Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.
April 29, 2008 8:55 AM
Posted by Geoff Baker
UPDATE (9:36 a.m.): OK, so after all that down below, I see the point that "J'' in the comment thread is trying to make and he's absolutely correct in terms of free-agent status. Yes, Jeff Clement will be a free agent one year earlier if he is called up before May 7. For the sake of one-more-week-plus, though this team is hurting now, I do agree it is probably worth it to avoid Clement's free agency a year ahead of time. I was thinking about this more as a "Super Two'' short-term argument. But "J'' is correct. So, I believe now that I was premature yesterday in calling for the team to call Clement up right now. I don't think the gap between Seattle and the Oakland A's will double by May 7. It could still be problematic if it grows to six or seven games. Therefore, waiting on Clement will still be a risk. But I do think saving that extra year makes the risk worth it. Saving on the "Super Two'' money by waiting another six weeks would be nuts. So yes, wait on Clement until the next homestand.
But do read what was written below. It is still interesting pertaining to what teams face in terms of economic issues.
Greetings from Cleveland, where there is no snow falling, but rain is in the forecast for later. Did not arrive at my hotel until after 11 p.m. local time last night, but am caught up on my reading from yesterday's post and want to answer some questions. First off, while some of you are correct about looking into the service time issues regarding Jeff Clement, it did not factor into my calculations. That's because the team will have to wait at least another six weeks in order to avoid having Clement fall into the dreaded "Super Two'' arbitration eligible category. I know the feeling in the comments thread yesterday was that May 7 would be Clement's cutoff date to avoid this. By my calculations, it would be more like mid-June. Let me explain, since this is a great topic for the blog as it deals with real-world baseball issues. Please, beware that math was never my strong suit, as my French Canadian teacher in that subject at Chomedey High School (Mr. Bernard Goyetche was a very good junior hockey player once and tolerated me as an athlete, but barely as a student) could attest. But I have checked and rechecked these figures, so hopefully I haven't misplaced a decimal point.
Each player, as some of you already know, must accumulate three years of major league service time before becoming arbitration eligible. During that time, teams can pay those players major league "peanuts'' (though the money would come in handy for you and me). After those three years of paying players the major league minimum plus a few bucks in nominal salary increases, the arbitration process kicks in and good players can take teams to the cleaners -- see Ryan Howard jumping from $900,000 to $10 million in annual salary with the Phillies this past winter.
But not all players have to wait the full three years. The collective agreement also grants arbitration status to a select group of players, like Howard, who have played the equivalent of two full years and are working on their third season. Those with the top 17 percent of accrued time in their third year get "Super Two'' status.
It's all an estimate as to who those top 17 percent of players will be. But teams employ folks whose full-time job it is to monitor such brain-twisters and the computer age allows them to get pretty precise in their guesswork. If it was only a matter of Clement being kept in the minors eight or nine more days to avoid "Super Two'' status, I might understand the rationale. But for me, it would be more like June 14 as a call-up date at bare minimum. Let's do the math together.
A full major league season is defined as 172 days. Most seasons actually run 183 days, but players can't accrue more service time than 172 in any given year. This helps the teams a bit, but also the players, since they don't have to spend every single day of a season on the 25-man roster to get a full season under their belts.
Now, here's the important number. Since 1990, the average minimum amount of service time for a "Super Two'' eligible player has been two years, 135 days. If the team wants to avoid going to arbitration with Clement at the end of the 2010 season -- and keep paying him "peanuts'' in 2011, instead of a seven-figure wage -- it has to make sure he does not have two years, 135 days of service time by the end of 2010. At a minimum. Just to be safe, the team might want to wait another seven to 10 days to be sure.
But we'll go off the two years, 135 days for now. Follow? Since Clement has already accumulated 27 days, the team now has to make sure Clement does not accrue another two years, 108 days by the end of 2010.
Let's turn that into a baseball number of days. If one year equals 172 days served, Clement must accumulate another 452 days on a 25-man baseball roster before the end of the 2010 season to become a "Super Two'' eligible player.
Assuming he plays 2009 and 2010 in Seattle -- which the M's sure hope is the case -- that's 344 days of service time right there (two seasons maxed out at 172 days each). That means, Clement would have to play another 108 days this season to hit "Super Two'' status after 2010. So, let's go to the very last day of the 2008 schedule (playoffs don't count towards service time), on Sept. 28, and count backwards until we reach 107. Takes us to Saturday, June 14 against Washington. By my calculations, that's the absolute earliest the Mariners would want to risk calling Clement up if "Super Two'' is an issue for them. And as I said, that's a mere estimate. If you want to really be safe, tack another 10 days on that. Takes you nearly halfway through the season.
Can the M's afford to wait that long? I don't think so. No team wants to lose money. But chances are, Clement is not going to get a Ryan Howard type of contract. That said, not waiting on Clement could cost the M's a good $2 million or $3 million down the road. Should this be a consideration? It's not my money, so it's easy for me to say. I will tell you that the teams that get most criticized for botching their "Super Two'' calculations are the ones not expected to contend. The Kansas City Royals have several players spiraling towards "Super Two'' status, pitcher Zack Greinke being one of them, and are not expected to contend for several years. In my book, that's a mistake.
The Tampa Bay Rays kept Evan Longoria in the minors at the start of this year to avoid a similar problem. Tampa Bay is also not expected to contend this year, so why call Longoria up before they have to? The problem was taken care of when Longoria agreed to a long-term contract that carries through his arbitration eligible years, making the "Super Two'' concern a moot point.
But for a team like the Mariners, trying to contend in 2008, calling Clement up would fit right in with their "win now'' strategy. This team is hurting offensively in a major way, especially against right handed pitching. Clement is a lefty hitter who appears to have mastered Class AAA pitching. He isn't the full answer, but could be at least a temporary solution for a team needing to buy some of its hitters time to work through their first-month woes. Or, to work out trades with other clubs.
Seattle is already 4 1/2 games out of first place, even with standout pitching by the starting rotation. If that gap doubles by the end of June, will it have been worth writing off the season for the sake of saving a few million on Clement in 2011? If the answer to that is "No'' then he should not be kept in the minors based on a "Super Two'' argument.
Especially if an M's team contending for the playoffs is able to pack more bodies into the seats come late August and early September. Or add extra gates by the team by making the post-season. By then, the added revenues from ticket sales alone could make that extra $2 million or $3 million saved on Clement seem like chump change indeed.