A Proposal to Fix the Super Two Issue

It has begun: the annual rite of teams all magically deciding at the same time that their top prospects have proven enough in the minor leagues and have earned a promotion to the big leagues. So far this week, we have already seen Dee Gordon get the call in Los Angeles, and reports are circulating that Team Joy Squad captain Charlie Blackmon is on his way to Denver at the same time the Padres are preparing to promote Anthony Rizzo. Injuries played a role in the first two call-ups, but no one had to get hurt in San Diego (besides the people trying to watch that team score runs, anyway) to inspire the Padres to give Rizzo a chance in the big leagues.

More promotions are almost certainly coming in the next week. Expect Dustin Ackley to get called up by the offensively challenged Mariners, Brett Lawrie to join the Blue Jays, and Jemile Weeks to find his way to Oakland (possibly as soon as today). All of these teams need help at the positions where these kids play, but that’s been true all season, so what has changed now?

Put simply: Super Two status. As Jonah noted a few weeks ago, there were a handful of prospects who could clearly help their teams immediately, yet were hanging out down in the minors instead. By holding off on promoting them until now (or in the next few days), most of these players will fall just short of Super Two eligibility, meaning that they will only go through arbitration three times rather than four. Keeping them on a normal arbitration schedule will keep their future paychecks down and allow teams to lower their costs and save that money to acquire other pieces to help their team win.

From an organizational standpoint, it makes sense: none of these guys would have produced enough in the first third of the season to justify the significant cost differences that Super Two status would have created, but from a fan’s perspective, this rule sucks and needs to be changed.

Major League Baseball should be incentivizing their teams to put the most entertaining products on the field. By creating a salary structure that makes it a wise choice to keep Major League-quality players in the minors, the league is actively promoting a lesser product to their respective fans. Blue Jays fans were ready to stop watching Edwin Encarnacion months ago, and yet Lawrie has been kept out of their view in large part due to financial considerations.

This rule is bad for the fans, bad for the game, and bad for teams; they have to try to convince these Major League ready players that they really need more time in Triple-A to work on their game when everyone involved knows that it’s just a by-product of the current salary rules. The players would obviously prefer to get promoted earlier, and it can’t be easy for a GM to deny his manager the best possible roster when his team is trying to chase down a playoff spot.

The current Super Two rules just don’t work, but thankfully, there’s a new CBA coming this winter, and Major League Baseball has a chance to change them. I’d like to propose a fairly radical solution that would solve not only this Super-Two problem, but also would eliminate the issue of teams having to choose to option players back to the minors at the beginning of the season in order to maximize the years of team control they have over their homegrown players.

The fix? Free agency for all players in the winter after their age-28 season. Essentially, this would give Major League teams 10 years of control over any player they drafted out of high school, but it would be up to them to determine how many of those 10 years should be allocated towards player development versus production at the big-league level. For college players, teams would only have 6-7 years of team control, but they would be getting players who needed fewer years of development before they were ready for the big leagues.

This would essentially flip the clock from what it does now. Rather than counting forwards from the day a player arrives, it would count backwards from a known date in the future, and teams would have to choose to give up potentially useful present value in order to procure more development time for each player.

Changing the service-time structure this radically would also mean that you’d have to overhaul the arbitration system; if it stayed in place, you would at least have to alter who was eligible and when. And, for players who got to the Majors at an early age, you’d likely have to institute some kind of sliding pay-scale that made sure they weren’t playing for the league minimum for five-plus years just because they were so talented they could hang in the Majors at age 20.

That said, I think those problems could be worked out, and the overall system would produce the desired result — players would get to the majors faster, and the product on the field would be better as a whole. It might be too radical of a solution for Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association, but a well-implemented version of that kind of idea could work out better for everyone.

At the least, it’s an idea. I’m sure many of you have some interesting ideas on how to fix this issue as well, and I’d love to hear them in the comments below. The status quo just isn’t good enough, and hopefully all parties involved give serious thought to some out-of-the-box thoughts on how the system could work better for the players, teams, and fans.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

49 Responses to “A Proposal to Fix the Super Two Issue”

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  1. Mike H says:

    I can’t think of an arbitration system that couldn’t be gamed in that scenario.

    What if we just adjusted the service time system so that the numbers added up correctly? Would adding 50 or so days to the requirement for arbitration eliminate the Super-Two altogether? There would always be some sort of cutoff line to watch, of course, but this way we could shift it back to the end of the previous year.

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    • Vaughn says:

      This is a great idea – it would need to be adding 25 days or so to the rule though – this would incentivize September callups to give a taste of the majors, and you can start the next season with no problems. However, if you followed the Super-Two rule, this would essentially create 4 years of team-controlled salary and 3 years of arbitration like so:

      First year callup: 30 days
      First full year: 172days – Team Control (In the past, this would have been a 130 day year for a “free” Super Two avoidance)
      Second full year: Team Control
      Third full year: Team Control
      Fourth full year: Team Control
      Fifth through 7th years: Arbitration

      The problem is, I don’t know if the Union would willingly give up an entire Team-Controlled 7th year on the front end. However, the tradeoff would be that extra early entry into the September roster, plus about 50 more days in the majors that you would normally be denied at the beginning of the year. They wouldn’t really be “giving up” a year of free agency, because that 7th year would be arbitration year anyway if they’re held back to avoid Super 2, so they’d really just be able to make the ML minimum for about 80 more days than they would normally, which is a pretty big jump over the salary you’re paid for being on the 40 man roster in the minors (32K-97K). In reality, they’re gaining money, but I don’t know if they’re dense enough to accept it, and I might not be seeing all the angles how such a day increase could be schemed.

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  2. B says:

    Wouldn’t that just give teams the incentive to rush prospects through the system to get them up as quick as possible, rather than letting them develop?

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    • B says:

      (but I agree, something needs to change)

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      • Lenard says:

        I don’t think teams would rush prospects. Maybe a few of the more poorly run organizations would tend to do that in order to sell tickets or from plain old bad judgement. But rushing players to the majors before they are ready will just cause them to be bad major league players, which doesn’t help the team at all in the long run.

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  3. Brendan says:

    Interesting, but I wouldn’t have it be determined by the age (in your example, 28), I’d determine it from x number of years after being drafted. This might also help remove some leverage that draftees have when asking for obscene amounts of money; they’d want to get signed quicker.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      The number of years would have to be different for college and prep players in that scenario, or else college players would be much, much more desirable in the draft.

      Also how do international signings work?

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  4. Antonio Bananas says:

    I honestly don’t have much of a problem with the Super Two rule. I kinda like your proposal, however, it doesn’t reward really good players. Jason Heyward would have been in the Majors 8 years by the time he reaches free agency, greatly decreasing his lifetime salary, essentially punishing him for being really good (supposing he continues to become the superstar he’s supposed to be).

    Maybe just eliminate Super Two all together. Superstar kids only miss one year, which really isn’t much because how often does a highly touted prospect play well enough to actually make that much more anyways?

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  5. David says:

    How about we just dump arbitration all together? A contract is a contract and it runs out when it runs out. Isn’t club control via a draft enough of a restriction on a young player? We need to make sure that the good ones don’t see the salaries rise to fast too soon also?

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    • Charles L says:

      So really good young players should have almost no control over their pay for 7 years? That seems unfair…

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      • Charles L says:

        Completely misread what you were saying, lol. But what arbitration is, IMO, is basically MLB’s version of the restricted FA that football and basketball have: in return for receiving extended service from a player, teams pay a reasonable escalation of salary, commensurate with the player’s performance. I don’s see anything wrong with that.

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  6. Telo says:

    I don’t know enough about it to know if your solution is viable or not, but it’s absolutely a problem that needs fixing.

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  7. Matt says:

    Good idea. It basically turns it into the NHL’s current FA system. The big issue with MLB is that the draft takes both high school kids and college kids, so you have to give a little bit of leeway in that. I’d say just do something simple:

    -Anybody who signs gets a 3 year entry level contract (5 years for kids drafted out of high school).
    -All draft spots have a max salary. Then, you don’t have kids not willing to sign with crap teams so they fall to the Yankees a few slots down.
    -After the entry level deal, you’re up for arbitration until that 28-year old age.

    So, sure, some kids drafted at 18 will get like 5 years of arbitration rights, and some kids drafted at 22 might only get 3.

    I’m sure MLBPA and the owners can argue over the exact age, but a system like this just makes too much sense. The only reason a team would have with a system like this in keeping someone down is so that their stats don’t look as impressive in arbitration. But if a GM really cares that much about that, nothing we can really do.

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    • SC2GG says:

      Of all the proposals I hear here, this one seems best to me. It gives the most flexibility on all parts to control fates and salaries in the long run. Good players will get better arbitration rates, bad players won’t. Good players can control their massive salary potential, and draft order actually matters. Fans get to see the players they want.

      On a nearly completely unrelated note, for the longest time since forever and ever and ever, I’ve wanted MLB to be able to trade draft picks. Does anyone know why this can’t happen here? Honestly, it’d add so many interesting aspects and so much more that teams can do…

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    • Lenard says:

      Agreed, the NHL’s system is by far the best way to approach a draft and contracts for young players. I’m not sure on the exact numbers for this, but don’t rookie contracts have a max annual salary of $900k in base pay and then you can bring the total value up based on performance and games played to something around $4 million? This helps keep young players salaries down, but also allows them to become free agents sooner

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    • Mike H says:

      Problem is that teams will still leave ML ready players down to avoid paying them arbitration.

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      • Charles L says:

        I don’t see why they would. The player wouldn’t be helping the team at all, and would still reach FA in the same amount of time…

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  8. Ken says:

    Radical change:
    Do we really even need a draft?

    That’s beside the point though. To the point, they should do something like you get 7 years (or until age 28) with the club after you draft a player before he is a free agent. The first 4 years are slave years, the player at least gets arbitration in the last 3.

    EVERY player drafted this year starts arbitration after the 2015 season and becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. No exceptions.

    This way there is no incentive to keep a player down, there is no service time clock, no super 2 clock, just put your best team out there.

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    • williams .482 says:

      Yes, we need a draft. Otherwise the rich teams just sign all the good players, and pirates, marlins, royals, As, etc fans have no hope whatsoever.

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      • Alex says:

        You do know that the Royals Pirates and Mariners all spend over slot in the draft year after year right. The money spent on entry level players is a drop in the bucket of the baseball economy. The issue here is controlling cost of star levels players before it balloons out of control for the smaller market teams

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  9. Matt says:

    Why couldn’t you make them arbitration eligible as soon as they’re called up to the majors?

    If a player is good enough to contribute, the team won’t have a big issue paying the arbiter’s rate for him. The fear right now with super two is losing team control, and that would be negated in this scenario.

    Arbitration criteria would have to be overhauled to better reflect a players actual value however, which could be the biggest hurdle.

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  10. Antonio Bananas says:

    How about every year is arbitration? You get paid for the previous years work? Base salary cap and then you get bonuses for performance like everyone else. You hit .300 with 45 home runs, you tell submit 20M for the year, your team submits 13M, you win, you get 20M for the previous year.

    A base salary of like 500K for each year in the majors and then you get a bonus decided by an arbitrator.

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    • Hunter says:

      The problem is the arbiters never REDUCE salary. If you want to be paid on previous years, that means salary has to go up and down.

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  11. AndyS says:

    Makes no sense.

    First of all, you’re punishing teams for drafting college players. If they still need, say, 3 more years after college too, then they’re only getting around 3-4 years MLB time before they hit FA. This REALLY hurts the small market teams.

    Second of all, this is dependent on players’ birthdays as a variable, which is not something you should be rewarded or punished for.

    Third, age 28 is younger than most players now. At least make the age higher.

    You make a good point for change, but this is not the way to go about. Maybe a modification of this proposal.

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    • Charles L says:

      1. Someone suggested something like 7 years after being drafted or 28 years old, whichever comes first. That would basically equalize HS and College prospects.

      2. How is anyone being rewarded or punished? This is essentially rewarding players for how many years of service they provided IN TOTAL, not just in the big leagues.

      3. In what other industry are you not allowed to find a new job until you’re almost 30 years old? It’s bad enough players aren’t allowed to work where they want to.

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  12. Mitch says:

    I think this is a great idea, and one that I can see the players association rallying behind. At what age is the average player currently reaching free agent eligibility? I’ll bet that it’s older than 28…

    This would also help reduce the indentured servitude some marginal college players suffer their entire careers. Now, if a guy is drafted at 22, takes, 3 years, to reach Majors, and plays until he’s 31, he never got to free agency.

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  13. Seriously says:

    Nothing is going to change because they only people who care are the die hards. Leaving things as is will not cost teams money because of souring fans on this rules. Changing things will cost teams money. Just accept it.
    No team is seeing a drop in profit and equalling it to current super 2 rules. lol
    Sad but true

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  14. Tangotiger says:

    The NHL used to be completely age-based, first starting at age 31, and then slowly resetting the line to age 30, 29, and now it’s both age 27 or 7 years in the NHL, whichever comes first. So, for the Crosby’s etc, who enter at age 18, they’d get free agency at age 25 (like ARod or Junior for example had).


    In addition, the NHL service year is 10 games. You play more than 10 games, and you count as a year. In MLB, that would be the equivalent of 22 days on the roster. Because of September callups, you can just say that you need 35 or 40 days on the club for a full service year.


    For arbitration, the NHL has “restricted free agency”, which is a right of first refusal for a player not yet a free agent. So, either he goes to arb, or, he can sign a long-term deal with another team, and the original team can match or get huge compensation (draft picks galore, and in the NHL, they are more valuable than MLB).

    The net result is that young players are signed to big deals in the NHL (see: Ovechkin), rather than the current situation in MLB where if they sign a big deal, it’s heavily discounted.


    There are solutions at hand, except MLB and MLBPA treats every change to the CBA as a negotiating point. If it benefits MLBPA to change, then MLBPA has to give up something. If it benefit MLB to change, then MLB has to give up something.

    I doubt they’d be able to come up with something “restructured” such that both sides end up happy.

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    • Vaughn says:

      What you said is similar to what I suggested above – yours is a lot simpler. Just make “one year” equivalent to 35 games. This way, September Callups are “free” to teams. But, in exchange, I think the Owners would want to add a 4th “team control” year as I suggested above, because otherwise they’d be losing a year of controlled value if they just switched one year to 35 games.

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    • rwperu34 says:

      I really like the idea of 40 days=1 year of service.

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  15. Levi Davis says:

    How about eliminating six years of salary servitude?

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  16. Jacob Jackson says:

    I think the next CBA will eliminate Super Two by adding a fourth arbitration year, after 2.000 years of service time. Arby salaries will be approximately 20%, 40%, 60%, and 80% of market value after a players’ 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th seasons. (And then marke value after six years as a free agent).

    That’s an ownership concession, because allows younger players to make millions at a younger age.

    Another ownership concession would be raising the Luxury Tax line from $178M up to $190M, which incentivizes Yankee/Red Sox spending a bit more, which is important to players. For other teams that occasionally have very high payrolls – Phillies, etc. – it gives them a higher threshold to nudge up against without fear of going over.

    These would be Union concessions in return:

    *World wide draft (Union doesn’t protect its youngest members very well).
    *Hard-slotting of draft picks, at least in the first 20 rounds or so. (I don’t think it makes sense to hard-slot the rounds where some teams don’t even sign the guy).
    *Trading of draft picks, which should go hand-in-hand with hard slotting, because a poor team shouldn’t be forced to give a $8-10M bonus to the No. 1 overall pick if they think there isn’t a clear-cut No. 1 guy. That one’s not really a concession, obviously.

    There’s really not that much to change here. MLB looks brilliant right now for not guaranteeing the players a percentage of their revenue, the way NBA and NFL do. Those leagues are in a dogfight over the players’ 57ish percent cut, whereas MLB pays the players like 42%ish.

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  17. Steve says:

    So what happens when a “16 year old” Latin American player is drafted and then a few years later new birth records are “uncovered” that say he was actually 21 when he was drafted?

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  18. Torgen says:

    Especially galling about the Lawrie/Encarnacion situation is that the money Lawrie would have got in his 4th arb year would probably turn out to be a bargain compared to the amount of WAR he would have produced over E5 over the extra third of a season. (And the rest of the roster’s salary wouldn’t be good money after bad.)

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  19. Justin says:

    If we set an arbitrary age cutoff will we see latin american players claiming to be older rather than younger?

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  20. TK says:

    Team gets control of the player for 6 years AFTER the year in which he plays his first MLB game that is not in the month of September (including playoff games), with the last 4 being arbitration eligible (if the player has 2 years service time, otherwise, just last 3). Players would get to arbitration faster, but teams would control players longer and the incentive would be to bring guys up as quickly as possible to get more out of them in the 6+ to 7 years.

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  21. cs3 says:


    If the current structure remains in place indefinitely, then would the the Super 2 cutoff move back to a slightly later date every year?

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  22. Jon S. says:

    Drop super-two. Let the player and his agent use service time in the arbitration hearings.

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  23. Frank says:

    Reminds me of the NHL system. There, all players are free agents after 7 seasons with the NHL team or age 27, whichever comes first, which is similar to your suggestion.

    Entry level deals (which begin the season you start playing professional hockey – in baseball, I imagine it would begin the year they’re called up, September callups notwithstanding) are capped in value and always are 3 years, but top prospects can make more with bonuses for making incentive clauses. This allows exceptional players/performances to still be rewarded financially (something Super 2 is supposed to do).

    After the entry-level deal expires, then you could go through arbitration as per the current system or sign extensions just like now.

    BTW, capped bonuses on entry-level deals are also the perfect solution to the draft… just saying. The NHL has a fine system.

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  24. BDF says:

    How about we eliminate the draft and allow free agency from the get-go so that the players can work for whomever they want like everyone else in a free country? Combined with a commonsensical revenue-sharing system–i.e., each team shares a 1/162*2 proportion of its revenue with each visiting–this would be both fair and maintain competitive balance, with the larger market/more popular/better run teams maintaining a (justified) advantage.

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    • Josh Shepardson says:

      Yes, because clearly simply being fortunate enough to play in a larger market goes hand in hand with a team being better run.

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  25. Darryl Strawberry Fields says:

    I like all the ideas, but in reference to the articles proposal I have one major problem from the perspective of the players and the players association. Statistically speaking the greatest year of production for most hitters is their age 27 season. Pitchers and base stealers are a little different. The best year for pitchers (speaking from statistical averages) is their age 29 season and for a base stealer it is their age 25 season.

    Your plan is proposing that teams control the contracts of hitters throughout the entirety of their peak seasons and pitchers for the majority of their peak years. The problem then is that position players are likely to see reduced salaries because they are (1) Past their prime & (2) more likely to be coming off a down season as compared to their (because most batters 28 year old season is not as good as the prior season). Pitchers may not lose much value, but this is still too much control to give the drafting team without greatly overhauling the arbitration system.

    I would love to see the sport begin moving away from guaranteed contracts. Incentive structured contracts avoid paying 15 million each to a SP & CF (not naming any names) who underwhelm and miss significant time to injuries. Veterans should still be paid guaranteed money, but at least 50% of the contracts should be incentive based. This also allow rookies to earn more money earlier in their career and allow smaller market teams to make competitive salary offers and possibly retain some of their home grown talent. It seems like too many franchises farm systems are really just preparing players to be Yankees and Red Sox players!

    This reduces the financial impact that super two creates without majorly overhauling the system and promotes competitiveness in small market franchises without instituting a salary cap.

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  26. Daubach 4 prez says:

    Terrible idea that would cause more players to be drafted out of high school, languish in the minors, and then find themselves at age 25 without a college degree and looking for a job. Terrible terrible terrible idea. Make it 6 years of control after being drafted, which would discourage drafting kids straight out of high school. You could make a sliding scale as a compromise (8 years if drafted at age 18, 7 years at 20, 6 years at 22)

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  27. Ryan says:

    The Washington Nationals approve of this idea.

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  28. Brian says:

    How about allowing a player’s paycheck to change mid-season for players with between 2 and 3 years of service time? Every player with 2 to 3 years of service time goes to arbitration (or signs a guaranteed deal with the team). Once the 3 years of time is hit, the arbitrated salary kicks in. So if you keep a Brett Lawrie in the minors for 2 months of the season, he starts earning arbitration dollars in June of 2014 instead of March of 2015. Then, teams would only be delaying the higher salary by one day for every extra day they kept a guy in the minors.

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  29. Blue says:

    Big, big problems with this idea–players are not at the same level of development when drafted and they develop at different rates. So, let’s say a team drafts a raw but talented kid who shows some promise but runs into a serious injury or two (for the sake of example, let’s say that player is Erik Cordier).

    At some point there is going to be a very strong incentive for teams to cut bait with these players and never finish developing them, since the year or two of ML service they might command at the end simply isn’t worth the continued investment in development.

    A player is an investment that doesn’t pay dividends until they hit the show. Beginning their service clock when they have the potential of repaying investment is the only logical starting point.

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