Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Who’s Afraid of Super Two?

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 10, 2010

In a few pieces around the web, I’ve seen criticism of the Starlin Castro call-up referring to Super Two status, which is the contract situation in which a player is arbitration eligible after 2.5+ rather than 3.0 seasons of MLB service time.  Those articles, though, generally don’t make much baseball sense.  And once we recognize that economies happen on the ground as opposed to in the U of C’s hallowed halls, they don’t necessarily make any financial sense, either.At twenty years old, Castro made his debut:

  • on the road,
  • on a team with two struggling star hitters and a demoted star starter,
  • in the early part of a season with low expectations,
  • on the heels of success by fellow rookie Tyler Colvin.

Rather than being in panic mode, the team found and/or felt they could sneak Castro onto the roster within the struggles.  With Lee and Ramirez unable to hit Mike Fontenot’s weight, let alone their own, the burden of poor performance in the team’s many losses is largely on their shoulders.  A change in the #7 hole wasn’t going to change that.  As a baseball move, calling Castro up was a reward for great minor league performance and a recognition that Chad Tracy is not all that great at baseball.  It wasn’t just a baseball cure-all to “provide a spark” and “improve the atmosphere.”

And even though his unprecedented debut, in conjunction with his Calderonian bling, has drawn quite a bit of attention, he still isn’t The Story or The Fix.  That is, the team has been able to bring him in under the auspices of a well-constructed media narrative: As much as Lou and Jim wanted to keep the kid down in the minors, the kid forced their hand.  They couldn’t develop him when he was lapping the competition.  If they had their way, he’d maybe be in Iowa, with Darwin Barney moving to second base.  But it just couldn’t happen like that, darn it.  Even if you don’t buy it, it’s a legitimate narrative.

Back to Super Two

Now that the nature of the call-up has been addressed, the Super Two argument can be dispatched.  The only cogent part of the argument is that the 28 games that elapsed before he arrived, during which he played above A-ball and tore the cover off the ball, should have influenced the Cubs to leave him down there for a while.  Apparently, a 130-game rookie season is not worth a prorated portion of $400,000 now and wouldn’t be worth arbitration after the 2012 season, as opposed to 2013 if they left him down until some point in June.

But…

The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on 11 December 2011 – before even next year’s arbitration cases are to be heard.  The labor negotiations may well alter the pre-free agency structure of player control.  If a team waits on a prospect in 2010 – let’s say the Nats with Stephen Strasburg – and miss the playoffs by two games, won’t they look like idiots if Super Two is written out of the next agreement and no longer exists when it would have kicked in?  Why didn’t you earn a Wild Card?  Because we wanted to save $600,000 on an All-Star shortstop or Cy Young-caliber staff ace who wasn’t yet in his prime.  Stupid.

And…

Even if the Super Two designation survives, when you have a player as young as Castro, it actually might be better to blow through player control early.  If he hits free agency at 25 rather than 26, he has a smaller body of work and is an extra year preceding his prime.  That doesn’t affect the price he’ll command on the open market.  But it will allow you to sign him to a multi-year deal that ends at 31 or 32 rather than 33 or 34.  Saving the $10-15mm on that final year as the typical player declines is well worth that extra sum gambled in early arbitration.

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