carrying only two true outfielders, and the bullpen has been largely unreliable beyond Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes at the back-end.
Now that the front office should no longer have concerns about players becoming Super Two eligible, we could start seeing the Brewers try to upgrade some of those roster weaknesses via their top-ranked farm system. Top prospect (and #13 overall per MLB Pipeline) Lewis Brinson is having a terrific year at AAA Colorado Springs (.306/.391/.510, 6 HR/5 SB, 134 wRC+) and started in left field for the Sky Sox yesterday; he, along with players like Brett Phillips (org #10 prospect) or Ryan Cordell (org #16 prospect), could now be candidates to come up while everyday playing time is available with Braun sidelined and no timetable yet for his return.
Matt Garza may reportedly need a DL stint after his violent on-field collision with Jesus Aguilar over the weekend; could Brandon Woodruff (org #8 prospect), who is on the same pitching schedule as Garza with the AAA Sky Sox, get his first call up to The Show to take his place in the rotation? Might we see lefty Josh Hader (org #3 prospect, #33 overall) come up and get his feet wet in the big leagues by pitching out of the big league bullpen, a role that his profile may be better suited for long-term anyway? The team has already began shortening his starts with the Sky Sox in an effort to control his innings (4 IP, 0 ER, 8 K his last two appearances), and the big league club could sure use a flame-throwing southpaw with a penchant for strikeouts.
We should start getting answers to these hypotheticals very soon now that the organization needn’t worry about the Super Two cutoff. Slingin’ David Stearns has shown aggressiveness in player movement during his first two years as GM of the Milwaukee Brewers; hopefully we will same that same type of assertiveness when it comes to calling up top prospects to help supplement the current first-place ball club he has assembled at the Major League level.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs