Each year around this time, if there's a prospect in your favorite farm system who makes you say, "Why isn't he in the Majors already?" the answer could very well be the Super Two cutoff.
You may have heard those three words before and dismissed them as "just another contract thing" -- perhaps when trying to understand Kris Bryant's service-time drama last month. But instead of waving those concerns away, let's try to understand the nuts and bolts of what's going on here. As evidenced by the replies to MLB.com's Astros beat reporter Brian McTaggart's tweet about Carlos Correa, many don't quite get what goes into Super Two and why it leads to prospects being kept in the Minors.
That's where we come in. Here's a breakdown of some of the commonly asked questions involving Super Two players and the cutoff.
What exactly are we talking about here?
We'll start with the exact wording from Article VI(E)(1)(b) from the MLB collective bargaining agreement:
'Super Two' Players. In addition, a Player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if: (a) he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season; and (b) he ranks in the top 22% (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season. If two or more Players are tied at 22%, all such Players shall be eligible.
Now a little background and layman's speak.
Players generally become eligible for arbitration after they've acquired three years of Major League service time (days on a Major League roster) and continue to be eligible for arbitration until they've completed six years of service time. However -- and this is where Super Two comes into play -- they can be eligible for arbitration if they're in the top 22 percent in terms of service time among players with between two and three years.
Heading into 2015, there were 22 players, including Bryce Harper and Chris Carter, who fit this bill with at least two years and 133 days of service time. This cutoff changes based on the number of players in the class and how much service time each has. According to Ryan Galla of sports agency CAA, the cutoff for next offseason is projected to be two years and 140 days, though that could change. Remember, we're talking about a percentage of players here, so the exact service-time cutoff isn't a constant, and that's why it's tough to pick a specific date when a player must be called up by to meet Super Two standards. We often don't know until players are in their third season.
The rule used to involve the top 17 percent of players with between two and three years of service time but was bumped back to 22 in the latest CBA. That's generally a win for players, since more of their brethren are eligble for arbitration earlier than had been the case, and with arbitration often comes a jump from the league minimum to a seven-figure deal.
Why do teams care?
Teams would like to delay player's arbitration clocks, if they can, because such a tactic saves them money. Hundreds of thousands -- or even millions -- of dollars that aren't going to a Super Two player in arbitration can go toward beefing up a free-agent offer or, if you're really cynical, back into the owner's wallet. In simplest terms, they get the same player for much less. Super Two players are also eligible for arbitration for four seasons and tend to make more money than similar non-Super Two players in each subsequent year of arbitration.
How does this affect prospects?
If a team has a prospect whom it has big-time plans for -- i.e., one they expect will be with the big club for years once he gets promoted -- the club will want to prevent him from eventually being a Super Two player by keeping him in the Minors and delaying his service-time clock.
For what it's worth, you'll rarely, if ever, hear a team outright say that service time or abitration plays a role in the placement of a player. Remember, the Cubs said Bryant needed to "improve a little bit" before he could move up this spring, even after he led the Minors in homers in 2014 and the Majors in homers during Spring Training.
We saw this happen a season ago with Gregory Polanco, whom the Pirates held down despite a .347 average and .945 OPS at Triple-A Indianapolis. The season before that, we saw it with Wil Myers, who hit .286 with 14 homers in 64 games for Triple-A Durham before winning the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year with the Rays. Polanco was brought up June 10, Myers on June 18.
So mid-June is the timeframe we're talking about here when we discuss the Super Two cutoff. It's around the time teams beleive it's safe to bring up their top prospects and not have them be part of that top 22 percent in service time for their class. Zachary Levine pointed out the jump in prospect promotions in June last year for FOX Sports/Baseball Prospectus.
How is this different from what happened wiith Kris Bryant?
First, with Bryant the Cubs were trying to delay by a year when the third baseman could become a free agent. They were not concerned as much about his arbitration eligibility (or else they would have waited until after the Super Two cutoff to call him up). By starting the third baseman at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs are now able to keep Bryant a whole extra season, because now he won't reach the service time cutoff for free agency eligibility until after the 2021 season. For what it's worth, if Bryant sticks in the Majors (as we all expect him to), he will actually be a Super Two player and should be eligible for arbitration after the 2017 season.
Second, unlike with Super Two, the cutoff for free agency service-time eligibility is clear and known in advance: 172 days count as a full season of service time, and once it became impossible for Bryant to reach that number this season (on April 17), the Cubs brought him up. With Super Two, the cutoff isn't known for sure until the pool of players with between two and three years of service time is defined. Only then can the players in top 22 percent of service time be determined. That information isn't certain until more than two years after players are called up. Teams try to play it safe, and that's why we see them wait until June.
Who are this year's prospects who may be affected?
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros: Correa is the one that jumps out immediately as this year's version of Myers/Polanco. MLB.com's No. 3 prospect started the season with a bang at Double-A Corpus Christi, putting up a .385/.459/.726 line with seven homers and 15 steals in 29 games. He moved up to Triple-A Fresno this week, signaling that Houston doesn't think he's far from a Major League spot. Of course, the other bit around Correa is that he's only played 31 games above Class A Advanced and may need a little more experience in the upper levels of the Minors.
That'd be fine in a vacuum, but the Astros do have a problem at shorstop with Jed Lowrie out until after the All-Star break. Marwin Gonzalez (.232 average) and Jonathan Villar (.194) aren't inspiring confidence at the position, and with the Astros currently leading the AL West, they can't afford holes in their lineup. Though he may be young, all reports about Correa's tools and makeup point to his ability to handle the highest level. But because of Super Two rules, we might have to wait for mid-June before we see Correa donning an Astros uniform. For what it's worth, Ken Rosenthal has already beat the drum for an ASAP callup for Correa.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians: This is timely because on Wednesday, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said Super Two doesn't have a role in Lindor sticking at Triple-A Columbus. (Remember, teams don't like talking about service time.) But the fact is that the Indians are 27th in the Majors in defensive runs saved (-17), and with neither shortstop Jose Ramirez nor second baseman Jason Kipnis overly impressing defensively, Lindor's plus-plus glove at short would provide a big boost.
With a .262/.350/.361 line, the 21-year-old switch-hitter isn't exactly hitting his way to the Majors, but Lindor's value to the Indians wouldn't be in his bat. We'll know more about the Indians' thinking come June, but don't be surprised if MLB.com's No. 4 prospect is considered "ready" by then.
Jose Peraza, 2B, Braves: Atlanta's top prospect, who owns a career .306 average in the Minors and stole 60-plus bases in 2013 and 2014, is doing more of the same in his first season at Triple-A Gwinnett. Through his first 34 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, the speedy infielder is batting .311 with 14 stolen bases. He's lacking power (three triples, two doubles, no homers), but that's never been part of the 21-year-old's game.
The Braves have Jace Peterson, who is batting .284 but has only two extra-base hits himself, at second base, but he could be moved to third, where he played some for the Padres in 2014, when Peraza arrives. (Third baseman Alberto Callaspo is batting .211 with a .571 OPS, and Chris Johnson is out with a fractured left hand.) The Braves are undergoing a rebuilding period, so they're not exactly going to rush Peraza to the Majors and give him an extra arbitration year. But don't be surprised to see the speedster near the top of Atlanta's lineup next month, after the Super Two deadline has safely passed.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.