A Possible Wrench in the Extension Hopes for McCutchen

Wondering why the Pittsburgh Pirates took so long to promote Pedro Alvarez to the majors this year?  Perhaps it was due to the new low cut-off for Super Two eligible players.  C. Trent Rosecrans of CBS Sports released the Super Two list for the 2011 season (h/t MLBTR), with the cutoff being 2 years, 122 days.  This marks the first time the Super Two cut-off has been below 2 years and 130 days.  As expected, Ross Ohlendorf will be Super Two eligible this off-season.

What is a Super Two player?  As you may know, all players with 0-3 years of service time receive the league minimum, while any player with 3-6 years of service time is eligible for arbitration.  There is an exception, and that would be the Super Two players.  Super Two players are the top 17% of players who meet the following requirements:

-Between 2 and 3 years of service time

-At least 86 days of service time during the previous season

A Super Two player has his third league minimum year replaced with an additional arbitration year, giving him four arbitration years, rather than the normal three.

McCutchen could be a Super Two player next off-season.

Because the Pirates waited until June 16th to promote Alvarez, he will end up with 2 years and 110 days of service time after the 2012 season, which means he should miss the cut-off.  The Pirates may have a problem next season with Andrew McCutchen.  McCutchen finished the 2010 season with 1 year and 123 days of service time.  If the cut-off next year is as low as this year, McCutchen would be eligible for arbitration following the 2011 season.  What could that mean for the Pirates?

Looking at some recent outfielders who have reached the arbitration process, here is what we could expect for McCutchen:

Andre Ethier: Ethier was a Super Two player after the 2008 season.  He received $3.1 M in arbitration in 2009.  The Dodgers signed him to a two year deal in 2010, paying him $5.5 M in 2010 and $9.25 M in 2011.  He will receive a raise over his $9.25 M salary in 2012, for his final arbitration year.

Nick Markakis: Markakis became arbitration eligible under a normal schedule after the 2008 season.  Rather than going year to year, Markakis signed a six year, $66 M extension, paying him $3 M in 2009, $6.75 M in 2010, and $10.25 M in 2011, in what would have been his arbitration years.

Ethier got $17.85 M for his first three arbitration years, while Markakis got $20 M.  Both ended up in the $9-10 M range for their third arbitration year.  Looking at these contracts, we get an idea as to what McCutchen could earn through arbitration.  We can assume that McCutchen would at least receive the $18-20 M for his first three arbitration years, with the third year being in the $9-10 M range.  That’s where the Super Two status becomes an issue.

If McCutchen becomes Super Two eligible after the 2011 season, he would reach his fourth arbitration year in 2015, and would most likely be due a raise over his $9-10 M salary.  That could put him in the $12-15 M range, depending on his performance at that point.  The most important thing is that the Super Two status for McCutchen could easily cost the Pirates $10+ M extra in the long run, as they would be paying an extra arbitration year, with that extra year being the most expensive fourth year.

The ideal scenario would be to extend McCutchen, buying out all of his control years, as well as gaining control of a few free agent years.  Unfortunately, that might be a tough sell this off-season.  McCutchen only has to wait one year to find out if he will be Super Two eligible, and based on the low cut-off this year, and the trend of delaying promotions that led to this low cut-off, we can assume that the cut-off date next year has just as much of a chance of being low.  The CBA negotiations are also next off-season, with the Super Two status being a main topic.

Any extension for McCutchen would have to consider his potential cost through arbitration.  Right now that cost is unknown, all because we don’t know whether he will have three or four years of arbitration.  A fourth year could raise his price by $10 M in extension talks, and I’m sure that the Pirates don’t want to concede that McCutchen is a risk to end up with that fourth arbitration year, just as McCutchen wouldn’t concede that he might not end up with the extra year.  Looking at it from McCutchen’s point of view, I’m not talking extensions this year, as my value could shoot up next off-season if the Super Two cut-off remains low.  The only way I would negotiate if I were McCutchen is if the Pirates paid me more than the league minimum in 2012, as a compromise considering the chance of Super Two status that year (this could be achieved through an escalator that adds $2 M to the contract that year if McCutchen were otherwise eligible for arbitration).

If you’re hoping that the Pirates will extend McCutchen as part of their off-season plan, you might want to think again.  Considering the chance that he could be eligible for Super Two status after next season, and considering that status could potentially earn him an additional $10 M, it would be in McCutchen’s best interest to risk another season without a guaranteed contract.  By doing this he could drastically increase his extension value next season, based on what seems like a very possible chance that the Super Two cut-off includes him for the 2012 season.

UPDATE: Check out Matt Bandi’s follow up to this article, and my follow up to Matt’s article, both discussing the value of a Super Two player.

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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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  • Anonymous

    I guess that means we lose McCutch before 2015 then. I guess this why teams try to lock up their players earlier and earlier.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      This doesn’t mean the Pirates won’t be able to extend Cutch. Teams usually don’t give players extensions until they reach their arbitration years. The extensions that come prior to the arbitration years are rare, but they don’t seem rare because of the attention they receive.

      Basically this means the Pirates probably won’t extend Cutch this off-season. Cutch has a lot to gain by waiting one more year. He could gain a lot by officially being a Super Two player, and he only has to risk an injury or decline for one more season.

  • Anonymous

    IMO, the Pirates and McCutchen would be better off signing a long term contract now, buying out his options, waiting still carries risks on McCutchen’s part also. He could get hurt seriously and get nothing.
    He could under perform and get moved and as you said, he is not guaranteed super two.
    If the Pirates can keep him here till he is almost 30, that should be enough time to draft and develop an above average center fielder to take his place

  • Anonymous

    “The only way I would negotiate if I were McCutchen is if the Pirates paid me more than the league minimum in 2012, as a compromise considering the chance of Super Two status that year (this could be achieved through an escalator that adds $2 M to the contract that year if McCutchen were otherwise eligible for arbitration).”

    Is this a realistic scenario? I would think if I am the Pirates I would give it a shot and absorb the risk you are taking by locking him up in return for making sure we keep him as along as possible.

    I do hope that baseball changes the Super Two rule since its a crock that franchises have to keep players down for this reason. It gets sillier each year that it happens because everyone knows that this is the reason top prospects don’t show up despite being ready.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Evan Longoria has something similar in his contract. His 2011 price is $2 M, and his 2014 option buyout is $3 M. If he becomes arbitration eligible in 2011 (Super Two, which he is), then his 2011 salary jumps to $2.5 M and his buyout price jumps to $4 M. Basically he gets $1.5 M more guaranteed than he normally would.

      That would be the best compromise, as it covers both scenarios on the Super Two debate. However, with the Super Two rule being a big issue next off-season, I doubt anyone will want to include something involving Super Two status in a contract. Why would you, when the rules to the whole Super Two system could change next year?

  • http://twitter.com/Steveospeak Steve Shoup

    While it changes things the Pirates could basically have the provision that McCutchen earns more per year if he earns Super Two status, like you mentioned. I know the Brewers did it with Braun, and he earned just $6 million more over those 4 years of the deal.

    If the Pirates are smart and creative it shouldn’t be an issue (lets hope)

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