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Cody Bellinger and the Super Two question

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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Los Angeles Dodgers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Cody Bellinger’s first eight days in the majors have gone so well that the Dodgers are at least reconsidering their original plan for Bellinger’s first big league stint to be a temporary one.

With Joc Pederson due back from the disabled list on Friday, the Dodgers will have to make a decision on whether to keep Bellinger in the majors even if in a reduced role, or have him continue to develop while playing every day in Triple-A.

“Cody has done everything he can to show that he warrants a continued opportunity. You tip your hat to him and the way he plays the game,” manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday night. “A lot can happen between now and Friday. We haven’t made a final decision.”

Another potential factor, or at least a consequence of the decision, is Bellinger possibly qualifying for Super Two status after the 2019 season.

I realize we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. If a lot can happen between now and Friday, just imagine what can happen between now and the end of 2019! But for sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment Bellinger were to remain in the majors for the rest of the season, then continue as a big leaguer going forward.

A regular season is technically 183 days long, from the Sunday before opening day through the final Sunday of the regular season. To accumulate a full year of major league service time, a player needs 172 days of service time, and can’t accumulate more than that in any one season.

Bellinger was called up on Apr. 25, so if he were to remain in the majors for the remainder of the season, he’d end the year with 160 days of service time. More on what that means in a moment.

But first, what does Super Two even mean?

Players need six full seasons of major league service time to qualify for free agency, and generally for the first three seasons the players get paid the major league minimum — in 2017, $535,000 — or something close to it. Then there are three years of salary arbitration, with players still getting below market value but getting paid based on how they compare to others with similar service time and production.

Some players qualify for a fourth year of arbitration. These are the Super Two players, the ones in the top 22% of major league service time among players with at least two years but not yet three years of service.

Recent Dodgers to qualify for Super Two status include A.J. Ellis and Dee Gordon, though Gordon was traded in the offseason of his first year of arbitration eligibility.

An extra year of arbitration not only potentially gets the player paid in that initial season of eligibility, but also sets him up for higher pay days through what would have been his three normal arbitration years as well.

Let’s take a quick example of a couple of Royals corner men.

First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas aren’t identical comps by any means, but are similar enough for our purposes. Hosmer has 10.0 career WAR (the Baseball-Reference version) and Moustakas has 9.9. Hosmer has the higher perceived value, and the edge in bulk stats, but for a quick and dirty comparison, this will have to do.

Both debuted in 2011, both signed two-year deals to cover two of their arbitration years, and both will be free agents after this season.

Recent Royals

Year Hosmer Moustakas
Year Hosmer Moustakas
2014 $3,600,000 $549,000
2015 $5,650,000 $2,640,000
2016 $8,250,000 $5,600,000
2017 $12,250,000 $8,700,000
Total $29,750,000 $17,489,000
Source: Cot’s Contracts

After 2013, Hosmer had two years, 146 days of service time. He qualified for Super Two status, and made $3.6 million in 2014.

Moustakas after 2013 had two years, 111 days of service time, just 11 days shy of Super Two status. No arbitration. He earned $549,000 in 2014.

From 2014-2017, Hosmer will have earned $29.5 million, while Moustakas will have made $17.489 million.

On the higher end, the difference can be even larger. Manny Machado wasn’t a Super Two after 2014. He will make a total of $17.048 million from 2015-17. Similarly excellent third baseman Josh Donaldson was Super Two eligible after 2014, and will make $32.95 from 2015-17. And both have one more year of arbitration eligibility left.

Like with Hosmer-Moustakas, there are some differences that help explain part of the difference — Donaldson’s MVP award in 2015 bumped him up, for instance. But the extra year of arbitration does increase the stakes.

With so many variables, we won’t know the exact cutoff for Super Two status until the end of each season, but we have a pretty good general idea. MLB Trade Rumors tracks this every year, and here is the minimum service time needed to qualify for Super Two status at the end of recent years:

  • 2016: 2 years, 131 days
  • 2015: 2 years, 130 days
  • 2014: 2 years, 133 days
  • 2013: 2 years, 122 days
  • 2012: 2 years, 140 days
  • 2011: 2 years, 146 days
  • 2010: 2 years, 122 days
  • 2009: 2 years, 139 days

The Super Two cutoff hasn’t been fewer than two years, 122 days in recent years. So for Bellinger not to reach 122 days of service time this year, he’d have to be sent down to the minors for 38 more days. If you want to use 130 days as the cutoff, Bellinger would have to be sent down for 30 more days.

So while it may not be the driving force behind any decision that optioned Bellinger back to Triple-A, the Dodgers sending Bellinger down to Oklahoma City could have a financial impact in the coming years.