When the two sides unveiled baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, the Players Association trumpeted the increased number of arbitration-eligible players as one of its major victories. In the past, the 17 percent of players with the most service time among players with between two and three years became eligible. Now, that percentage has been bumped up to 22 percent.
Put another way: Under the old system, teams could promote players to the major leagues in late May and feel comfortable that they would not become Super Two players – that they would become eligible for arbitration after three full seasons, not two-plus seasons. Under the new system, the threshold is probably moved back to early or mid-June.
For the Nationals, this change is most pertinent for one of their most important players. Bryce Harper, having survived Class AA and conquered the Arizona Fall League, seems certain to reach the majors sometime in 2012. But when? And will the new rules have any effect?
(Before I go any further, I should note that Mark Zuckerman did a good job delving into this issue yesterday. I’ll be broaching some different angles here.)
The bottom line is this: Bryce Harper is probably not going to make the Nationals’ opening day roster, and he’s probably not going to get promoted before the Super Two deadline. The Nationals have too much at stake from a development standpoint to rush Harper to the majors on opening day, before he gains experience at Class AAA. And, that being the case, they have too much at stake from a financial standpoint not to wait a few extra weeks before calling him up.
So, then, the new CBA could have an impact on Harper’s arrival. The Nationals would be making a smart business decision – the one most every team would make, not some cheapskate move – by delaying their decision to call up Harper until the deadline passes, even if he’s ready in, say, mid-May.
The thing is, waiting to call him up would also be in their best interest from the standpoint of developing Harper. Stephen Strasburg spent about two months in the minor leagues, but Strasburg’s situation was wholly different from Harper’s. He was more than two years older and had pitched at college baseball’s highest level for three years. Harper played one year of junior college, he just turned 19 and he has fewer than 600 professional at-bats, even counting the Fall League.
Manager Davey Johnson has said he’ll give Harper a chance to make the roster, and that’s the fair and right thing to say. In reality, Harper just will not be ready to make the leap to the majors on opening day. One more half season in Class AAA at his current progression would probably be the minimum he needs to ensure the proper minor league experience – and at that point, the Super Two rules, under the old system or the new system, would be moot.
In the past, it should be noted, the Nationals have not been slaves to the Super Two deadline. Closer Drew Storen will eventually become a Super Two player, since the Nationals called him up in early May of 2010. Jordan Zimmermann will also be eligible for arbitration this offseason.
Harper’s situation does make for an interesting hypothetical: Harper was drafted in 2010 and signed a five-year major league deal. Say he debuts at a point early enough in the 2012 season that he becomes a Super Two. (Again, that’s an incredible longshot. Just hypothetical.) Because of the five-year contract, Harper already has a 2015 salary committed to him. But, under this scenario, he would also be eligible for arbitration in 2015.
How, then, would his 2015 salary be determined under this scenario? Does the pre-determined salary override the arbitration eligibility? Or does the fact that the player became eligible for arbitration mean you throw out the 2015 number?
The answer: In almost every major-league contract signed coming out of the draft, players can opt out of any remaining years if they are arbitration eligible so that they can utilize the arbitration rights. I’m not 100-percent sure about Harper’s deal, but here’s guessing Scott Boras didn’t forget to add the opt-out clause.
Either way, it looks like that clause and the CBA will have a small impact, if any, on Harper’s career path. Harper can go back to asking Wale for a name-check on Twitter and enjoying Thanksgiving with the family. The overwhelming odds are he’ll still make a boatload of money in arbitration come the 2016 season, and he’ll be eligible for free agency after 2018. The new rules really will not affect him all that much.