Super Two

In general, players must have accrued at least three years of MLB service time (written as Years.Days) before they can be eligible for salary arbitration. While players with 3.000+ years of service are eligible for arbitration, players with between two and three years of service may be eligible if they rank in the top 22% of service time among players with between two and three years of service.

The rule is designed to limit teams’ ability to restrict a player’s earning potential by keeping him in the minor leagues for a couple of extra weeks during his first couple of seasons. Teams still hold players back to avoid letting their players reach Super Two status, but holding them back that far typically means they sacrifice two months of playing time rather than just a couple of weeks. If all they had to do was make sure they only have 2.171 days of service at the end of year three, it would be much less costly to the club to hold the player down.

The Super Two cutoff (the point at which you can safely assume a player will not achieve Super Two status) varies based on the callup decisions of every club. That means the date at which you can bring a player up is a range. Here are the cutoff points from the last few years via MLB Trade Rumors:

  • 2014: 2.133
  • 2013: 2.122
  • 2012: 2.140
  • 2011: 2.146
  • 2010: 2.122
  • 2009: 2.139

There’s variation in the cutoff, but you can safely assume it will be between 2.120 and 2.150, meaning that if you keep a player down for about 65 service days in their first year, you will not have to let them pass through arbitration four times.

This is valuable for teams, and costly for players, because arbitration salaries are higher than pre-arbitration salaries and all future arbitration salaries are based on prior salaries. In other words, it has a ripple effect.

If a player makes $500,000 for each of his first three seasons and then get’s $3 million in arbitration, his next two arbitration salaries will be based on that $3 million. Maybe he’ll get $6 million and $9 million before hitting free agency. If that same player gets Super Two status, they will make that $3 million and then go through arbitration three more times instead of two, making something like $6 million, $9 million, and $12 million. The difference, for some players, could be more than $10 million based on a few days of service time in their first year.

Super Two status is all about money. If a player has something like 2.160 years of service at the end of a season, the arbitration clock starts as if they had 3.000 years, making the player’s earning power higher. Teams try to avoid this by delaying promotion to the major leagues, thus saving them millions of dollars on certain players. Super Two status does not affect a player’s years of team control/when they reach free agency, only their salary structure during their initial period of team control.

Links for Further Reading

Super Two – Biz of Baseball

Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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