I really never wanted this to happen, but here we are. Talking about how long Ronald Acuña Jr. could stay in the minors. Will it last until the Super Two deadline? What in the hell is a Super Two deadline? Why can’t the Braves fans have nice things?
If you haven’t heard, you live under a rock. But just in case, here’s the news. Even though Acuña Jr. has been down in the minors long enough to buy a seventh year of team control, the Braves still have no plans to bring him up from Gwinnett ahead of their homestand that begins today. In fact, they could leave Atlanta after “Blooper Bobblehead Giveaway” on Sunday with Acuña Jr. still in the minors. A reminder: some – ahem, me – weren’t fans of leaving him in the minors to begin with despite understanding and accepting the logical argument that the seventh season of team control was a valid reason to leave him in Triple-A.
There are a few reasons for Acuña Jr.’s struggles to open 2018. A .238 BABIP and striking out a third of the time, for starters. In addition, there is a litany of sports psychologists around (on social media) who will tell you that Acuña Jr. is either moping at the plate or pressing. Others point to a lay-off between Acuña Jr.’s last bit of action this spring and the late start of the minor league season due to a scheduling quirk. Still, others point to the idea that Acuña Jr. is simply a slow starter, though to push that idea, you have to use some extra-small sample sizes.
And then, there are the variables completely out of Acuña Jr.’s control. The Atlanta offense is rolling and Preston Tucker‘s .391 wOBA at the plate is a big reason. Nick Markakis is also hitting well and while neither is likely to sustain their current rates of production, don’t you have to ride the hot hand while it’s hot? Furthermore, there’s the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I read about both of these rationales from the Big Book of Managing.
The result is that the longer Acuña Jr. stays in the minors, the more the term “Super Two” will be thrown around. After all, it is pretty similar to the argument of leaving Acuña Jr. in the minors to open 2018. But if you are not familiar with the term, I’ll go over it and we’ll look at what is a possible date to aim for should the Braves go after Super Two status.
The simplest way to remember Super Two is that it includes the players with 2 years of service time + a supersized amount of days that aren’t quite a full year of service time. I’m sure you are aware that players reach arbitration after three years of service time. To avoid insane roster manipulation by teams, players negotiated Super Two in to allow for those players who are close to three years to reach arbitration a year early. As a result, they get four arbitration paydays rather than the regular three. In response, teams simply manipulated a less concrete, but fairly easy-to-predict date. And, for some reason, the MLBPA has yet to address that.
Let’s look at Mike Foltynewicz as an example. He spent parts of four seasons in the majors from 2014-17, but due to not accruing service time while in the minors, Foltynewicz finished 2017 with 2 years and 163 days of service. That left him nine days short of a full year of service time. Without Super Two, he could have been as cheap as the major league minimum for 2018. Instead, because he ranked in the top 22% of players with at least two years of service time, but less than three years, he was arbitration-eligible last offseason.
Because the cut-off is based on a percentage, it’s unknown what it will be in any given year before the season ends and everyone’s service time can be added up. Last year, it was 2 years and 123 days. That was on the lower side of where the mark has been since 2009. It’s also been as high as 2 years and 146 days. The average over the last nine years is about 2 years and 132 days. Seem simple enough?
So, if Atlanta wanted to make sure that Acuña Jr. missed the cut-off, what date could they bring him up? The actual MLB calendar is longer than the service time one. There are an additional 15 days for a calandar length of 187. Let’s be safe and go with the lowest amount of minor league time the Braves would need to cross to get Acuña Jr. to a safe zone (2.123). That would leave us at about 65 days into the calandar. That calandar began this year on March 29.
Let’s do our quick math. Three days in March + 30 days in April + 31 days in May + one day in June = 65 days. By that, the Braves could call up Acuña Jr. on June 2 to face the Nationals on a Saturday day game. But maybe the Braves want to be super safe and and add some more time in there. After the Nationals series, the Braves go on a six-game, eight-day road trip out west before returning home on June 12 for a six-game home stand against the Mets and Padres. After a travel day, they visit Toronto for two days before another travel day and a second six-game homestand – that just so happens to include Hank Aaron Weekend as well. In that case, Acuña Jr. would begin his major league career with a dozen of his first 14 games at home.
As a result, if the Braves want to keep Acuña Jr. in the minors for Super Two reasoning, my gut says we won’t see him in Atlanta until at least June 12.
It should be said that the goals of the two service time manipulations the Braves would consider in this scenario (keeping him at Triple-A for mid-April vs. mid-June) are not the same. One seeks to gain an additional year of team control. The other is completely about financial gain. It should also be said that, while certainly, this may not be the only time it happened, I can only recall the Braves playing Super Two games once. Back in 2009, the Braves called up fringy prospect Kris Medlen over stud prospect Tommy Hanson to keep the latter from reaching Super Two status. In early June, Atlanta brought up Hanson.
But I Don’t Think Any Of This Matters Right Now
I went over Super Two in detail and tried to nail down an earliest call-up date and, in addition, a safer call-up date. But I don’t think Alex Anthopoulos is really thinking about that. Nor do I think Tucker and Markakis are keeping Acuña Jr. in the minors. When we talk about Acuña Jr.’s numbers, we’re a lot closer to the reasoning, but something that Knockahoma Nation’s Josh Brown said in their recent podcast gets us even closer.
The Braves sent Acuña Jr. down while telling everyone he needed more seasoning. The MLBPA started to look into the idea of filing a grievence because everyone can see through that justification as just BS. Acuña Jr. doesn’t need more seasoning no matter what eight games to open 2018 may say. He was ready for a cup of coffee last year. He was ready for opening day this year. And he’s ready to be called up now. However, a wrench has been thrown into the works and no, it’s not Preston “MotherTucker.”
If Atlanta promoted a guy hitting .152/.222/.182 after saying he wasn’t ready two weeks ago – and with no injury to a Braves outfielder to cover them – they would be admitting that they lied. We all know that they did, but it’s kind of like the federal government admitting that there was a 100-to-1 disparity in sentencing between crack and cocaine convictions because of race and income. We all know it’s the truth, but you can’t admit it. Admitting that Acuña Jr. is in the minors because of service time reasons will take that grievence the MLBPA thought of filing and throw it into overdrive. It will upset the status quo. It could prompt immediate changes to the CBA – changes that should be made, but without the nastiness that a major league baseball team admitting to manipulating the system would cause.
So, Acuña Jr. waits. And as do the Braves. And both aren’t happy with it. When the Cubs did this to Kris Bryant, he hit .321 with three homers over seven games. The Cubs couldn’t pretend anymore that he needed more seasoning and immediately promoted him after getting the extra year of team control. Unfortunately, due to whatever reasons, Acuña Jr. hasn’t given the Braves the necessary cover they need to bring him up. On the other hand, he’s actually brought some validity to their ridiculous claims.
Sure, should these struggles – knock on every damn piece of wood – continue, the Braves might even begin to consider the Super Two ramfications. But at this point and for the next month or so, I can’t see them considering it at all. Atlanta wants Acuña Jr. in the majors. They just need him to fulfill his part of the bargain by getting hot. Once that happens, he’ll be in Atlanta.