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Monday, June 01, 2009
David Price, Francisco Liriano, and the Saga of the Super Twos

On Saturday evening, the middle game of a three-game series between the Minnesota Twins and the Tampa Bay Rays, Francisco Liriano and David Price, were the starting pitchers for their respective teams. Price picked up his first regular season win in the game after throwing 108 pitches in five and two-thirds innings, while Liriano dropped to 2-7 and his ERA increased to 6.60 in the 5-2 victory for the Rays. Early in the season, a number of reporters and bloggers were surprised that David Price, the 2007 number one draft choice from Vanderbilt, was being sent down to Durham for more minor league work. Jayson Stark of ESPN was one who offered some observations in “Believe it or not, Price headed to minors.” Although his spring performance included a 1.08 ERA, Stark reviewed Tampa Bay’s reasoning and argued that the move was not done for financial reasons because the terms of Price’s initial six-year deal protected the Rays. However, when looking closer at the terms of Price’s $8,500,000 contract, it appears that he has the right to void the annual salary in the original deal and file for arbitration in any year where he reaches arbitration-eligibility.

There are three basic groups of players in major league baseball. Those who are not eligible for arbitration, the arbitration-eligible group, and those who are eligible to be free agents. All of these categories are established by service time. Article XXI of the Basic Agreement covers credited major league service. One year of credited service equals 172 days. Under the CBA, the first group eligible for salary arbitration is the Super Twos group.

The language in the second paragraph of Article VI, F.(1) Eligibility establishes the criteria:

“a Player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if: (a) he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season; and (b) he ranks in the top 17% (rounded to the nearest whole number) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.”

By spending the early part of the 2009 season in the minors, Price will not complete this season with more than one year of credited service even when adding his limited time on the Tampa Bay roster last season. Even if he is on the roster for all of the 2010 season, he will still be under two years of credited service. Either the Rays sign him to a new deal before his eligibility for arbitration as they did with Evan Longoria in April 2008 or they can maintain the original deal beyond next season depending upon his service time and those of the class each year beginning in 2011.

As to Liriano, the Minnesota Twins did not recall him from Rochester until August 1, 2008. Liriano started 19 games for Rochester last year with a 10-2 record and a 3.28 ERA in 118 innings. He also had a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio. Low walk totals are a hallmark of the Twins pitching philosophy. It appeared that he could have been recalled earlier last season, and some reporters and bloggers addressed this at the time.

Liriano’s salary for 2009 is $430,000, a modest amount above the league minimum in part because his service time at the beginning of this season was not quite enough to land in the group of Super Twos. Although Liriano is off to a rocky start with the Twins this season, the cost of his services is low.

There were four starting pitchers in the Super Twos group this year. Brian Bannister of the Kansas City Royals made $421,000 last year, but after exchanging numbers he signed for the midpoint figure of $1,737,500 this season. Ricky Nolasco of the Florida Marlins received $390,000 for 2008. As a Super Two, he negotiated a salary of $2,400,000 for the 2009 season. Bannister started the season at AAA Omaha, and Nolasco was recently optioned to the New Orleans Zephyrs. The star of the starting pitching class of 2009 Super Twos is Cole Hamels of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Hamels was able to improve his 2008 salary of $500,000 to $4,350,000 for 2009 on the basis of his 84 starts during his three years with the Phillies. Because he spent part of the 2006 in the minors, he was not credited with three years of service at the end of last season. The fourth starting pitcher in the Super Twos class was Shawn Hill of the Nationals. Hill was one of the three players to proceed to a hearing this past year. After defeating the Nationals, Hill was released by the Nationals. He found a spot on the San Diego Padres roster for $500,000 (the Nationals’ offer) plus his settlement with the Nationals, but after pitching in three games he was placed back on his familiar spot on the disabled list on April 26.

The point of the post is the importance of service days and initial eligibility in the Super Twos category. Either by design or financial fortune, the Twins were able to keep Liriano from becoming a Super Two in the 2009 class.


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