Baseball’s salary structure is a complicated beast. For as much as it’s common parlance to think tax code on a personal level is a language all to itself, breaking down the way Major League Baseball players get paid by their teams is almost the inverse, even rife with something akin to anti-depreciation.
In other words, the more time players spend on big league rosters, the more money they’re due to make, with certain thresholds in place that they need to clear. The biggest of those hurdles is becoming arbitration-eligible, which typically only happens when a player reaches 3 full years of service time having made roughly the league minimum each year, at which point an independent arbiter gets to decide how much of a raise that player deserves (if the player and team can’t reach an agreement on that dollar amount beforehand).
In certain instances, though, players who haven’t yet reached the 3 year threshold can still become arbitration-eligible, becoming those fortunate Super-Two players you’ve come to know. In essence, it’s the top 22% of players who have accrued more than 2 years and less than 3 years of service time, which generally features a cut-off of some ~130 days of year 3 for those lucky enough to qualify. Back at the end of 2016, for instance, this was a major issue for the Cincinnati Reds with pitcher Dan Straily, who missed the cutoff by a mere 5 days, meaning his salary for 2017 was again the league minimum instead of what was projected to be a raise to nearly $4 million. Of course, his overall number of years of team control was no different, but one can only imagine how much impact that ~$3.5 million difference in payroll meant to the penny-pinching Miami Marlins when they opted to acquire Straily, sending Luis Castillo - among others - back to the Reds.
This year, though, it appears the Reds might not get so ‘lucky’ in that regard. Jose Peraza entered the 2017 season with 1.141 years of service time - read that as 1 year and 141 days - and after a full year spent on the Reds in 2018, that’ll leave him with 2 years and 141 days to his credit. Given where the Super-Two cutoff has landed in previous years, odds are he’ll end up qualifying, meaning instead of the league minimum for 2019, he’ll be due a significant raise. Considering he set career-highs in hits, doubles, homers, and RBI while tying career-best marks in steals and triples, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Cincinnati shortstop will be due a multi-million dollar payday in 2019, and will subsequently still be eligible for arbitration raises for the 2020, 2021, 2022 seasons, too.
Considering arbitration salaries serve as benchmarks for raises in later years, having 4 years to build on instead of just 3 generally means that Super-Two players bank much, much larger amounts of money before reaching free agency than those players who don’t reach that cutoff, and more power to them for doing so. From the Reds perspective, though, that’s the kind of raise on a payroll that’s already among the league’s smallest that’s far from insignificant.
(For reference, keep that concept in mind when the Reds inevitably keep top prospect Nick Senzel in the minors for a few weeks in 2019, too, since that’ll likely help them avoid this type of issue with him down the road should everything pan out the way we all hope it will.)
Congrats to Peraza, who certainly picked a prime period of months to knock the cover off the ball during the latter 2/3rds of the 2018 season. For the Reds, it now appears that the promised payroll increase this winter will have to factor in Peraza now, too.