Super Two conversation a super buzzkill with Michael Kopech

The White Sox shouldn't wait until June if he's ready, because history says waiting won't pay off much

Michael Kopech posted his fourth impressive start at Charlotte in as many tries Wednesday in Louisville. He held the Bats to just one run on one hit and two walks over six innings while striking out eight.

Kopech is up to 29 strikeouts over 21 innings with the Knights this season. He’s allowing a .189 average against with seven walks. Based on what we’ve seen so far, Triple-A isn’t providing him a legitimate challenge. Based on what we’ve seen so far at the MLB level, he could very well be the White Sox’ No. 2 starter right now. That’s not saying much. He’d just have to stand a chance of throwing a quality start every other time out.

He isn’t yet in the majors for a couple different reasons. Kopech ended the spring on a rocky note and only had three starts at Charlotte to his name, so it made sense to let him ramp his pitch count up to 100 pitches with no pressure. He also could stand to throw changeups in a competitive environment with minimal downside. The 40-man roster was full, too, so the Sox could use the month to evaluate the fringes.

And, of course, there’s the service time. By spending the first two weeks in Charlotte, he wouldn’t be able to accrue the 172 days necessary to get a full year’s credit, meaning the White Sox would be able to retain him for an extra year.

All these things have worked themselves out, by and large. Maybe his changeup isn’t in its final form, but if Triple-A hitters have to cheat on his fastball, the International League won’t simulate the MLB learning process no matter how often he throws it.

Kopech can pretty much be called up any week now. Maybe the Sox want him to string together two starts of six innings or longer, which makes some sense. Maybe they don’t want to introduce him at the same time the Sox run into the Cubs, the same way they cited strength of schedule in their delay promoting Reynaldo Lopez last year. There’s a human side to it.

But there’s also one more artificial deadline to contend with, and that’s the Super Two cutoff.

If the Sox wait until the first week of June, it leaves 120 or fewer days of service time over the remainder of the season. A player who comes up at that time likely won’t qualify for Super Two status based on the cutoff dates from previous seasons, which means the White Sox would only have to pay Kopech three years of arbitration instead of four. That extra year can add up, allowing a player to make an extra $10 million or more if things go well enough.

Sometimes it makes sense to hold off for baseball reasons. Take last year, when the White Sox delayed promoting Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada until after they cleared Super Two territory. They could have shoved talent aside to make room before dealing, but they instead chose to wait until trading Todd Frazier and Jose Quintana, both of whom were at least proven major leaguers. And hey, Yolmer Sanchez seemed to benefit from the playing time he received while Moncada waited.

But when there aren’t legitimate MLB players in the way, it becomes a purely financial decision, and the White Sox’ own history says it’s an overblown concern.

The Sox have had three pitchers of note reach the majors on a suboptimal financial timeline over the last decade, and none of them put the Sox in an uncomfortable position. There’s simply too much that’s unaccounted for at this point in a pitcher’s career to really wring hands, especially when the payroll is clean and all the other young players didn’t get the extra arb year.

Super Two, early extension: Jose Quintana.

The White Sox called up Quintana as an extra pitcher for a doubleheader on May 7. They sent him down, but recalled him on May 25, and he stuck around for the whole season. He ended up earning 133 days of service time in his first year, which put him firmly in 50-50 territory for qualifying as a Super Two.

Quintana signed a contract extension after his first full season, and his contract included escalators in the event that he ended up qualifying. Sure enough, the 2014 cutoff was exactly 2.133 years, so the White Sox had to pay Quintana more.

And as it turned out, nobody cared. He was still a massive bargain whether his contract extension was five years and $21 million or $26.5 million. He was still worth a bundle when the Sox traded him to the Cubs, and it’s a deal that looks even better now when considering how Quintana has opened this season.

Super Two, no extension: Carlos Rodon.

The White Sox opted to only keep Rodon in the minors to clear the threshold for an extra year of team control. They promoted him on April 21, and he finished the year with 168 days of service time. Scott Boras couldn’t call shenanigans, though, because Rodon had barely spent time in the minors.

Because he easily met Super Two status, Rodon entered the first of four arbitration-eligible years this winter. The Sox are paying him $2.3 million for 2018, which is a non-negligible amount of money. For other pitchers, that kind of salary could put him on a trajectory for a bonanza by 2021. With Rodon, given that he missed most of 2017 with an injury and surgery has taken at least two months out of this season, the Sox aren’t going to have to worry about his raises.

And if Rodon happens to return to the White Sox and look like a Cy Young contender … the Sox still aren’t going to have to worry about his raises. They’re not paying anybody else at the moment.

No extra year of team control: John Danks.

Danks wasn’t a Super Two, but the Sox opened with him on the Opening Day roster during the secret rebuilding year of 2007, a decision that seems unfathomable 11 years later.

And yet it didn’t really matter by itself. For one, the Sox were able to strike an extension after the fifth year, incorporating his final arbitration year into the structure of his contract. For another, as his career played out, the Sox would’ve been in better shape had they just let Danks play out his original obligation because his shoulder exploded on him in his sixth year. The Sox would’ve been able to get the best years of Danks’ career for good value, then walk away with no strings attached.

The best-/worst-case scenario: David Price.

Of course he’s never been a White Sox, but I’m just establishing the top end here.

Let’s say the White Sox call up Kopech tomorrow, and he’s a lock for Super Two status. Let’s say he meets expectations immediately, setting a course for one Cy Young award and three other top-six finishes. Let’s say he eschews all offers for a contract extension and bets on himself to maximize his earnings by sprinting through four arb-eligible years and reaching free agency as fast as he can.

That’s how Price played it, and here’s what it cost the Rays for the first three years he was eligible for arbitration, and then the Tigers and Blue Jays for the last one:

  • First arb year: $4.35 million
  • Second arb year: $10.1125 million
  • Third arb year: $14 million
  • Fourth arb year: $19.75 million

The last year smashed the previous arbitration record by $4.5 million, and it was way too much for the Tampa Bay payroll, so the Rays dealt him to Detroit in a three-way deal. The Tigers had no problem retaining Price, and Price had no problem earning it, even if Detroit couldn’t contend and spun him to the Blue Jays. He went 18-5 with a 2.41 ERA and 225 strikeouts over 220 innings. He was the runner-up for the AL Cy Young. He cleared 6 WAR(P) no matter which measurement you use. Price easily met his surname, and if the White Sox rebuild goes anywhere according to plan, they’ll be able to spend closer to Detroit money on the spectrum.

There are cases that don’t fit neatly in any scenario. The tough calls for arbitration are the ones where it’s a substantial salary for a player who stands a good chance at being replacement level for one reason or another (think Dayan Viciedo for pitchers). If Kopech has Rodon’s career and he’s in line to make $8 million when you don’t feel great about him pitching even 140 acceptable innings, that can leave a mark.

The idea here is that Kopech is too good for that particular conversation. If he isn’t, the idea of the rebuild is that it allows the Sox a fairly clean ledger to absorb the cost, or talent in the pipeline that makes a borderline player expendable.

Basically, from the fan’s side, calling up Kopech before early June comes down to whether you care more about seeing a far more interesting product in the near future, or whether you’re more concerned about White Sox ownership potentially having to spend $2 million more four years from now for a player who had earned it. (This also assumes that Kopech will stick in the majors his first time up, which isn’t a given.)

The former is an easy call to me. Given that Kopech isn’t on the 40-man roster and the White Sox might have to add somebody else for the doubleheader on Saturday, there probably won’t be room for him until the schedule opens up in early May. After that, it’s hard to form an argument against it, unless Kopech comes down with a hangnail that keeps him out of action for a month and it becomes a matter of waiting an extra start. Then they can probably rationalize an extra week’s stay in Charlotte.

Sticking to the current track is more useful, though. If Kopech toys with the International League and strikes out a third of the batters he faces while three-fifths of the White Sox rotation has capsized, the Super Two conversation does nothing for me. I’ll understand why the Sox are doing it, but it’s not in the interest of fans to push that agenda for them.

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Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Patrick Nolan

Feel like based on how Giolito fell off a cliff, Kopech will immediately be the #1 starter upon promotion.

mikeyb

Volstad started at Charlotte this year before Kopech. So I have to assume that Jim was clearly referencing Volstad as Chicago’s current #1 starter, with Kopech firmly in discussion for the #2.

KenWo4LiFe

just plain cheap. fucking ridiculous. they are saving money all these years. if the guy earns it, pay him. such a white sox thing to do. no reason he’s not in the big leagues.

karkovice squad

I agree it’s ridiculous. But almost the entire league operates this way–it’s not unique to the Sox.

Reindeer Games

They do with the extra year of control, but they don’t with the Super-2 status.

gibby32

I agree with the post, including all of the qualifications. It’s over the top to call it cheap, since it’s not obvious to me that the team is trying to get the Super 2 advantage. Here’s the question: will Kopech be as effective this Saturday, for example, as he might be in a month or so after a few more AAA starts. It’s not obvious to me, and I’ll trust the White Sox pitching gurus, while not assuming that the team is being cheap. I’ve got a friend who keeps saying as to hyped minor leaguers “let’s bring them up; we might as well see what they can do”, without recognizing that “what they can do” might vary depending on their minor league development time.

Patrick Nolan

It’s over the top to call it cheap because that money may be put to use elsewhere.

But it’s absolutely about Super Two at this point. The White Sox care about it a lot — even guys like Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza were managed with Super Two in mind. The White Sox have been gaming service time in this way for long enough that it’s the default hypothesis for the reason that any dominant minor leaguer is still on the farm. Michael Kopech is not only ready to pitch in the majors, he’s the single most qualified pitcher in the White Sox organization for the role of “starting pitcher, MLB level” right now.

gibby32

As to Super Two, I may end up agreeing with you depending on what happens over the next few weeks, but I’m not there yet. I disagree with you as to the reason why it’s over the top to call it cheap: the Sox have enough money to do whatever they want irrespective of whether they pay Kopech an extra couple of million or four.

Patrick Nolan

“The Sox have enough money to do whatever they want” runs counter to the way the team has been run since I have been born. Yes, there’s a lot of flexibility in the near-term payroll, but this decision primarily affects the 2021-2024 payrolls — we don’t know what those look like yet, and they could be just as cramped as the 2015-16 versions given their additions between now and then and the rising arb costs of the current prospect group.

Patrick Nolan

Well, someone has to protect the front office from continued incompetence…

35Shields

Doesn’t that effectively describe the whole rebuilding process?

KenWo4LiFe

well the whole process is ridiculous to begin with. This just gets me even more pissed off because they are holding back his development because of a couple mill if they are lucky.

karkovice squad

If they’re lucky it’s more like $10-15m across all 4 arb years.

Patrick Nolan

x

gibby32

We may be talking past one another. I want him up as soon as he’s ready. It’s not clear that he’s ready, even if he would be the White Sox #2. Even if he’s not ready, he would contribute to less boring baseball, but not for good reason.

As Cirensica

He is readier than Chris Sale was when Sale was called

Trooper Galactus

He’s also not gonna get flung into the bullpen, I’d imagine.

seven11

And Carson Fulmer.

karkovice squad

The bulk of the impact isn’t felt until the final arb year–the interim increases are basically a rounding error unless they have a significant number of Super Twos. So since you can really only plan for about 3 years out, that puts most of the impact after the current competitive window closes or during the start of a new one.

Either way, it’s not something that will take them by surprise or can’t be planned around as they approach it.

fustercluck

not that we really care what his next team will be paying him, but it could have a significant impact on the prospect haul coming back

karkovice squad

Not really. In the best worst case we’re talking about maybe 10-15% of his surplus value without an extension in place. That’s not nothing. But it’d only slightly downgrade the players who round out a package not the headline prospect.

asinwreck

Ah, if Danks was on the Opening Day roster in 2017, that would probably mean Fernando Tatis Jr. was still in the organization. (Also that 2017 Danks might have an ERA above 10.)

Patrick Nolan

To really evaluate this, I’d want to know what move the White Sox wouldn’t get to make as a result of Kopech’s higher salary, which is a tough thing to know.

I want to see Kopech here, I guess I’m just not bothered if he has to wait until June because the benefits of promoting him seem like they’re limited to fan service.

What does bother me is the rule — I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again….it is completely stupid that there is a single-day cutoff between people who get four years of arb and three, and it’s further stupid that it’s based on a cutoff point that won’t be known for another 2+ years, which only further encourages conservatism. I don’t see an answer for the 7 vs 6 years service time issue (since you can’t split a year of control), but this one has a natural, mathematical solution: blend an arb salary with a rookie scale salary based on the percentage of the third year of service that’s complete. That way, there wouldn’t be this dumb effect where waiting past a single, unknowable day would immediately shift the projected salaries by $10M – $20M.

KenWo4LiFe

i think there is more than just fan pleasing. He’s going to be on an innings limit. Might as well get the max of those innings in at the major league level. If they wait til June to call him up that is like 30-40 less innings than if they called him up now that they will see in chicago. if we expect to contend next year i’d like for him to see as many major league batters as possible so we don’t get another “oh he’s still developing” year.

As Cirensica

Agree with this. I find it stupid to waste talent striking out a boatload of Cody Ashes in the minors. Pitchers arms have a short useful life. Get him to the big league so he can start facing real hitters. Learn how to succeed, get over the inning cap, so he can be ready sooner, so the White Sox can count on him sooner than later.

Patrick Nolan

That’s a good point.

gibby32

This is a reasonable point, but I still trust the pitching gurus to balance that issue against the develop your change-up issue.

Greg Nix

It’s not the pitching gurus in charge of this decision, though. It’s the accounting gurus.

gibby32

say you.

Reindeer Games

From a labor standpoint, baseball has pretty awful rules set to screw over everyone but the very best players who also manage to stay healthy.

As Cirensica

From a labor standpoint, baseball has pretty awful rules set to screw over everyone but the owners

There…fixed!

Trooper Galactus

There’s also the issue of players get further screwed over if they’re on non-competitive teams who are in no rush to bring up elite talents. Not their fault, not really under their control, but they are brought into circumstances in which the team doesn’t care how good you are or if you can help, just that you stay as cheap as possible for as long as possible.

karkovice squad

The tough calls for arbitration are the ones where it’s a substantial salary for a player who stands a good chance at being replacement level for one reason or another (think Dayan Viciedo for pitchers).

Which, payroll-wise, still wasn’t that devastating an outcome because the diminished skill clause was in play.

One of the biggest changes to the landscape is that insurers reportedly caught up to pitchers’ injury risk and are less likely to insure 3+ year deals. But that’s also a bigger problem for free agents since the Sox can simply sit on offering an extension until they’re only guaranteeing 3 years and round out the deal with options.

The Super Two deadline shouldn’t be a big factor in their decision unless a player gets hurt like with Moncada’s wrist injury or still has things to work on like Giolito. They don’t currently have a set of players all slated to be earning $15-20m at the same time. And even if they did, it’s so far out there’s plenty of time to plan around it.

mikeyb

I know that I would definitely attend more games if I knew Kopech was going to start. When Moncada came up last year, the crowds were definitely larger. While it wouldn’t generate enough revenue to offset the Super Two losses down the road, I think calling up Kopech for an extra 5ish starts this year could easily generate over $1 million in extra revenue for the Sox right now, in 2018. Not to mention more eyeballs on the games on TV.

mkw

this was a great read. i’ve been pleased by the pushback against teams gaming service time in the past few years. for too long fanbases have been tolerant or outright jubilant over their teams’ front offices doing smart businessy stuff at the expense of the actual on-field product.

Lurker Laura

Agree with this. “Oh, our FO is so smart.” Bleh. The service time issue, I get. But Super Two is stupid, primary because, as Patrick pointed out above, nobody actually knows when it is.

Lurker Laura

The bad pitching has me depressed, so bring him up already.

ParisSox

“He also could stand to throw changeups in a competitive environment with minimal downside.”

Applies to the MLB club also.  Wins are good for moral and team building.  Losses are good for draft position.  

Reindeer Games

The time for caring about a better draft slot is over. Wins are valuable this season because they aid in gaining free agent help.

Otter

I don’t think Machado* is going to care if the Sox win 67 instead of 66 games this year because they brought Kopech up in late April instead of late May.

*Who isn’t signing with the Sox anyway.

Reindeer Games

He isn’t going to sign with them, but acting like it’s the matter of 1 win is not good. It might be harder for a team with 64 wins to sign a guy a tier down than a team with 70 wins. Which is the point of the “wins don’t matter” crowd

As Cirensica

The Sox should make priority one to sign Machado or Arenado. 2020 and 2021 free agents list is seriously underwhelming. If Hahn wants to compete in 2020 or 2021 he better don’t count on signing free agents on those years. The free agent cream is in 2019. Hahn cannot miss that one.

Otter

Kopech over four starts might be worth one win over [pick your bad starter].

karkovice squad

Fulmer and Shields have been about replacement level by RA9WAR. Gonzalez has cost the team about a win.

So there’s a case Kopech could be a 2-win swing or more if it’s Gonzalez’s spot.

Otter

This seems like a very unpopular opinion here, but I’m okay, right now, letting Kopech pitching in AAA for a little while longer. Kopech has 7 starts and ~35 innings in AAA. He’s looked great. But I’m fine with letting him get to about 50-60 innings (four or five more starts) before calling him up. So if he keeps this up (or even 90% of what he’s done), then that means a call up for either the Texas or Baltimore series (and we’ve cleared the Cubs series).

That would still put him on track to pitch about 90-100 innings in the majors this year (I’m guessing their aim is to get him up to 150 this season).

Of course this doesn’t answer the Super Two question… and if he’s ready in mid-May… probably time to call him up, not only for fan service, but also, as Ken pointed out, for development purposes.

PauliePaulie

Giolito and Rodon may play a large role in any Kopech decision as well.

lil jimmy

For sure. I would like to see Rodon back. A month or two of AAA for Kopech won’t ruin my summer.

PauliePaulie

FYI- Fangraphs rumors have Giants big on Swaggerty. Top 4 is now rumored to be Mize, Swaggerty, Bohm, with Madrigal going to the Sox.
I would be more than fine with that.

lil jimmy

of the three hitters, I prefer Nick. I’m told he’s exciting to watch.

Josh Nelson

Next draft report will be about Nick Madrigal that will include video from this weekend and action against Oregon.

lil jimmy

Can you flip the video so he’s batting left handed?

Lurker Laura

Nick Madrigal is a good name.

asinwreck

He’d better have a good singing voice with that name.

Hatchetman

Gillaspie dropped from 40-man for whatever reason. Maybe Kopech?

Greg Nix

Good god, that… that’s Donn Roach’s music!

theSKOT

I was looking at the Knights’ schedule to see when they would be in Toldeo (as close as they get to me.) They play here in mid-May. They are playing Tuesday – Thursday. The Wednesday and Thursday games start at 10:35am.

Why do they start baseball games that early? I was really hoping to get to see Kopech, but I probably can’t make a mid-morning game.

Josh Nelson

I’ve been told because area schools schedule field trips to those games. I was confused on why some teams do that, but I think only Winston-Salem and Kannapolis schedule home games that early during the week.

Lurker Laura

My field trips were never this good.

Gutteridge70

I would like to see what Rodon looks like when he returns before a decision is made regarding Kopech promotion date.

mikeyb

Is Rodon even eligible to come off the DL any time soon? I’m pretty sure he’s able to come back basically right around the rough Super Two deadline. I’d sure hope they wouldn’t keep pushing Kopech back much longer than that.

As Cirensica

Yup. I think the best scenario is July. Rodon also needs to make a couple or more starts in the Minors prior coming back

Greg Nix

Rodon is eligible to come off the DL May 28th. He’s throwing in Extended Spring Training right now.

karkovice squad

Why? The Sox have filler in more than 1 rotation spot right now.

Anohito

Watching Acuna already living up to the hype and tearing things up makes me wish that we’ll see that even if it’s unrealistic. Like imagine if Kopech comes up and immediately spins a dominant gem. That’s the dream…

PauliePaulie

Todd Cunningham?

Anohito

Congratulations Dane Dunning!

L2R

I don’t see this as an option for management. They threw wins out the window this year and are following a plan. I expect their view on this is purely from a financial standpoint. If they were fans, it might be different. We can hope that when he does arrive, others will accompany him and wins will start to occur. Hoping that by August, this all seems like a bad dream.

PauliePaulie

MiLB updated their draft prospect rankings. Expanded to 100.

lil jimmy

About f’n time!