For any team that has a high level prospect who has yet to play a game at the Major League level, questions of service time are bound to arise. It’s no different for Brett Lawrie and the Toronto Blue Jays. So, before we can talk about Lawrie’s place on the team and what we can expect from him offensively and defensively, let’s straighten out some of the pesky issues around service time and what it means to Lawrie’s future arbitration and eventual free agency.

No doubt, you’ve heard the term Super Two bandied about in discussions about top prospects waiting to be called up. Super Two refers to players in the top 17% for total service time that have accumulated at least two, but less than three years. Once you’re in that top 17%, you’re eligible for an extra year of arbitration. So, instead of the standard three years that most players receive, a Super Two player will get an extra year of arbitration instead of the last year of league minimum (or slightly higher) payment.

The way that the current collective bargaining agreement works out is that a non Super Two player, through the first three years of his career, will receive pretty much whatever his club wants to pay him, after that he’ll get three years of arbitration and then he’s eligible for free agency. A Super Two player will play his first two seasons for whatever the club wants to pay him, then play through four years of arbitration before he has the option of putting himself on the free agent market.

For the purposes of arbitration and free agency, 172 days of service time is considered a season, even though the entire 2011 season is actually 182 days. Typically, the cut off for Super Two has been around 130 days, meaning that if the Blue Jays intend on having Lawrie be the starting third baseman for all of next season, he’s more than likely going to become a Super Two player. The real question is when.

Now that we’re more than ten days into the 2011 season call ups will accrue just under a year of service time, meaning that players called up today who stick around until September won’t reach a full year of service time until next season. So, if Lawrie is going to be called up at any time this season, it doesn’t matter when, now that we’re past the ten day period.

So, if the Blue Jays were to call Lawrie up today, assuming they’re prepared to let him play all of next season, he’ll become a Super Two after the 2013 season, and become a free agent ahead of the 2018 season. Considering the type of player that the Blue Jays think that Lawrie will become, it makes sense to worry less about Super Two status and a whole lot more about his future free agent eligibility.

Consider the following salary schedule:

Just by not breaking camp with Lawrie, the Blue Jays have already pushed back his potential free agency to 2018 at the earliest. And if they wait to bring him up until ten days into next season, they could push it back another year. Now, you could be considering that if Lawrie is the type of player who stays up once he’s called up, which this chart assumes, wouldn’t the Blue Jays want to sign him to a long term contract making this chart unnecessary.

Service time makes a difference even in long term contracts because locking up potential free agent years are more expensive to a team than locking up arbitration years. A player in arbitration has only a single option as to who he plays for and the salary numbers that are exchanged represent this limitation. A player entering free agency potentially has thirty different options and offers to good players represent the lack of limitations.

In other words, pushing free agency back as far as possible is beneficial to the club in many ways.

Still, there are those that suggest dollars be damned, the Blue Jays have a responsibility to the fan base to field the best team possible. These same people are likely the ones dismayed with Edwin Encarnacion’s defense and Juan Rivera’s lack of visible effort. To them, I’d ask what makes them believe that Lawrie is better defensively than Encarnacion or will put up better offensive numbers than Rivera.

We talked a little bit about this in our post game webcast last night:

While his offensive numbers after thirty plate appearances are through the roof, there’s no evidence to suggest that Lawrie would be any better as a defensive option than Edwin Encarnacion. And as much as that .552 wOBA seems appealing, it’s been accumulated in such a limited number of at bats in a league known for inflated offensive numbers. Should the Blue Jays really be prepared to completely dismiss Juan Rivera after only 38 plate appearances, a guy who had a career year only two seasons ago?

I don’t understand the rush. By keeping Lawrie down at Triple A, the Blue Jays are able to keep their options open, both on the field and in the front office, during a season in which there’s absolutely no need to rush or misuse talent. After all, Lawrie is only 21 years old and if he can continue to do what he’s done so far this season, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot of him in our future anyway.

Comments (35)

  1. Its the apparent lack of effort from Rivera that is the most troubling. Especially with Lawrie’s attitude, hustle etc. Plus he’s Canadian! (I kid)

    If Lawrie is terrific than they’re going to lock him up well before any of this becomes an issue.

    Boston’s struggles have to be a factor in public perception as well.
    “Maybe the Jays CAN compete this year. Boston stink and the Yanks can’t pitch”

    I think a Mid-May to early June call up for work best if everything stays as it is.

  2. Thanks for clearing that up Parkes.

  3. As much as I like the thought of Lawrie up, I don’t want to quicken his clock as I just don’t think it will matter much this year in relation to the team’s chance’s in 2011, that being said as these young players continue to adjust perhaps having them all learn on the same timeline is good. I would like to see all the ugliness that goes along with development occur over a shorter period of time. On a related note to the roster I do wish that that “corpse” named Rivera could somehow find a ticket off the team sooner rather than later. He does not look interested, engaged or enthused.

  4. I’m actually not too concerned about his clock as, like Parkes mentions, the Jays will sign him if he’s worth it (and if it counts for anything, Lawrie seemed pretty pumped to have joined the Toronto system, so I can’t see him chasing the last dollar out of town).

    What I am a little worried about is the adjustment period to play in the majors. If the Jays are planning on “going for it” (read: “continual success starts now!”) in 2012, then I’d rather have Lawrie get his ugle rookie hacks at the plate and defensive miscues largely out of the way in 2011. I’m with Andrew, mid-May or June would be great.

  5. I think at this point it’s a given that he’ll be the 3rd baseman next year, and doesn’t the chart for playing time assume he doesn’t get called up at all this year, even in September? I think it would be hard to justify not calling him up in September at the very least and then him not breaking with the club next year and spend April 2012 at AAA again just so we have control until after the 2018 season.

  6. If there is anything that I have learned from watching this team since AA took over, is that absolutely NOTHING is a given at any point. It makes a lot of sense to keep him down in AAA and have him hit like an allstar, than to call him up and have him potentially go into a prolonged slump (See Aaron Cibia, last year). AA has said time and time again that he will not move away from ‘the plan’, and that this year is a development year for our younger players, and the stop gaps that we have on the team are just that: stop gaps. It doesn’t hurt a player developmentally to keep them in the minors for a bit, but it could hurt them to bring them up too early. Lawrie is 21, he’s fine where he is.

  7. I’m with Stoeten. Get the earliest FA date pushed back a year, then get him up if he’s still raking. This small town cheap mentality flies in the face of everything Beeston has been preaching since he put Double A in place. If he’s ready to contribute at a major league level, they should be more than willing to pay the extra year of arb money.

  8. @ Mike – I don’t quite agree with what you are saying. My impression from Anthopolous is that he will always stick to the plan, however the plan is flexible/adaptable based on new developments.

  9. The Blue Jays don’t know when the continual success clock starts. To be honest, so much depends on this year. The Blue Jays still don’t know what they are going to get long term out of Arencibia, Snider, Cecil, Hill, Lind, Drabek, Morrow, Escobar, Baustista. They have a lot of upside right now, but there are very, very few sure things. (Right now my list reads: Romero. And that could change).

    So until they know what parts they need to replace, there is no timeline to starting the “Let’s be competative.” So that really shouldn’t influence their decision. So, assuming you are past everything with the arbitration clock stuff, you bring Lawrie up either::
    a) When he has nothing left to prove in the minors (see Arencibia, JP). A great 10 games doesn’t qualify.
    b)When you absolutely need a 3rd basemen up. The way Nix is playing, this isn’t an issue at all right now.
    You have nothing to lose by waiting at this point. Whereas, by bringing him up you’re likely making your team worse (you’d have to play him everyday) when they still have a chance to compete. (Don’t roll your eyes at me, everyone has a chance to compete. The Padres won 90 games last year playing in what is likely the 2nd toughest division in baseball.)

  10. I think a balance is needed b/w service clock and acclimitisation to MLB pitching. Now that we have pushed back his first FA possible year to 2018, he needs to be here sooner than later. He doesn’t seem to need anymore seasoning (although it is early days in the PCL as well).

  11. I think it’s really ambitious to just say “Well if he’s good then he’ll get signed long term”. It takes two sides to sign a contract, and acting on the player’s side is a greedy agent and a player’s union that discourages signing away free agent years on the cheap side.

    Adam Lind’s deal was largely frowned upon by the MLBPA for setting a low precedent for DH-types, let alone Longoria’s super team friendly contract.

    Beyond that, AA might be a little gunshy offering some long-term deals to guys after the Hill fiasco, plus we still haven’t seen how Bautista’s deal turns out.

    Finally, just because Lawrie was excited to join the organization doesn’t mean he will continue to be happy here. I’m sure we could find a whole pile of examples of guys who signed FA/extension contracts, only to opt out of the deals because they got boo’ed out of town.

  12. It’s very possible that 2011 was the last year of the Super Two nonsense anyway. Most people think it will be scrapped in the new CBA.

  13. Hopefully he isn’t called up in the next week. I’m going to Vegas and heading to a couple of 51s games… was hoping to see him there. Maybe buy him a 40 after the game.

  14. I really don’t think the Jays would be all that concerned about Super Two status though, since they have plenty of money to pay for whatever the difference would be. The bigger issue is service time, though as has been said, if he’s as good as they hope he is, they’ll have him locked up before free agency even becomes an issue anyways.

    At any rate, a week’s worth of games at AAA isn’t enough. If he’s still raking in a month, and they think he’s at least as good defensively by then as their current options… they may as well call him up then. But if they sent him down to AAA to get some more seasoning, I assume they planned on him being their longer than a week.

  15. It seems common knowledge that you can hurt a players development by bringing him up too early, it’s seems counter intuitive to me. I would think it would help a player develop by having them face the best pitching, get the best coaching and play regularly. Rather than developing a false sense of accomplishment by mashing in the PCL. Also doesn’t it because obvious to the player and agent if you start Lawrie in the minors until sometime after day 10 of next season that you are just manipulating service time and thus costing him money? Personally I think you keep him down until the he’s consistently hitting in AAA, playing a passable 3B and the opportunity for him to play everyday in the majors arises. With EE being moved from 3B in favour of Nix(who hasn’t look much better and is Jayson Nix after all) the Brett Lawrie era may be closer than we think.

  16. JZ: don’t forget to bring duct tape.

  17. Is the term “raking” over used yet? I sure hope so and it just goes away. That would be NAILS!!

  18. Oh and to clarify I don’t think Lawrie has proven that he can consistently hit in AAA yet or proved he can play a passable 3B yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him here sooner rather than later.

  19. Chris T: It’s all about a players confidence. You bring them up too early and they fail, it kills the confidence levels. It seems kind of a hokey explanation, but there is numerous examples of players coming up too early, struggling, and then never really getting their confidence back.

    Major league pitching doesn’t need a whole lot of adjusting to, it’s just like Minor League pitching, only better. Ask Buster Posey and Jason Heyward. Didn’t take them too long to adjust. It’s not like pitchers suddenly start throwing breaking balls in the majors, or anything.

  20. I think the pressure to call Lawrie up early may have more to do with the marketing department than the talent department.

  21. I feel like the Jays are on top of things enough that they won’t call him up until he’s ready. They’re smart, I don’t expect AA and company to mess this up.

    Until that happens, there’ll be a lot of people complaining that he hasn’t been called up yet. After it happens, there’ll be a whole different group of people who think he was called up too early, or too late, depending on when they do it. Chances are, the Blue Jays know better than anybody. Whenever they call him up, they’ll probably be right.

  22. what do you mean, what’s the rush?

    the question should be “why wait?”

    His defensive problems won’t be any worse than the EE/Nix show, and his offense is a likely upgrade on at least one of EE/Nix/Rivera, not just at the plate, but on the basepaths as well.

    Of course he’s going to have growing pains, but I’d rather he get them out of the way sooner rather than later.

    and hey, can Nix play 2B? because Hill really stinks.

  23. I agree with Stoeten. Laurie’s sample at AAA means nothing right now, but if he continues to do well and has a good season, they would probably call him up in September to reward him. Given that this is a major possibility, then you may as well call him up whenever you think he can make a positive impact and gain experience.

    Has anyone alerted the cops about Parkes peddy-stache? That thing is offensive. No wonder Stoeten was leaning away and giving Parkes weird sideways glances.

    Love the analysis, loathe the stache.

  24. Tip of the Day: his AAA numbers will ALWAYS mean nothing, no matter how long he stays down there for.

  25. Wasn’t Brett Wallace killing it last year in AAA? Let’s not get too excited.

  26. B.Wallace ’10 (24): .868ops, .377woba
    B.Lawrie ’11 (21): 1.267ops, .552woba

  27. 4 errors in 4 games for Lawrie from what i have been told – too lazy right now to look myself. from what i understand is cecil is super two; i do not think the jays are concerned about some extra cash spent on a player. I think they are more concerned with getting him acclimated to the 3b position and putting him in a position to succeed and stay in mlb not back and forth

  28. how many errors have EE and Nix combined for? 6?

  29. @everdiso

    The horse; you’re beating it.

  30. I think a big issue regarding when Lawrie comes up is what the Jays intend to do with Rivera, since at this point, if Lawrie’s here and playing, Rivera has no where to play. I’m assuming Nix would slot in here and there (LF, 3B, 2B, DH) and that EE would mostly DH and occasionally play 1B. (And frankly, I don’t care much about what happens with Nix; he’s not a good defensive player, even though he’s seemed ok so far. Has anybody seen him catch a ball to his left yet? I haven’t. But he’d be a decent bat off the bench, or occasional starter against lefties.)

    So are the Jays ready to release Rivera, or will they be soon? I agree that they may want to see more than the current sample, but he’s not doing himself any favors by his play so far. Is the remainder of his contract to much for them to just eat? It seems pretty likely that no other team will want to pay him, though he’ll probably get signed if he’s released. Maybe eating Rivera’s contract is the final payment on the Wells trade, and if so, it’d be well worth it.

    I assume that Lawrie will have his struggles if he plays the bulk of the season in MLB. As some have suggested, this can sometimes set a player back. But this player? I doubt it.

    And I buy the idea that it might be a good marketing move on the Jays part. I would certainly much prefer to watch Lawrie, stuggles and all, than Rivera (or for that matter, Nix) who won’t be a part of the team beyond this season.

  31. Let’s not forget that we’re not even two weeks into the season yet. At this time last year, the big issue around the blogosphere was that Randy Ruiz wasn’t getting enough playing time. The rotation included both Brian Tallet and Dana Eveland.

    Maybe Rivera will break out and have a good year like Buck did after his awful start. Maybe he’ll be released and be completely forgotten like Ruiz. Either way, a few months from now we’ll probably all forget about everything we’re thinking right now because it’s just way too early to know anything about anything, really.

  32. Everdiso

    Did you use Wallace’s full season stats?

  33. There is a slight problem with the chart, having to do with when he would be a super two and when he would not (he would not be a super two in any of the following scenarios):

    Row Day One 2011/ Column 2013 should be Minimum.

    Row Day One 2012/ Column 2014 should be Minimum.

    Also, there could be a third row called something like After Day 45, in which he could play for the minimum from 2011-2014, then Arbitration from 2015-2017.

  34. I’ve been watching the AAA games every day, and I would highly advise calling up Lawrie any time soon. He’s hitting the ball hard but a lot of his hits have not been as impressive as his stat line – he has swung at some absolutely terrible pitches as well. His defense shows flashes of brilliance at times, and other times he looks like he has B.J. Upton’s accuracy.

    Give him time. Stop rushing.

  35. I agree with Kelekin; what’s the rush on calling Lawrie up? 5 errors in 42 chances is not great. Notwithstanding, his batting stats are based on 52 PA in a hitter’s league.

    Let Lawrie play in AAA for a while longer. Let’s give AA some time to see if he can move Rivera before outright releasing him.

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