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Which St. Louis Cardinals might become Super Two arbitration eligible next offseason?

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Are the Cards likely to have any Super Two players next offseason?

Harry How/Getty Images

For Friday's post, I put together a graphic on the St. Louis Cardinals' contractual obligations through the 2020 season. It took into account guaranteed major-league deals—contracts signed by players with six or more years of MLB service time or extensions that bought out cost-controlled years (those with between zero and six years of MLB service time) and free-agency eligible seasons (six-plus). Those seasons in which a player would have less than three years of MLB service time were also shown, as they would be eligible only for the league minimum. Seasons in which a player would be eligible for salary arbitration were also covered.

There was some question of Super Two eligibility in regards to Seth Maness in the comment thread to Friday's post, so I wanted to delve into that a bit today since I don't try and project Super Two eligibility when projecting salary-arbitration eligibility.

Projecting salary-arbitration eligibility (and, for that matter, free-agency eligibility) can be a bit tricky. For starters, such a projection rests on the assumption that the player in question will be on the Cardinals' 25-man roster for almost all of the years ahead. I use "almost all of" as a caveat because MLB service time is calculated per the terms of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between MLB and the MLBPA. Here are the parameters:

  • One year of MLB service time equals 172 days on the 25-man (or, MLB active) roster in a single championship season.
  • A championship season starts on the player's team's opening day and ends with the final out of the team's last regular season game.
  • A player cannot accrue more than 172 days of MLB service in one championship season, even though there are more than 172 days between opening day and the date of a team's 162nd game. Put otherwise: once a player notches 172 days of MLB service in a season, they stop counting his days of service in that season. For example, the Diamondbacks opened the 2014 season in Australia against the Dodgers on March 22 and the Cardinals opened on March 31 against the Reds—nine days after the Diamondbacks' season started. The Cards and D-backs played against one another in each of their respective final regular-season game on September 28, but no Diamondback was able to accrue more MLB service during the 2014 season than a Cardinal even though Arizona's season spanned 190 days to the Cardinals' 181.
  • If a player is demoted and spends 19 or fewer days in the minors between demotion and recall, he is credited with MLB service time for the entirety of his time spent in the minors. If he spends 20 or more days in the minors, the player's time in the minors does not count as MLB service time.

The contours of MLB service time calculation provide some perspective on the assumptions I make when projecting Cardinals' salary-arbitration and free-agency eligibility. I assume that the players will accrue at least 172 days of MLB service time in the years ahead. That is not a given—especially for relievers (which is why I typically leave a player like Sam Freeman out of the graphic)—though it is often likely. Nonetheless, the vagaries of baseball performance are difficult to predict. Even taking into account reliever volatility and injury risk, who would have guessed at this time last year that Kevin Siegrist would be demoted to Triple-A in 2014? On the other hand, it's difficult to imagine the Cardinals sending Kolten Wong to Memphis in 2015 or 2016.

Another factor in projecting salary-arbitration eligibility is so-called Super Two eligibility. Typically, players become eligible for salary arbitration in the offseason after they reach the threshold of three years of MLB service time. But the CBA's provisions carve out an exception to that general rule based on seniority, which allows a group of players with more than two but less than three years of MLB service to become eligible for salary arbitration and, thus, get a raise relative to their peers with between two and three years of MLB service time but with less seniority. The top 22% of players in total MLB service time, with less than three years total, and with at least 86 days of MLB service during the immediately preceding season, attain salary-arbitration eligibility. These players who qualify as Super Twos are eligible for salary arbitration four times instead of the typical three.

When projecting Cardinals' arbitration eligibility, I don't consider Super Two status. The reason? Lance Lynn.

In 2011, Lynn received his first callup to St. Louis. He started a couple of games and was sent to the St. Louis bullpen, where he spent the remainder of the season (including a disabled-list stint). Lynn then replaced the injured Chris Carpenter in 2012 starting rotation and spent the entire year on the St. Louis 25-man roster. After the 2012 season, if you'd have asked me, I'd have said that Lynn would likely be Super Two eligible after 2013. And I'd have been wrong—Lynn just missed the cutoff, so he was only eligible for the league-minimum salary in 2014.

Because Lynn just missed Super Two salary-arbitration-eligibility, I don't get into the Super Two tea leaves when projecting salary-arbitration eligibility a year, two, three, or more out. Instead, I assume that no Cardinal will attain Super Two status when projecting their salary-arbitration eligibility. I project their salary-arbitration eligibility for the season after they would attain three years of MLB service, assuming 172 days of MLB service time in each of the years ahead. But what if I didn't do that? Which Cardinals who are likely to be on the club's active roster come opening day might reach Super Two status?

The crop of league-minimum-earning Cardinals is pretty easy to winnow down to those who have the potential (however small the odds) to become Super Two players next offseason. It's a list of those players who, this winter, have more than one and less than two years of MLB service under their belts. According to the indispensable Cot's Baseball Contracts, they are ([Years].[Days]):

  • Seth Maness, 1.154
  • Kevin Siegrist, 1.116
  • Pete Kozma, 1.108
  • Carlos Martinez, 1.073
  • Sam Freeman, 1.066
  • Michael Wacha, 1.062
  • Kolten Wong, 1.045

Keep in mind, these St. Louis players meet the minimum qualification only. They are the Cardinals who have the potential to finish next season with more than two and less than three years of MLB service time. That doesn't mean they are likely to do so, let alone that they will. (For example, I wouldn't be at all surprised if neither Kozma nor Freeman accrues 172 days of MLB service time during the 2015 season.) Further, finishing in that MLB service time range doesn't mean they are likely to be among the top 22% in seniority of all MLB players with more than two but less than three years of service next offseason.

What is the Super Two cutoff? It changes from year to year. (This is another reason I don't like projecting which Cardinals might qualify for four years of salary arbitration one or two years out.) From Austin Laymance at MLB.com, here are the MLB service cutoffs for each of the last three offseasons (e.g., after the 2014 season, players who qualified as Super Twos and, thus, to have their 2015 salaries set via arbitration, had two years and 133 days or more of MLB service time):

  • 2014-15: 2.133
  • 2013-14: 2.122
  • 2012-13: 2.139

Why am I only showing three years of Super Two eligibility cutoffs? Because a player used to have to be in top 17% to be eligible, but the MLB and MLBPA negotiated that cutoff to be 22% in the newest CBA, expanding the pool of arbitration-eligible players with less than three years of MLB service time.

The average of the last three seasons is two years and 131 days. Using that cutoff, only Maness is likely to qualify as a Super Two player after the 2015 season. Even if we use the lowest Super Two threshold under the current CBA of two years and 122 days, Maness is still the only 2015 Cardinal likely to become Super Two eligible during the 2015-16 offseason, though Siegrist might become eligible if the cutoff dips a bit below that next winter.