Hunter Renfroe and arbitration clocks

Hunter Renfroe just won the PCL Player of the Week award while homering in four consecutive games. Given his quality of play, the Padres’ lack of quality, and the general excitement he’d bring to a pretty boring team, there are already ripples in the media and fan base for the team to call up Renfroe.

It makes sense from an entertainment perspective, but it does not make sense from a competitive standpoint. #FullLuhnow aside, it’s mainly because the Padres will lose money, long-term, if they call up Renfroe prematurely. That’s due to something called “super two status”.

Every year, 22% of Major League players with between two and three years of service time qualify for super two status. This means that these players will not play their “third” season under the minimum wage scale, but will instead go to salary arbitration. While year one of arbitration won’t result in significantly higher pay for the player (think on the scale of only a few million dollars), the player will actually end up going to arbitration four times instead of three. The real comparison is between the league minimum year three salary and the fourth arbitration year, which often approximates market value.

So while the team doesn’t lose a year of possessing the player, they basically do from a value perspective, since they will pay a near-market rate for year six instead of paying league minimum in year three. Chris Archer worked his potential super two status into his contract extension. When he ultimately did qualify for super two status, it resulted in an additional $5.5 million for him. For a team that needs to maximize every dollar, this is an important consideration the Padres need to make.

So how long do the Padres need to wait before calling up Renfroe? That depends on his peer group. If other teams call up a handful of players early in 2016, it pulls that date closer to mid-May. If they don’t, it could push out a safe date deep into June.

Last year, Kole Calhoun was one of the final qualifiers for super two status. He made him MLB debut on May 22nd. Fangraphs recommends waiting 65 service days, based on historical super two cutoff variation. That’s mid-June.

To-date, a handful of guy whom we may expect to stay at the MLB level – if a player is sent down, those days do not count towards their service time calculation – have already been called up: Trevor Story, Aledmys Diaz, Tyler Goeddel, Nomar Mazara, Tyler White, Blake Snell, and Aaron Blair, to name a few. If I had to guess, there will need to be at least a dozen more players called up between now and Renfroe’s promotion in order to give Hunter a realistic chance of staying outside the top 22% of his peer group.

But besides all of that, Renfroe needs to be another cautionary tale about how the Pacific Coast League inflates player statistics. Particularly homeruns.

Here are three of Renfroe’s four homeruns this week. You’ll notice that his homeruns on the 21st and 22nd are absolute moon shots. He looks completely different than anyone currently on the Padres and the ball doesn’t lie:

Hunter Renfroe homerun 04-21

Hunter Renfroe homerun 04/21 – Source Video

Hunter Renfroe homerun 04/22

Hunter Renfroe homerun 04/22 – Source Video

But his first homerun on the twenty-fourth would probably have been a measly flyout in PETCO, perhaps not even making it to the warning track:

Hunter Renfroe homerun 04/24 game one - Source Video

Hunter Renfroe homerun 04/24 game one – Source Video

The other homerun, which you can watch here, would have been close at PETCO. I’d guess that it would not go out, but it’d be pretty close given its proximity to center-field.

Padres fans have been burned in the past by accepting Portland Tucson El Paso numbers at face value. The names Paul McAnulty, Matt Clark, Chad Huffman, and Pete LeForest don’t mean anything to you, despite their ridiculous power numbers at AAA for the Padres.

All I ask is that we contextualize Hunter Renfroe’s statistics while keeping the long-term picture in mind: the Padres need to milk Renfroe for all he’s worth, not use him as a misleading marketing pawn in a lost season. Because calling him up before his numbers translate sufficiently at the MLB level sets him up for failure, while costing the Padres valuable surplus contactual value down the road.

The same principle here applies to other Padres prospects, too, like Manuel Margot, and eventually (and hopefully) Javier Guerra. Until the Padres reach a place where their prospect is actually going to help them reach the postseason in that season, the Padres need to be judicious with every promotion decision.

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