When will McCutchen be called up?

After the performance we saw in Spring Training, it’s pretty much a guarantee that Andrew McCutchen will see time in the majors this season. The question is: when?

The unspoken truth is that McCutchen was sent down to delay his arbitration clock. If the Pirates were to bring McCutchen up on Opening Day, they would control his rights through the 2014 season, with McCutchen set to be a free agent for the 2015 season. By keeping him in the minors, they delay his arbitration clock, keeping him under team control through the 2015 season, and making him eligible for free agency for the 2016 season.

So how long do the Pirates have to keep McCutchen down to preserve a year?

A year of service time is defined as spending 172 days on a major league roster. This year the season ends on October 4th. Counting back 172 days from October 4th, we find that McCutchen would have to be called up after April 16th to gain less than 172 days on the major league roster.

An example of this would be Evan Longoria with the Rays. Tampa Bay sent Longoria to AAA to start the season last year, but called him up on April 12th, with April 11th being the earliest they could bring him up, while preserving a year of arbitration.

Of course, the Rays signed Longoria to a six year deal the following week, with three option years, making the whole situation moot. I’m hoping the Pirates take a similar path with McCutchen, but I’ll save that post for a later date.

So we know that April 17th is the earliest McCutchen can be called up. That’s also my Dad’s birthday. Unfortunately for my Dad, I don’t think McCutchen will be called up on the 17th, meaning he’ll have to settle for normal birthday presents that day. The reason has to do with “Super Two” status.

A “Super Two” player is a player who qualifies for arbitration four times instead of the normal three, with the first arbitration year replacing what would have been the third league minimum year. This is from the MLBPA on how a player gains “Super Two” status:

“A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 17 percent in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.”

Since the “top 17 percent in total service” is unknown, a team has to take a risk in calling up a player. The usual time frame to avoid “Super Two” status is in the last week of May or the first week of June. A few examples of players who were delayed for “Super Two” reasons were Ryan Braun of the Brewers (called up on May 24th, 2007) and Jay Bruce of the Reds (called up on May 27th, 2008). Braun was later signed to an eight year deal.

The Pirates have three options with McCutchen:

  1. Bring him up before April 17th. This could make him eligible for arbitration in the 2011 season, and makes him eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.
  2. Bring him up on or after April 17th, but before the end of May. This makes him eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, but still could risk “Super Two” status.
  3. Bring him up at the end of May. This would make him eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and could avoid “Super Two” status.

My preference would be to bring him up on or after April 17th, then sign him to a deal similar to the deal Evan Longoria received, which could amount to an average of $5 M per year for nine years. Of course if the Pirates were interested in making a deal like this, they probably wouldn’t worry about bringing McCutchen up after April 17th, so it’s safe to assume this approach isn’t a guarantee at the moment.

The likely approach is that we see McCutchen called up at the end of May, thus delaying his arbitration time and possibly avoiding “Super Two” status.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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