Guess what's been in the news again? George Springer. No, it's not because of my goal to mention him at least once a day here on TCB for the rest of the winter. It's because his playing time next year has popped up time and again. Most recently, it was in a radio interview Jeff Luhnow did last week, where he suggested that Springer will start the 2014 season in the minors.
Why would this happen? Why would he do this to us?
You and I both know the answer: service time. Specifically, the Astros hope to avoid Springer becoming a "Super 2" player. We throw that term around a bunch, but for those of you who aren't instantly familiar with it, here's a brief summary:
Every player gets to go through arbitration three times. But, each year, a small subset of players qualify for a fourth year of arbitration. This group is based off major league service time, with a certain percentage of players meeting the quota each year. This group does not lose a year of team control; instead, one of those base-level years turns into an arbitration year, increasing the amount of money a player can earn over those first six seasons.
That means team try to control Super 2 status carefully to avoid spikes in future payrolls and why the Springer decision may not be based on whether he's ready from a playing standpoint to make the leap to the majors.
This week's question tackles that issue head on. Here are two different sides to the question. Where do you fall?
Clack: Yes, the Astros can't ignore the impact
I'm probably taking the unpopular side of this question. And, honestly, as a fan I would like seeing Springer as the opening day starting center fielder for the Astros. And I can't predict whether he will or won't be on the opening day roster. But, if Springer's call up is delayed for a few months of additional AAA experience, I'm sure there will be an outcry about the presumed impact of Super Two---as if teams are supposed to ignore the impact of a possible Super Two designation or service time considerations. It simply doesn't make sense that a team-a business--- would completely ignore the consequences.
My position is that Super Two is not the sole factor in deciding when Springer begins his ML career, but it is probably an important factor. I suspect that Springer can force the issue if he overpowers major league pitchers in spring training and impresses the organization with his ability to dominate at the ML level. But, if that doesn't happen, why shouldn't the Astros consider a strategy for calling up Springer in a way that optimizes the future impact of team control and payroll flexibility? And this isn't just about helping out Jim Crane's pocket book. It's also about trying to get as many of the Astros' best prospects playing together in the same time window at the major league level. Are fans too impatient to wait a few more months to begin watching Springer?
Super Two really involves two issues. If, after two years of service time, Springer is one of the top 22% of players called up this year, arbitration will begin one year earlier, making him more costly. This possibility can be reduced or avoided based on the date he is called up. The second issue is that a delay in calling up Springer this year can increase the period of team control---basically delaying when he can become a free agent.
You know he has his reason
If Springer is put on the opening day roster, the Astros may get 6 years of team control, but a delay may give the Astros 6.5 - 6.8 years of team control. There is always an effective limit on how much the Astros can spend, and the impact of these contractual issues could decide how much the Astros can afford to spend on a pennant contending team in 2016 - 2019. Teams which are rebuilding, like the Astros, have to take into account that future win-loss records are more important than this season's record.
Jonathon Mayo provided an example of the Super Two impact in a 2010 article. Tim Lincecum was called up May 6, 2007, and Ryan Braun and Mark Reynolds were called up May 25 and May 16. Lincecum qualified for Super Two and Braun and Reynolds didn't because of the call up dates. After two years, Lincecum's agent filed a $13 million arbitration request, which ended in a $9 million salary as part of a two year $23 million extension. Braun signed a contract extension, but the salary in the same year was $1.3 million.
Reynolds' salary was $500,000, though he would receive a contract extension in the next year. All three had been star performers, but Super Two cost the Giants 8 - 9 times more money than the Brewers and D-Backs paid. Do you think the Giants might have wondered if the two weeks of extra ML starts by Lincecum were worth the extra millions? Also, the Brewers and D-Backs got 6.8 years of team control over Braun and Reynolds because they waited to call them up.
If all goes well, maybe the Astros can buy out Springer's arbitration years with a multi-year contract. But the extra year of arbitration will make the contract more costly. The players' agents aren't dummies. If Springer were to be traded, the remaining years of team control and arbitration costs would factor into the value that the Astros could receive.
If you say that you don't like the Super Two process, I might agree with you. But, given that the process exists, do you expect a business (the Astros) to ignore the impact?
Conroestro: Nope, it shouldn't matter.
Jeff Luhnow raised a few eyebrows this past September when the Astros decided not to promote George Springer, who had seemingly proven all he could prove in the minors, to the Astros as a September call up. Given that Houston's payroll had already bottomed out, it didn't take Astros fans long to label this decision as being financially motivated with many seeing Springer starting the year back in Oklahoma City until after the Super 2 cutoff date. That would be the same George Springer who hit .303/.411/.600 across Corpus and Oklahoma City this season at age 23, and missed the 40/40 club by just 3 home runs.
Luhnow has said on more than one occasion that a prospect needs to dominate a level before earning a promotion, and George Springer did just that this season. However, not all decisions are that black and white, and Super 2 status could potentially have significant financial implications for the Astros if he were to start the season with the team. So, back to the question at hand; should Super 2 status hold George Springer back? In a word, no, and here's a few reasons why.
The obvious answer is that the Astros could swap short-term savings for long-term savings and attempt an extension with Springer prior to him becoming arbitration eligible, which would be similar to what they did with Jose Altuve this past season. Given the unknown, an extension for Springer's camp might make sense, and from the Astros perspective he should at least provide enough value defensively that the benefits could outweigh the risks even if his offense doesn't meet expectations.
On the other hand Springer is entering his prime and may not see an extension as being in his best interest. If he obtained Super 2 status, and went through the arbitration process 4 times then he could become expensive, especially if he turned into an All-Star or Hunter Pence everyday regular.
I mention Hunter Pence because he's a recent Super 2 case who was also entering his prime that Astros fans should be familiar with. Hunter Pence earned a total of $34.6 million during his 4 trips through the arbitration process. While that seems like a lot, Hunter Pence was also worth a total of 14 fWAR during that same time frame which means that he was worth approximately $84 million over that same time frame. He still provided his teams plenty of surplus value. That's also not to mention his first two years that he earned at or near the league minimum.
In the (hopefully) unlikely event that Springer struggles, the Astros also have the option of non-tendering him if he starts to become too expensive for the amount of value provided. A recent example of this would be Russell Martin who was Super 2 eligible with the Dodgers from 2009-2011, but was non-tendered by the Dodgers prior to the 2011 season.
He earned $8.95 million from 2009-2010, and produced 3.4 fWAR over that same time frame for an approximate value of $20.4 million. Again this does not include the 13 fWAR that he provided the Dodgers prior to becoming arbitration eligible.
Admittedly these were two hand-picked examples and not every team comes out ahead in Super 2 cases, but the point is that the Astros could go through 4 years of arbitration with Springer and still come out ahead in value if an extension does not make sense for both parties.
They could also choose to cut their losses while they are still ahead if the future outlook is not as bright as it once was when Springer gets closer to the big paydays. Here is a link to a list of all players who were eligible for Super 2 status from 2007-2010 created by MLB Trade Rumors if you're interested in looking at how other teams fared in past Super 2 situations.
To sum things up, the Astros should not let Super 2 status solely dictate a player's status that is 24 years old and close to entering his prime. They could entertain the option of extending him early, or gamble that his production throughout his prime years outweighs the hefty salary raise obtained with the extra year of arbitration.
In the event that this does not happen they have the option of non-tendering him before the salary gets out of hand. For a team that has the bare minimum in salary commitments for the foreseeable future and several other prospects close to the majors, a full year for Springer to get acclimated and establish himself as a core player may outweigh the potential escalating salary down the road.