A Proposal to Fix the Super Two Issue

It has begun: the annual rite of teams all magically deciding at the same time that their top prospects have proven enough in the minor leagues and have earned a promotion to the big leagues. So far this week, we have already seen Dee Gordon get the call in Los Angeles, and reports are circulating that Team Joy Squad captain Charlie Blackmon is on his way to Denver at the same time the Padres are preparing to promote Anthony Rizzo. Injuries played a role in the first two call-ups, but no one had to get hurt in San Diego (besides the people trying to watch that team score runs, anyway) to inspire the Padres to give Rizzo a chance in the big leagues.

More promotions are almost certainly coming in the next week. Expect Dustin Ackley to get called up by the offensively challenged Mariners, Brett Lawrie to join the Blue Jays, and Jemile Weeks to find his way to Oakland (possibly as soon as today). All of these teams need help at the positions where these kids play, but that’s been true all season, so what has changed now?

Put simply: Super Two status. As Jonah noted a few weeks ago, there were a handful of prospects who could clearly help their teams immediately, yet were hanging out down in the minors instead. By holding off on promoting them until now (or in the next few days), most of these players will fall just short of Super Two eligibility, meaning that they will only go through arbitration three times rather than four. Keeping them on a normal arbitration schedule will keep their future paychecks down and allow teams to lower their costs and save that money to acquire other pieces to help their team win.

From an organizational standpoint, it makes sense: none of these guys would have produced enough in the first third of the season to justify the significant cost differences that Super Two status would have created, but from a fan’s perspective, this rule sucks and needs to be changed.

Major League Baseball should be incentivizing their teams to put the most entertaining products on the field. By creating a salary structure that makes it a wise choice to keep Major League-quality players in the minors, the league is actively promoting a lesser product to their respective fans. Blue Jays fans were ready to stop watching Edwin Encarnacion months ago, and yet Lawrie has been kept out of their view in large part due to financial considerations.

This rule is bad for the fans, bad for the game, and bad for teams; they have to try to convince these Major League ready players that they really need more time in Triple-A to work on their game when everyone involved knows that it’s just a by-product of the current salary rules. The players would obviously prefer to get promoted earlier, and it can’t be easy for a GM to deny his manager the best possible roster when his team is trying to chase down a playoff spot.

The current Super Two rules just don’t work, but thankfully, there’s a new CBA coming this winter, and Major League Baseball has a chance to change them. I’d like to propose a fairly radical solution that would solve not only this Super-Two problem, but also would eliminate the issue of teams having to choose to option players back to the minors at the beginning of the season in order to maximize the years of team control they have over their homegrown players.

The fix? Free agency for all players in the winter after their age-28 season. Essentially, this would give Major League teams 10 years of control over any player they drafted out of high school, but it would be up to them to determine how many of those 10 years should be allocated towards player development versus production at the big-league level. For college players, teams would only have 6-7 years of team control, but they would be getting players who needed fewer years of development before they were ready for the big leagues.

This would essentially flip the clock from what it does now. Rather than counting forwards from the day a player arrives, it would count backwards from a known date in the future, and teams would have to choose to give up potentially useful present value in order to procure more development time for each player.

Changing the service-time structure this radically would also mean that you’d have to overhaul the arbitration system; if it stayed in place, you would at least have to alter who was eligible and when. And, for players who got to the Majors at an early age, you’d likely have to institute some kind of sliding pay-scale that made sure they weren’t playing for the league minimum for five-plus years just because they were so talented they could hang in the Majors at age 20.

That said, I think those problems could be worked out, and the overall system would produce the desired result — players would get to the majors faster, and the product on the field would be better as a whole. It might be too radical of a solution for Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association, but a well-implemented version of that kind of idea could work out better for everyone.

At the least, it’s an idea. I’m sure many of you have some interesting ideas on how to fix this issue as well, and I’d love to hear them in the comments below. The status quo just isn’t good enough, and hopefully all parties involved give serious thought to some out-of-the-box thoughts on how the system could work better for the players, teams, and fans.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Mike H
12 years ago

I can’t think of an arbitration system that couldn’t be gamed in that scenario.

What if we just adjusted the service time system so that the numbers added up correctly? Would adding 50 or so days to the requirement for arbitration eliminate the Super-Two altogether? There would always be some sort of cutoff line to watch, of course, but this way we could shift it back to the end of the previous year.

12 years ago
Reply to  Mike H

This is a great idea – it would need to be adding 25 days or so to the rule though – this would incentivize September callups to give a taste of the majors, and you can start the next season with no problems. However, if you followed the Super-Two rule, this would essentially create 4 years of team-controlled salary and 3 years of arbitration like so:

First year callup: 30 days
First full year: 172days – Team Control (In the past, this would have been a 130 day year for a “free” Super Two avoidance)
Second full year: Team Control
Third full year: Team Control
Fourth full year: Team Control
Fifth through 7th years: Arbitration

The problem is, I don’t know if the Union would willingly give up an entire Team-Controlled 7th year on the front end. However, the tradeoff would be that extra early entry into the September roster, plus about 50 more days in the majors that you would normally be denied at the beginning of the year. They wouldn’t really be “giving up” a year of free agency, because that 7th year would be arbitration year anyway if they’re held back to avoid Super 2, so they’d really just be able to make the ML minimum for about 80 more days than they would normally, which is a pretty big jump over the salary you’re paid for being on the 40 man roster in the minors (32K-97K). In reality, they’re gaining money, but I don’t know if they’re dense enough to accept it, and I might not be seeing all the angles how such a day increase could be schemed.