A lot of confusion has arisen over the promotion of Nolan Arenado yesterday. While most are (rightfully) excited to see the player who has represented our top positional prospect for almost three straight seasons now in a major league uniform, a lot of people were caught by surprise that the move was made now.
Q: Yay, it's Nolan Arenado! But I thought we weren't going to call him up til June! What gives?!
A: One of the main reasons teams are often resistant to the idea of promoting rookie players, particularly high-end prospects, to the majors early in the year is because it generally makes them more expensive a bit sooner. While most players need at least three years of MLB service time to qualify for their right to a say in their contracted salaries through arbitration, the top 22% of those in the "2" generation will also qualify for these rights. These "Super Two" players generally represent the players from that series of call-ups that were called up earliest during the year, having had more time to accrue service time over their rookie season.
Early-mid June is the general target of when players will have passed that top 22% window, though it is not an exact science. This year, the projected Super Two cutoff is going to be two years, 119 days (which is one of the lowest cutoff points in recent memory), making Juan Nicasio (who was called up in late May 2011) a likely Super Two player this upcoming year. Chris Nelson also projected to be a Super Two this year, though his MLB service through the rest of the season is now in doubt.
It is fairly common for people to blame delayed prospect call-ups on their front offices being cheap and waiting for that extra year of pre-arbitration minimum salary to be confirmed, but the Rockies have actually been fairly open minded towards dealing with this issue. The Rockies have had several Super Two qualifiers over the past few years, including Tyler Colvin this past off-season (though his clock was started by the Cubs, the fact that Colvin is still being paid relatively good arbitration money to play for the Sky Sox can hardly be called anything but the exact opposite of penurious).
Q: But wait, I thought all that service time mumbo jumbo was resolved last week when he passed the full year window?
A: Not quite. This Spring, I was very vocal about my preference to keep Nolan Arenado off the roster for a couple of weeks, rather than having him begin the season with the Rockies. While this issue is also related to MLB service time, it has nothing to do with his arbitration clock, but instead, his free agency clock.
MLB service time is gained day by day throughout a season, capping at a maximum of 172 days earned per season. However, the MLB season is a tad bit longer than 172 days, meaning that players that miss mere days of the season may qualify for a full season of service regardless of whether or not they were actually on the roster for the full season.
For example, last year the Rockies placed Eric Young Jr. on the restricted list so he could spend some extra time with an ill family member. While on the restricted list, players do not gain service time. But because his time on that list was very short, Young ended up with a full 172 days anyway when all was said and done last October.
As I mentioned before with arbitration, service time is important because it dictates when players gain access to certain rights regarding the control of their careers. For example, players with three years of service can reject outright assignments. Players with five years can reject any minor league assignment whatsoever. Most importantly, players with six years or more service can declare free agency at the end of a MLB season and sign with any team of their choosing.
If Nolan Arenado were to be called up immediately this year, and assuming he was never sent down to the minors for an extended period of time during the following years, he would have been eligible to leave via free agency after the 2018 season. Now, having waited this month to make the change, we have sacrificed this four weeks for another guaranteed year of Nolan Arenado in 2019. Arenado is on pace to receive 155 days of MLB service, which leaves plenty of room for him to miss that six years for any unusual reasons. This was handled by the organization exactly as I had hoped it would be, and I applaud their decisions in this instance.
Here's more on Super Two and MLB service time courtesy of Purple Row Academy.
Q: But 155 days is a lot! He's going to make Super Two money, right?
Yes, it is very likely that Nolan Arenado will qualify for Super Two in the 2016 season, even if the numbers for that year are higher than 119 days, which they generally are. Now because Arenado was just now added to the 40-man roster, he still has all of his minor league options remaining. Players do not get MLB service time for optional assignments unless they last shorter than 20 days. If Nolan doesn't stick between now and then for any extended period of time, he does have a shot of losing that qualification when the time comes, but for now, it's very likely we'll have to pay him a little extra, a little sooner.
And as a side note, before I accidentally make you Nolanatics fret over the idea that he might not be glued to the team from here on out, just think of Dexter Fowler. Fowler saw two minor league assignments after making the team in 2009, and he's still here being productive. Fowler's career path thus far is an important point of comparison for Arenado's in several ways, perhaps most notably the demonstration of why it is important to not get lazy and assume that a multi-year contract would negate any significance of Arenado's extra year of team control; even really good players like Fowler are taken slowly and in stages. Arenado doesn't have to be a complete bust to be happy we have that extra year.
Q: Thanks Greg, that sure was informative and wordy. But what about Chris Nelson? Why did the Rockies choose to dump Nelson instead of one of our other seventy five infielders?
While I don't have access to any definitive reasoning for the choice, I can assume that the team feels that right now, the best thing they can do is keep the team's roles as stable as possible. Nelson wasn't quite a "needs to play every day" type of starter, but he's closer to that mold than either Reid Brignac or Jonathan Herrera are, and will almost undoubtedly command at least some level of significantly larger trade interest comparatively, even if it's not a lot in general.
Choosing to expose Chris Nelson to the departure process yields a greater chance of a minor trade, or at least a $50,000 check on a waiver claim, while doing this to Brignac or Herrera is more likely a precursor to a 100% loss or just another infielder to take up space in AAA. The Rockies, in my estimation, are simply cutting the better player so they can make the cut itself productive instead of just reactionary. The move commits the Rockies to moving into a firm new era at third base and also beings the expulsion of the excess average to below average infield depth that is dispersed across the upper levels of system the past few years.
Q: What does the future hold for Nelson?
Nelson was designated for assignment with 2 years and 14 days of service. I mentioned earlier that a players needs at least 3 years to be able to reject an outright assignment (unless you've been removed from a 40-man roster before, but Nelson never has so this is irrelevant). This means that in theory, the Rockies can keep Nelson in the minors through the end of the season. If he clears waivers. Which he probably won't.
The team is likely to take an approach similar to that which they did with Ramon Hernandez and Aaron Harang already this season in DFA scenarios: gauge interest and try to swing a small deal until the player absolutely has to be placed on waivers about a week from now. If the team is unable to trade Chris Nelson, it's very likely he is claimed by a team that may or may not be the Blue Jays (the Yankees and Athleitcs have already been brought up by Troy Renck as possible landing destinations for the infielder, as they have had interest previously). This will net the Rockies a five figure monetary reward they can devote to a signing bonus or some such down the line.
Here's more on DFA and waivers from Purple Row Academy.