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.