(edit 5-17-2017 - corrected a typo on the lower end of the Super Two range, it should have been 2.120 instead of 2.100 - Ryan)
There have been some questions about whether the timing of Bradley Zimmer’s call-up will affect future arbitration or free agency statuses. Here’s a quick overview on how these systems work and how they impact Zimmer in the majors.
Each player on a major-league roster (or disabled list) accrues one day of service time for every day of the regular season. There are 172 days of service time in a service year, although there are actually about 10 more days in the regular season, so anything above 172 gets rounded down. This is why teams often wait a couple weeks at the beginning of the season before promoting a top prospect for the first time, as that means he won’t get a full season’s worth of service time in his rookie year, which has major implications down the road. When you check out a Baseball-Reference page and see that, for instance, Lonnie Chisenhall’s service time at the beginning of the season was 4.158, that means he has 4 years and 158 days of service time accrued.
Arbitration eligibility (and Super Two status)
Every player that has more than three years and fewer than six years of service time that isn’t already signed to a contract is eligible for arbitration in order to determine his next year’s salary. This represents a large increase in salary because the process, should it get to arbitration, ensures the player will get a salary comparable to that of his peers (in terms of service time and production). Usually the team and the player compromises before they get to the arbitration hearing, which is the intent of the process.
In addition, the top 22 percent of the players (in terms of service time) who have between two and three years of service time are also eligible for arbitration — these players are termed “Super Two” players. Because this line is dependent on the other players in the league, it will always move back and forth, so there’s no clear-cut date to call up a player if you are specifically trying to avoid him reaching Super Two status down the line. Last year’s cut-off was 2.131 (2 years, 131 days) and normally is between
2.100 2.120 and 2.140.
So if Zimmer doesn’t spend a day in the minors for the rest of this year, 2018, and 2019, there’s a good chance that he’ll be eligible for Super Two status after the 2019 season, as there are roughly 140 days left in the 2017 season. Note that this doesn’t change when he’d become a free agent (more on this below), but it would mean that he’d be eligible for arbitration four times instead of three, and so would have higher salaries in years three through six than if he’d fall below the Super Two status.
Free agency eligibility
Free agency eligibility is a lot simpler to define. If a player has six years of service or more at the end of the season and isn’t already under contract, he’s eligible for free agency. Note that a player who finished the season with 5.171 service time (one day short of six years), would be ineligible he has to have six years of service time. If Zimmer doesn’t spend a single day in the minors from now on, he’d be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season, so the Cleveland Indians have in under control for the next seven seasons (including this one).
This is (mostly) unrelated to arbitration and free agency, but it I feel like it needs to be brought up while we’re talking about a young prospect.
By adding Zimmer to the 40-man roster for the first time, the Indians now have three options (or as I like to refer to them, option years) to send him back to the minors while still keeping him on the 40-man roster. One option is good for an entire year once used, so a team can option a player as much as they like while only using one option. For instance, the Indians could option Shawn Armstrong five times in 2017, but they will have used only one option. Additionally, an option is only used if a club sends a player to the minors.
So if Zimmer stays on the major-league roster the rest of the season, the Indians will still have three option years remaining on him. An option is not a “use it or lose it” transaction. The Indians still have options on Cody Allen, for instance. A team can get a fourth option year on a player if he meets certain criteria (such as spending a season in the low minors), but for the most part, a team will only be able to option a player in three different seasons.
- Bradley Zimmer cannot become a free agent until after the 2023 season
- He will probably be eligible for arbitration after the 2019 season if doesn’t spend another day in the minors.
- He will probably not be eligible for arbitration after the 2019 season if he spends another 30 days in the minors between now and 2019.
- The Indians have three option years on Zimmer, meaning they can option him in 2017, 2018, and 2019 if they choose. Or 2018, 2019, and 2020 if he stays in the majors in the rest of 2017.
I hope this helps. I’ll be glad to address any questions in the comments below.