Wondering why the Pittsburgh Pirates took so long to promote Pedro Alvarez to the majors this year? Perhaps it was due to the new low cut-off for Super Two eligible players. C. Trent Rosecrans of CBS Sports released the Super Two list for the 2011 season (h/t MLBTR), with the cutoff being 2 years, 122 days. This marks the first time the Super Two cut-off has been below 2 years and 130 days. As expected, Ross Ohlendorf will be Super Two eligible this off-season.
What is a Super Two player? As you may know, all players with 0-3 years of service time receive the league minimum, while any player with 3-6 years of service time is eligible for arbitration. There is an exception, and that would be the Super Two players. Super Two players are the top 17% of players who meet the following requirements:
-Between 2 and 3 years of service time
-At least 86 days of service time during the previous season
A Super Two player has his third league minimum year replaced with an additional arbitration year, giving him four arbitration years, rather than the normal three.
Because the Pirates waited until June 16th to promote Alvarez, he will end up with 2 years and 110 days of service time after the 2012 season, which means he should miss the cut-off. The Pirates may have a problem next season with Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen finished the 2010 season with 1 year and 123 days of service time. If the cut-off next year is as low as this year, McCutchen would be eligible for arbitration following the 2011 season. What could that mean for the Pirates?
Looking at some recent outfielders who have reached the arbitration process, here is what we could expect for McCutchen:
Andre Ethier: Ethier was a Super Two player after the 2008 season. He received $3.1 M in arbitration in 2009. The Dodgers signed him to a two year deal in 2010, paying him $5.5 M in 2010 and $9.25 M in 2011. He will receive a raise over his $9.25 M salary in 2012, for his final arbitration year.
Nick Markakis: Markakis became arbitration eligible under a normal schedule after the 2008 season. Rather than going year to year, Markakis signed a six year, $66 M extension, paying him $3 M in 2009, $6.75 M in 2010, and $10.25 M in 2011, in what would have been his arbitration years.
Ethier got $17.85 M for his first three arbitration years, while Markakis got $20 M. Both ended up in the $9-10 M range for their third arbitration year. Looking at these contracts, we get an idea as to what McCutchen could earn through arbitration. We can assume that McCutchen would at least receive the $18-20 M for his first three arbitration years, with the third year being in the $9-10 M range. That’s where the Super Two status becomes an issue.
If McCutchen becomes Super Two eligible after the 2011 season, he would reach his fourth arbitration year in 2015, and would most likely be due a raise over his $9-10 M salary. That could put him in the $12-15 M range, depending on his performance at that point. The most important thing is that the Super Two status for McCutchen could easily cost the Pirates $10+ M extra in the long run, as they would be paying an extra arbitration year, with that extra year being the most expensive fourth year.
The ideal scenario would be to extend McCutchen, buying out all of his control years, as well as gaining control of a few free agent years. Unfortunately, that might be a tough sell this off-season. McCutchen only has to wait one year to find out if he will be Super Two eligible, and based on the low cut-off this year, and the trend of delaying promotions that led to this low cut-off, we can assume that the cut-off date next year has just as much of a chance of being low. The CBA negotiations are also next off-season, with the Super Two status being a main topic.
Any extension for McCutchen would have to consider his potential cost through arbitration. Right now that cost is unknown, all because we don’t know whether he will have three or four years of arbitration. A fourth year could raise his price by $10 M in extension talks, and I’m sure that the Pirates don’t want to concede that McCutchen is a risk to end up with that fourth arbitration year, just as McCutchen wouldn’t concede that he might not end up with the extra year. Looking at it from McCutchen’s point of view, I’m not talking extensions this year, as my value could shoot up next off-season if the Super Two cut-off remains low. The only way I would negotiate if I were McCutchen is if the Pirates paid me more than the league minimum in 2012, as a compromise considering the chance of Super Two status that year (this could be achieved through an escalator that adds $2 M to the contract that year if McCutchen were otherwise eligible for arbitration).
If you’re hoping that the Pirates will extend McCutchen as part of their off-season plan, you might want to think again. Considering the chance that he could be eligible for Super Two status after next season, and considering that status could potentially earn him an additional $10 M, it would be in McCutchen’s best interest to risk another season without a guaranteed contract. By doing this he could drastically increase his extension value next season, based on what seems like a very possible chance that the Super Two cut-off includes him for the 2012 season.