After every poor or mediocre start by a Pirates starting pitcher, Bucco Nation casts a lonely eye towards Indianapolis and wonders why Tyler Glasnow is not up in Pittsburgh. There are two reasons for it and I would roughly break it down by percentages in this fashion — development (30%) and financial (70%). With regards to his development, the 6′-8″ Glasnow has a blazing mid-90’s fastball and killer curve, but is still in need of refining his changeup. That comes straight from the cake cruncher of GM Neal Huntington. There are some who would believe that Huntington is saying that purely as cover for the other reason — financial.
The financial reason is real, but not really talked about publicly by baseball executives. Teams value years of control and financial certainty with their top prospects. Here’s a short primer on service time requirements:
- A player needs 172 days of service to be granted a year of service
- A baseball season usually has 182-185 days, depending on when the season starts/ends
- The 2016 baseball season has 183 days of service (April 3 to October 2)
- Every team has 6 full years of control over a player until he is eligible for free agency
- So this means that if a team holds a player in the minors for the first 15 days (or so) at the start of the season, they can essentially get almost 7 calendar seasons of control for the price of 6. This is what the Cubs did with Kris Bryant last year, just as one example (of many) in baseball.
- A player gets paid the league minimum his first 3 seasons (actually $507,000, but $500,000 for ease of discussion) and then is eligible for arbitration for three years after that.
- However, if a player is in a certain tier of players known as Super Two, he gets two years of league minimum and then four years of arbitration, resulting in more money expended by the team.
WHAT IS SUPER TWO, ANYWAY?
Super Two guidelines are somewhat murky, but the quick and dirty explanation is that when players of the same service class are preparing to enter their 3rd seasons, the ones with the highest 22% of service time are granted the fourth year of arbitration. Typically, the rule of thumb is 2 full years of time and 130 days of another season. The agency CAA has been exceptionally accurate in calculating what the upcoming offseason’s Super Two cutoff will be. Here’s the days of service for the past seven years, written in the common decimal format of years.days:
- 2015: 2.140
- 2014: 2.133
- 2013: 2.122
- 2012: 2.140
- 2011: 2.146
- 2010: 2.122
- 2009: 2.139
As you can see, it has been as low as just 122 days of time twice in the past seven years. With the season starting on April 3rd this year, June 1 would represent 58 days into the season or 125 days remaining. Knowing the risk-averse nature of the Pirates’ front office, they aren’t going to want to cut it close, so I’m going to assume they try and get it down to 115 days this year and that’s around June 11th. Looking at the Pirates’ schedule, June 11th is at home against the Cardinals. Juan Nicasio or Jeff Locke are viewed as the two most likely candidates to be shuffled out in favor of Glasnow.
THE FINANCIAL RAMIFICATIONS OF SUPER TWO
Earlier this year, we calculated the arbitration percentages for players as they move through both the regular three years of arbitration and then the players in the abnormal Super Two arbitration category. The percentages for the standard three years of arbitration, as a function of the player’s eventual free agent market value, were 25%/40%/60%. For the Super Two players, it was 20%/33%/50%/70%.
Everyone is presuming and hoping that Tyler Glasnow will be a front-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. The term “ace” gets tossed around too loosely for my liking, as I believe that there are just a very limited number of true aces at any one time in baseball, but for me he’s an easy #2 pitcher. I personally think his command will hold him back from his ultimate ceiling of a #1, so that’s why I put him in the still extremely valuable tier of a #2. The going price for a solid #2 pitcher is around $22M-$25M a year these days. Let’s assume that $25M would be Glasnow’s value when he would potentially hit the free agent market.
If Glasnow goes through the standard arbitration cycle, these would be the salaries expended by the Pirates (2016 dollars):
- 2017 — $500,000
- 2018 — $500,000
- 2019 — $500,000
- 2020 — $6.25M (25% of $25M)
- 2021 — $10M (40% of $25M)
- 2022 — $15M (60% of $25M)
Total outlay by the Pirates is $32.75M
Now let’s look at it under the Super Two scenario (2016 dollars):
- 2017 — $500,000
- 2018 — $500,000
- 2019 — $5M (20% of $25M)
- 2020 — $8.33M (33% of $25M)
- 2021 — $12.5M (50% of $25M)
- 2022 — $17.5M (70% of $25M)
Total outlay by the Pirates is $44.33M
That’s a difference of $11.58M, which is a real amount of money, but also one that is spread out into a 6 year timeline in the future. If you line them up side-by-side, Glasnow’s first two years are obviously the same. His final three years are each approximately $2.5M higher, but the real kicker is in 2019 when there is a $4.5M difference in salary. I’m not going to sneeze at $2.5M, as that’s a serviceable bullpen arm or bench player, but the $4.5M in 2019 is decent in size.
Whether this is playing into their decision making or not, 2019 is also Gerrit Cole’s final year of arbitration (and team control). If you assume that Cole will be making the same (or probably even more) in arbitration as Glasnow, the Pirates may not want to have Cole’s huge arbitration salary in the first year of a potential $5M bill for Glasnow’s first year of Super Two. Especially if all they have to do is wait a few extra days.
WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
It probably seems as if I’m a Jeff Locke defender, considering that I’ve written two separate articles about him in the past six months explaining why his presence in the rotation is not an affront to human decency, as some would paint him. But in actuality, I’m just realistic about Locke. I know and accept that he’s a #5 starter, a #4 on a good day if you squint. I also know that Glasnow, on pure stuff and potential, is a vast upgrade on Locke. But there it is…behold that one word — “potential”.
Tyler Glasnow in 2016 has pitched 21 innings in AAA and surrendered just 15 hits. He’s struck out 30 and walked only 7. His entire minor league career line is nuts — 404 IP, 243 H, 185 BB, 531 K’s. He could be special. But there’s no absolute guarantee that he’ll come up and start dominating like in the minors. All of the fans and media crying out for him to save the Pirates rotation can not say with absolute 100% certainty that he won’t struggle with Major League hitters his first few times out. Or when they adjust to what he is doing at the outset of his tenure.
For many fans and the media, there is this ingrained hysteria this year that if the Pirates don’t win the NL Central, they’re screwed. The Pirates have had the grave misfortune of facing two pitchers in the Wild Card game that were simply not going to lose to anyone those nights in Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta. The Royals and Giants both advanced from the Wild Card to make the World Series in 2014. The Pirates did beat Johnny Cueto in 2013, but that was…like…3 long years ago and is ancient history at this point.
So as a result of this hysteria, many fans and media are tracking the daily wins/losses of the Cubs before we even flip the calendar to May. Quite simply, there’s no need to even look at the standings of other teams until June 1, at the earliest, and more realistically July 1st. Teams jump out to hot starts every single year; no team is realistically going to play .700 win percentage baseball all year and finish with 112 wins. Teams get injuries, players cool down and come back to earth. Other teams heat up.
Tyler Glasnow will be up in Pittsburgh in early June and he’ll most likely be here to stay. His absence from the rotation may only cost the Pirates one win in the year 2016, but it will pay greater dividends for his performance and the payroll of the Pirates down the line.