Updated: Aug 6
Who is Eligible for Salary Arbitration?
The way the Major League Baseball (“MLB”) compensation system is structured, a player is paid the minimum salary until they accrue three years of MLB service time. The Basic Agreement (“CBA”) between the Owners and the Players states that “[a]ny Player with a total of three or more years of Major League service… but with less than six years of Major League service” may be eligible for salary arbitration. During the offseason after three, four, and five years of service a Player is eligible for a raise, and after six years of service, a Player is eligible for free agency. However, there is an additional group of players who are eligible for salary arbitration after their second year of Major League service; those players are called “Super Two” players.
What is a Super Two Player?
The CBA dictates that an additional group of players can be eligible for salary arbitration after their second season if they meet two key criteria: (i) The Player has at least 86 days of service during the platform season (the season immediately prior); and (ii) The Player ranks in the top 22% in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service. “If two or more Players are tied at 22%, all such Players shall be eligible.” Each year at the end of the season, the Major League Baseball Players’ Union announces the cutoff for players to achieve Super Two status. It generally falls in between 2.125 (2 years and 125 days of service) and 2.140 (2 years and 140 days of service), although it could be more or less days. After the 2020 season, the Super Two cutoff was set so that there were 19 players who were Super Two eligible, including Walker Buehler (who signed an extension), Mike Soroka (who won his arbitration case), and Juan Soto (who settled before trial). Each of these players will be eligible to go through arbitration again, and get a raise, for each of the next three seasons.
What is the Point of the Super Two Process?
The Super Two criteria was amended prior to the 2012-2016 CBA to increase the number of eligible players from the top 17% to the top 22% starting in 2013, which is how the system remains today. This was bargained for by the Union in the negotiations in response to a growing trend of MLB organizations intentionally delaying the promotion of top prospects in order to avoid paying young players raises an additional year prior to free agency. The cutoff date for Super Two eligibility is also announced after the end of the season, which makes it harder for teams to try to work around it to save money with their young players. However, this ultimately leads to teams being extra cautious promoting their top prospects. This is one explanation for why baseball fans generally have to wait until the beginning of June to see their favorite team’s top prospect, and why some financially constrained teams (like the Rays) may wait even longer. MLB’s top prospect in 2021, Wander Franco, wasn’t called up until the end of June, virtually guaranteeing he will not be Super Two eligible after the 2022 season, despite strong performance in the Minor Leagues from the start of the year. The Super Two process is certainly to be among the structures discussed in the upcoming CBA negotiations; when top prospects are intentionally kept in the minor leagues when they have earned a spot on the big league roster it hurts clubs, players, fans, and ultimately is not good for the game.
Dean Rosenberg is a 2L student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter @deanrosen7.
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