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Start the clock on Longoria

April 15, 2008

Desperate Housewife no longer

Hurrah for me as a fantasy player, Evan Longoria got called up.

Boorah for me as a baseball fan, I have no idea how to describe the arbitration clock to my grandchildren. Until now.

There are a couple of things in baseball that are an important part of business and game  strategy decisions (and possibly groundbreaking) but aren’t well understood by the average fan. The antitrust exemption, the positive important rise and negative destructive greed of the union, the notion of a pitcher’s hold (seriously, when somebody can give allow two runs, record just one out, and leave in the middle of the inning, and get a bunch of statistical high fives, there’s something wrong), and salary arbitration.

After the Tampa Bay Rays insisted to their fan base that they were really competing this year, a lot of fans were expecting Evan Longoria to start the year in the majors after his reallllly good spring. So when the demotion happened and (sigh) wife-abuser Willy Aybar was manning the hot corner to start the year, a lot of Ray fans – and, uh, Longoria owners – were upset to say the least at Andrew “Theo-Lite” Friedman.

On one hand, it makes sense from an economic, as well as strategy standpoint to delay Longoria’s ascent to the majors by XX weeks/months if it means being able to hold onto him for another full year at a discounted rate. On the other hand, is it worth making a franchise player upset with the organization for treating him like chattel (see Upton, B.J.), not to mention angering a very tenuous fan base by going back on your word of competition immediately?

Perhaps linked to that ‘other hand’ is the definition of “XX weeks/months.” So how long could they keep Longoria down in the minors to be able to hold onto him on the cheap for another year?

Once a player is on the major-league active roster (remember that the active roster expands to 40 in September), the “clock” starts, and he begins to accrue major-league service for every day he’s in the majors. Normally, a player is eligible for arbitration after 3 years of major-league service and free agency after 6 years.

Now a lot of articles, especially fantasy-based articles, have been talking about the free agency clock as regards Longoria. That’s not as important – it’s longer off – as the arbitration clock. After the most recent collective bargaining agreement, a year of service time is defined as 172 days. So while a player has not yet reached the three-year mark of arbitration-eligible, the team can choose to pay him whatever it wants, generally just over the major league minimum salary of $390,000. After that third year of full major league service is the player’s first arbitration battle, and that’s when their salaries generally jump up to seven digits.

*Except: Also thanks to collective bargaining negotiations, there’s something called the “Super-Two,” which refers to a player who has at least two years of service and is in the top 17% (regarding service time) among other 2+ players. <b>A player who is a “Super-Two” can technically go into arbitration a year early – after essentially two and a half years of service, if he’s in that top 17%.</b>

Historically – from 1990 through 2003 – the average number of time that a Super-Two amassed was about two years plus 135 days. So to be on the safe side, the Rays would want to have kept Longoria from accruing major league service for at least 40 days, if not 50. This would allow Tampa Bay to keep him from becoming a Super-Two and going to arbitration after the 2010 season, which he almost assuredly will now that he’s been called up in mid-April. The Brewers did that with Ryan Braun last year – kept him down for the first 50 days or so of the season until May 24th. So now Braun and Longoria will be going into arbitration the same year – 2010.

As regards free agency, the other thing the Super-Two rule does is give those players a fourth year of arbitration negotiation before free agency. So while Longoria won’t be a free agent until after 2014, he’ll still go to the mattresses after ’09 – ’13.

Unless, you know, the Rays sign him to a long-term deal after 2009. Which they’ll probably do.

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From → Prospects, Rules

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