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A guide to the Rays' decision to send Wil Myers to the minor leagues.
This weekend, the Rays demoted Wil Myers to minor league spring training. From there, he will begin the year with AAA Durham. The move, as expected, has received plenty of moans and complaints from the media and casual fan base. After all, the Rays with Wil Myers are probably a better team than the Rays without him. For those of us more familiar with the workings of the Rays, we understand that the move is not a sign of intentional stinginess but a necessary move to compete given the financial landscape of baseball. The Rays financial constrictions are not something that will change, so they can only focus on working within their means. The budgetary restrictions are a part of the team, and we must accept them for what they are.
With that being said, while there is a general understanding for the Rays reasoning, the clear contract situation is not entirely clear or thoroughly explained. I'll do my best to explain the purpose of sending Myers down.
In major league baseball, when a player who signed with a major league team is added to the major league roster, the salary he receives is based on service time, which is the amount of time a player conjures during the major league season. In a normal situation in which a player is not super 2 eligible (I'll delve into eligibility later) or does not sign a long-term contract with fixed salaries, the player is paid a salary at or a little above the major league minimum, which is $490,000 in 2013. Once the player accrues three years of service time, they can file for salary arbitration. This is when the salaries begin escalating. Generally speaking, a player's salary during these three (four in super 2 cases) years is 20%, 40%, and 60% of their value. Once a player reaches six years of service time, he is a free agent. So, in this normal scenario, a team controls a player for six years. The first three years come at a minuscule cost while the final three years see an escalating, but still suppressed, salary.
There are many "cheats" to this process that teams use to maximize their control and limit the salaries of players. Since a player must have three years of service time (except in the super 2 case) to be eligible for arbitration, any amount that comes up just short of the three years of service time is not eligible. To have a year of service time, a player must be on the major league roster for 172 of the 183 days of the season. By holding a player who has never played in the major leagues down for 11 days, the team gains close to a full extra year. For instance, suppose the Rays held Myers down for 11 days, then promoted him and he remained with the club for the rest of the year. He would cost at or slightly above major league minimum for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. He would then be arbitration eligible from 2017-2019. So instead of getting the normal six years of control, the team gets 11 days short of seven seasons of control.
So why don't the Rays just send Myers down for the 11 days? The answer is a rule called super 2. Here is what MLB has to say about super 2:
In addition, a player can be classified as a "Super Two" and be eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service. A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 22 percent (increased from 17 percent in previous agreements) 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.
In other words, instead of having four cheap years and three years of arbitration, a player who qualifies for super 2 is cheap for three years and has four years of arbitration
There are two ways for the Rays to try to avoid this rule in Myers' case. They can hold him down long enough to the point where he does not rank in the top 22% of service time, or they can hold him down in AAA for 97 days.
In the first scenario, the Rays would have to take a guess at the date using data from previous years. The date would most likely be near the middle, if not closer to the end, of the season. Not all teams are as budget conscious as the Rays, which works against them in this case. So, they would essentially be placing millions of dollars on the line to gain a few days worth of playing time for Myers.
Because of that, the second scenario is more likely. The 98th day of the season is July 6th. That is the day when Wil Myers is, by definition, no longer eligible for super 2.
When it all comes down to it, the principal reason for holding Myers down until July 6th is to maximize the years of affordable control. If the Rays brought Myers up the the big leagues after 11 days, they would control him from 2013-2019. However, since he would qualify for super 2, he would be arbitration eligible after the 2015 season. Since Myers is expected to be a good player, he should command a considerable amount in arbitration, making the 2018-2019 seasons possibly too expensive for the Rays. By holding him for until July 6th, the Rays delay his arbitration eligibility until after the 2016 season. They may sacrifice a few months of Myers now, but they will gain an extra affordable year in his prime.
Think of it this way... if Myers is a 4 WAR player and the Rays hold him down for 11 days, then the Rays have him for seven years at around 41.5 million (without adjusting for inflation). The final year would cost approximately 16 million dollars.
If the Rays hold Myers down until July 6th, then they have him for 6.5 years at around $26 million. The Rays must debate whether the extra half of a year is worth an extra $15 million or so dollars. Keep Myers in the minors half the year, and they can afford him for his entire contract. Call him up after 11 days, and he will be traded near the end of his contract (and the middle of his prime) for prospects. We all know the choice the Rays will make.
No matter how much it annoys us that the star of the James Shields trade will spend roughly half the year in the minors, the benefits are blatantly obvious. The Rays will control Myers for an extra year, and his salary will not handicap them in the future. With greater financial flexibility, the Rays are better suited to construct a team around the core of Longoria, Myers, and Moore.
The Rays' decision may sacrifice several 2013 runs. But through this strategy, the Rays are setting themselves up to continue having success in the future.