We’re at the point in the baseball season where everyone’s attention turns towards the minor leagues and when the next shiny prospect will be called up. Real baseball fans want to see their top prospects at the big league level because they represent hope for the future. Fantasy owners want to see the same prospects promoted because there’s a widespread belief they offer the path to a championship in the year the call-up is made.
Adding to the angst is that both groups are at the mercy of MLB and the MLBPA (MLB Players Association) due to a clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) known as “Super Two”, but not many people know what it means. In the CBA, a player with more than three years but less than six years of service is eligible for salary arbitration. “Super Two” says that if a player has at least two years of service but less than three he can be eligible for arbitration if they have at least 86 days of service the preceding year and ranks in the top 22 percent in total service in the entire group of players having at least two but less than three years of major league service.
So why should we care and what does it mean? For MLB owners, it means they could save a bundle of money by delaying the call-up of the aforementioned shiny prospects. It’s a guessing game, however, because due to the way a Super Two is calculated, there is no hard date during the year for the cutoff. So the owners play a guessing game and try to delay the call-up as long as possible.
What it means for the players is if they qualify for Super Two status, they get an extra year of salary arbitration, which amounts to more money for the player. One of the best examples of what this means is Tim Lincecum qualified for Super Two status and made $9 million during his first year of arbitration while Clayton Kershaw didn’t qualify and only made $500K in his fourth year after being called up. Kershaw wound up making $19.8 million over his first five years while The Freak earned over $42 million his first five seasons. That’s the business of baseball.
So now we come back to this year. The Houston Astros didn’t hesitate (to many people’s surprise) in calling up outfielder George Springer in the middle of April. That only whet the appetite of National League fans and set many fantasy players chomping at the bit for the first NL call-ups. The most anticipated names were shortstop Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs, outfielder Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals and outfielder Gregory Polanco of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Taveras was brought up on May 31, Polanco got the call June 10, and we’re still awaiting the arrival of Baez.
So with the news that Taveras and Polanco would be up with their parent clubs, the waiver wire was buzzing and FAAB was being spent in bunches in many leagues. But is that normally money well spent? In most cases, it isn’t. There aren’t many Ryan Braun-like performances in a player's first year. As good as these players are in Triple-A, things are much different in the Majors.
The 21-year-old Taveras had a .325/.373/.524 slash line at Triple-A Memphis before St. Louis gave him his debut. In ten games with the Cardinals, his slash line is .194/.231/.306 – certainly not a good ROI on a big FAAB investment. Those who took the leap were surely salivating after he smashed his first big league home run in his first big league game, but he has only managed six hits and two walks in nine games since then. An average projection for the rest of the season for Taveras has him hitting eight home runs, batting about .275 and stealing five or so bases. These numbers aren’t much different than what Nate Schierholtz, Andrelton Simmons, Seth Smith, Martin Prado or Gerardo Parra will accumulate the rest of the way.
Polanco, at 22, is one year older than Taveras and has two hits in his first two major league games. His average projection for the rest of the season is eight home runs, a .285 batting average and mid teens in stolen bases. Not too far off from what guys like Carl Crawford, Daniel Murphy, Angel Pagan, Christian Yelich and Jimmy Rollins will give your team.If you are in a redraft league, you have many different options at your disposal in the way of trades and waiver wire acquisitions than spending the amount of FAAB it would cost you to get either Taveras or Polanco or any other shiny prospect that will be called up. In a keeper or dynasty league, the factors are different and you have to put more thought into what you’re going to do depending on if you are playing for this year or acquiring talent for the future. In either case, temper your expectations for what any rookie will do for your team in their first season. Pittsburgh could arguably have the best outfield in baseball with Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Polanco. But it almost assuredly won’t be in 2014.