Peter Alonso and the cost of Super Two

Certainly we’ve all heard that Mets slugging prospect Peter Alonso might start the year in Triple-A Syracuse to avoid achieving “Super Two status,” but you may still be wondering what does that exactly mean. While we hope Alonso becomes a super player for us, avoiding Super Two status would save the Mets money on Alonso down the line. Deciding whether that money is worth stowing away a hitter who led the organization in home runs last year is a more complicated problem.

For many years owners had near complete control over their players when it came to contracts. Through use of a “reserve clause” in all contracts, owners retained the rights to a player even upon the expiration of the contract. Without market competition players became underpaid for their services, and it took a Supreme Court case in the 1970’s to end this system. The new system is the basis of what we have today with free agency.

Now achieving Super Two status does not automatically grant a player free agency earlier, it just pushes the clock on arbitration from three years to four years. This basically means if Alonso is called up in April or May and is never sent back down he’d be eligible to make above the league minimum pay starting in 2021 instead of 2022.

To enter free agency a year earlier he would have to be on the Mets roster for 172 calendar days this year.  This is what it means when you hear a club is keeping a player down “to gain an extra year of control.”  The Cubs did this with Kris Bryant back in 2015, keeping him in the minors the early part of the season so he did not accumulate those calendar days.

The Super Two deadline changes from season to season as it delineates the longest-tenured 22% of MLB players who have accrued between two and three years of service time. Often a player who starts their career after early June misses early arbitration with Super Two.

What would this extra year of pay look like? Well let’s look at a recent Mets example to find out. The Mets protected Michael Conforto from Super Two status back in 2015. He is now making $4.025 million in 2019 after earning near league-minimum his first three seasons. While it seems like a steal getting Conforto in 2018 for just $605,000, the 2015 pre-Cespedes Mets could have really used him. John Mayberry Jr. started in left the day before Conforto’s July 24th callup.

To look at it from a purely financial standpoint, that is an extra $3.4 million. The logic is to lose the rookie’s first two months (April and May) when they might struggle and exchange them to save an extra few million once they are developed.

The way the Conforto decision differed from Alonso’s was that Conforto was only 22 and hadn’t even arrived to Vegas yet. Alonso is already 24 with an advanced approach at the plate (11% walk rate in 2018), so if it weren’t for finances surely he’d be playing first base for the Mets. But let’s take a closer look at those finances.

The cost for one win ($/WAR) from 2006-2017 was $5.7 million for position players. This is taken from a piece written by John Edwards for FanGraphs last year, and is inflation adjusted for 2017 dollars. Alonso is projected for a 1.5 WAR in 112 games this year by FanGraphs Steamer’s projections. Extrapolating his WAR for the 50 potentially missed games makes him lose about .67 on his WAR.

To replace this WAR the Mets would have to spend $3.8 million which is more than they saved by avoiding early arbitration with Conforto even when adjusting for inflation. This is an imperfect calculation, but goes to show that keeping a perhaps starting caliber player in AAA could potential cost the Mets more than they save.

Based on this analysis, I assume we would see Alonso make his debut on the road Thursday April 11th against the Braves or soon after. Waiting to this date ensures he will have missed 14 days of 2019 service time putting him just under the 172 necessary for a full year and thus delaying his free agency. Hopefully he will be able to produce in those two months at a level above what the Mets lose in early arbitration money.

13 comments for “Peter Alonso and the cost of Super Two

  1. Mike Walczak
    February 14, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Seems like a no brainer decision. See you on April 11th Pete.

  2. February 14, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    If the Mets are “all-in” on winning the division in 2019 they can’t be worried about an extra year of control with Alonso. If he’s ready to play in MLB, he needs to come north for the start of the season.

    • Name
      February 14, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      If you actually believe the season hinges on a unknown rookie missing a DL-stint worth of games, should you really fancy yourself a contender?

      • February 15, 2019 at 9:06 am

        Ahh – the unproven rookie defense. An oldie but a goodie.

        I’m not drinking the Alonso Kool-Aid. Maybe he’s good, maybe he isn’t. But if the powers that be make the decision that he’s good and send him to the minors any way – just to screw him – this seems to be the wrong year to do that.

        I want the best players on the field. Sometimes the best player is a 24 year old who’s never played MLB ball before. And sometimes a game you win over a division rival in March/April makes the difference in making the playoffs or being home in October.

        • Name
          February 15, 2019 at 10:42 am

          “I want the best players on the field”

          So, would you be ok if a manager decided to start a pitcher on 3 days consecutively in the middle of the season. Or use a relief pitcher 5 days in a row because he’s their best option? Or not rest a catcher the next day after playing 15 innings the day before?

          Your mantra of playing the best players is as short sighted as the examples i cited above. When the cost is 15 games and the payoff is 162 extra games, you make that deal 110% of the time.

          • February 15, 2019 at 11:30 am

            You think they’re the same. I think that premise is idiotic.

            You’re operating under the assumption that every player who comes up is going to be worth something seven years from now. Maybe Alonso comes up and he’s the next Bryce Harper. Or maybe he’s the next Ike Davis. I don’t know what the percentages are. But seems like there are enough guys who come up and produce something right away and who aren’t worth much seven years from now to not dismiss the idea.

            I’m not convinced that Alonso is either ready right now or will be a star when he is ready. But this Mets team has made it abundantly clear that they’re thinking about right now, compared to multiple years down the road.

            • Name
              February 15, 2019 at 4:50 pm

              If you actually believe that he’ll peak early, the better route would be to trade him while his value is high… not to play him and then wait for him to fade and then give up / dump him for nothing…. And if you want to get the first 2 good seasons from him before trading him, he’s going to bring more in trade if he has an extra year of control as well.

              If you do believe in him and think he he’s a part of your future, then you should absolutely care about year 7.

              There is no conceivable scenario in which he should play in the bigs the first 15 days

              • February 15, 2019 at 7:55 pm

                Again, I don’t pretend to know what he’s going to do.

                As for moving Alonso, in my opinion they should have traded him rather than Kelenic in the Diaz/Cano deal. But they valued Alonso’s potential in 2019 more than Kelenic’s in 2022.

                If he puts up a 123 OPS+ in his first two seasons, like Davis did, and then they trade him, the difference between four years of control and five years is not going to be substantial.

                • Name
                  February 15, 2019 at 8:09 pm

                  “the difference between four years of control and five years is not going to be substantial”

                  And likewise i could say that the difference between having Alonso play the first 10 games vs someone else is not going to substantially affect the 2019 record.

                  • February 15, 2019 at 10:47 pm

                    In two of the last three years, an NL team has made the playoffs by one game. Last year, the NL Central and NL West divisions ended in a tie. And of course, the 2016 Mets won the Wild Card by one game.

                    Six of the first 10 games of the 2019 season are against the Nationals.

    • BVac
      February 15, 2019 at 9:01 am

      I guess technically the Mets are South of their AAA team now, but makes sense. That’s what the Braves did with Heyward and he hit a homer on the first pitch he saw opening day, and it got them a playoff spot in 2010.

  3. MattyMets
    February 14, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    If the next CBA eliminates this stupid loop hole I will smile.

  4. Rob
    February 14, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    He earned a shot. He needs a chance to see if he has what it takes. As for Smith I think talent is there but poor player development. Always seems like position players struggle badly when they come to the big leagues.

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