Will Super Two become a factor for the Cards?

Looking at how "Super Two" arbitration eligibility may shake out for the St. Louis Cardinals ahead.

In this recent article series focusing on various considerations related to the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals roster, we have looked at the impact of options as well as how service time might play into roster decisions. Once Allen Craig committed to his five-year deal, we dug into long-term contracts for arbitration-eligible players.

The topic this time is another service time-related factor that could have significant financial importance to the Cardinals in the future – the timing of arbitration eligibility.

The general theme is comparable to that in the immediate service time article, in that the impact is felt in several years down the line. However, in this case, the subject is a compensation matter only. It does not alter the timing of free agent eligibility at six years of service.

In the newest collective bargaining agreement between players and owners, the percentage of players with between two and three years of major league service who will become arbitration-eligible each off-season was increased from the top 17 percent to the top 22 percent of that group in terms of service.

The players that fall into this relatively-small, but important group, called "Super Twos," essentially become eligible to have their salaries set by the arbitration process a year sooner than most players. In other words, they potentially get four years of arbitrated salary – at two-plus years, three-plus years, four-plus years and five-plus years. As noted above, at the next off-season after accruing six years of time in the majors, they can become a free agent.

The vast majority of players receive three arbitration-eligible years - at three years, four years and five years of service. Because all of these players have the right to take their club to an arbitration hearing at each step, they have salary leverage for the first times in their major league careers.

The extra money involved can be considerable, which is the reason for this article. (Still, I want to be clear that I believe this factor of arbitration eligibility to be less important than the free agency qualification considerations explained previously.)

In their first three seasons as major leaguers, players' salaries are set by their clubs at a level that is at or slightly above the MLB minimum of $500,000. While these situations are often represented as "negotiations", the reality is that the player has no choice but to accept if he wants to play.

In the next few days, we will see the annual announcement by the club that all of the 40-man players with less than three years service have come to terms with the team on 2013 contracts. It is not really news and is pretty much done with a rubber stamp.

Once arbitration kicks in, however, player salaries escalate. For example, Jason Motte made $2 million in his first year of eligibility in 2012 even before having a closer's track record beyond a couple of months to end 2011. A then-more proven player, David Freese, will receive over $3 million in his first of three arbitration seasons in 2013.

This off-season, the Cardinals had no Super Two players, but Jon Jay missed out on a bigger payday for 2013 by the narrowest of margins. This year, the 22 percent cutoff was defined at two years, 139 days. Jay ended the 2012 season with two years, 134 days of service – just five days short. As a result, Jay had to settle for his 2013 salary at an amount that will be much closer to $500,000 than Freese's $3 million.

Along with Jay, three other two-year Cardinals fell even further short of Super Two status this winter, but two should join him next off-season as first-time arbitration-eligible players. Allen Craig's new contract changed his status.

(Note the following table represents current service time in years.days, with 172 days defined as equivalent to a season.)

Less than 3 years Service
Jon Jay  2.134
Fernando Salas  2.087
Allen Craig  2.077 signed long-term deal
Daniel Descalso  2.016

If my records are accurate, the Cardinals' most recent Super Two player was Chris Duncan. Prior to the 2009 season, the outfielder qualified with service time of 2.144.

Looking at all the current Cardinals players with less than two years of service indicates no one is projected to reach the Super Two designation next winter. The closest would be Lance Lynn. Assuming he spends all of 2013 with St. Louis, the right-hander would end the year with two years, 119 days, likely falling short of the yet-to-be defined 22 percent line by several weeks.

Less than 2 years Service
Lance Lynn  1.119
Tony Cruz  1.105
Victor Marte  1.062
Eduardo Sanchez  1.047
Shane Robinson  1.030
Matt Carpenter  1.012

The final group is the most prominent subset of the 14 players on the Cardinals 40-man roster with less than a year of major league service time. Looking ahead two years, it does not appear that any of these three 2013 spring camp rotation combatants will become Super Twos down the road. That could change, however, if any of them spend considerable time in the minors. Shelby Miller would seem most likely to go back.

Less than 1 year Service
Joe Kelly  0.116
Trevor Rosenthal  0.058
Shelby Miller  0.030

As I know the topics of options, outrighting, service time, arbitration and the like can be confusing, feel free to post questions and join in the discussion at The Cardinal Nation's insiders message board. This forum is exclusively for subscribers, so please take advantage.

Link to related articles
"Cards organization has all the options in ‘13"
"Will the man keep Miller, Taveras and Wong down?"
"Filling the Cardinals roster out of camp"
"Craig and other Cardinals long-term contracts"

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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