Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the top 22 percent of players between two and three years experience get to enter the arbitration process a year earlier than the normal three year start. In doing so, players like Saunders would be able to increase their payroll following a good year instead of sitting at the minimum contract worth close to $490,000 a year.
The Super Two status cutoff date changes every year, and although Saunders made the top 22 percent cut, he barely missed out on qualifying. The calculated time to be Super Two eligible was set at two years and 139 days this year. Saunders misses that cutoff by one day.
So instead of being able to go to arbitration and possibly get a bit more than the $490,000 the Mariners spent on him in the 2012 season, Saunders is locked into one more year of toiling with his major league minimum contract.
As Johns points out, there is no way of knowing what arbitration would've cost the Mariners, but it is very safe to say that he would be getting quite a pay bump. Last year, reliever Shawn Kelley earned Super Two status and bumped his contract up to $600,000 despite missing most of the year recuperating from Tommy John surgery.