First Pitch: Why the Pirates Should Wait For Super Two With Gregory Polanco

The Super Two subject is never popular with top prospects. It’s a smart practice to keep a player down for just two months, all to avoid an extra year of arbitration. If the player projects to be a star, then that extra two months could be worth $10-15 M over the long run. Nothing that a top prospect could do in his rookie season would be worth $10-15 M in the long run for two months in the short-term. Putting that in perspective, that’s like paying a guy $30-45 M over a full season.

But fans don’t want to hear about money. The only thing fans care about is winning now. Meanwhile, a General Manager has to balance winning now with the long-term chances of winning. This creates an unfavorable situation where the team doesn’t promote a top prospect for very valid reasons, and it doesn’t go over well with the fan base. I’m not talking specifically about the Pirates here. Every team does this. There are a few examples where a top prospect is called up before Super Two status, but generally that doesn’t happen with small market teams.

Earlier today I wrote about the projected cutoff for Super Two. I also pointed out an estimated date of June 10th to call a prospect up this year and avoid Super Two status. That date would be relevant for Gregory Polanco, who has been off to a hot start with Indianapolis.

There were a few calls for Polanco to come up early, ignoring the Super Two status. Aside from the monetary reasons, I find this kind of strange. If Polanco came up, he’d be replacing Travis Snider in the starting lineup. Currently Snider has been one of the best hitters on the team, with a .766 OPS after tonight’s game (ranking 4th among starters). It’s very early in the season, and we’re dealing with small sample sizes here. Snider had an .800 OPS before going 1-for-4 with a single tonight.

It’s also early for Polanco. He’s off to a great start, and his talent makes you want to believe that his hitting is legit. But right now he only has 34 at-bats. By comparison, Chris Dickerson is hitting great in 26 at-bats, and no one is calling for him to come up. Andrew Lambo, Brent Morel, Robert Andino, Blake Davis, and Chris McGuiness are all guys who entered tonight’s games with an OPS over .900. A lot of people are hitting in Indianapolis. That tells me that the team has had some favorable matchups/stadiums, or a few big games, and the small sample size really highlights this. This isn’t discounting what Polanco has done. It’s just looking at him with a skeptical view, which you kind of have to do when everyone on the team is crushing the ball. Suddenly it doesn’t seem like Polanco is doing something special that is unique to his talent level.

But let’s just say that Polanco is legitimately crushing the ball. Let’s also ignore that Snider is doing well right now, and not the problem with the team offense at the moment. We’ll entertain the idea of calling up Polanco to give the offense a huge boost. Is that really the environment you want to create for a top prospect in his early 20s? Call a guy up to be the savior of the offense when he’s yet to see a single Major League pitch? Let him know that he only has about a week and a half to prove himself before he’s deemed replaceable?

That’s kind of ridiculous, and it’s something that would never happen. But that’s basically what is being said with any “call Polanco up early” campaign. It’s saying that Polanco, a rookie with no MLB experience, is the difference between a bad offense and a good offense. It’s saying that we can dismiss individual players based on not-even two weeks worth of at-bats. Neither of those is a good stance to take.

The truth about the offense right now is that there are players under-performing. However, several of those under-performing players are guys who should be performing. Andrew McCutchen has a .661 OPS. Jordy Mercer has a .403 OPS. Starling Marte isn’t doing horrible, but his .741 OPS isn’t cutting it. At this point if you’d call up Polanco to take over for Travis Snider, you’d be replacing your most productive outfielder.

McCutchen will bounce back (assuming he’s healthy after leaving in the eighth inning tonight). Mercer will do better than this. Marte should do better than this. And the Pirates should give everyone else the proper time for evaluations. This way you can tell if Snider’s success is actually legit, or if Polanco is actually dominating Triple-A, rather than just having a hot week (and it has been just one week in the minors), or being a part of a team that is collectively hitting the ball well.

In the process, you keep Polanco down and avoid Super Two status with him, which is great for the organization in the long-term. That’s not favorable to the “win now at any cost” group. But the irony with that group is that these are the same people who would have had Polanco traded over the previous two seasons, all to get a short-term rental player to provide a marginal in-season upgrade. That’s the thing about “win now at any cost” moves. A few years down the line, the “any cost” part can look very foolish.

Links and Notes

**Over the weekend I’ve been working on adding new writers to the site. I’m still in that process, but we’ll have some new writers starting this week, mostly at the minor league level. Adding new writers is made possible by purchases on the products page of the site. That’s where you can buy our 2014 Prospect Guide, with information on every player in the minor league system. We also now have a Pirates Prospects logo t-shirt available. It’s my goal to keep all of the website content free, while also adding as much content as possible. The more funds received through these products, the more coverage we can add going forward.

**Andrew McCutchen Leaves Game With Discomfort in His Left Ankle

**Super Two and the Impact on Gerrit Cole and Gregory Polanco

**Prospect Watch: Two More Hits For Polanco, Kingham With Another Good Start

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia Tries To Bounce Back From Rough Opener

**Chris Stewart’s Rehab Moved to Indianapolis

**Prospect Highlights: Gregory Polanco’s Speed, Andrew Lambo, Chris Dickerson

**Jeff Locke Activated From the DL, Optioned to Triple-A

**Draft Prospect Watch: Kyle Freeland Strikes Out 15 Again

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://@gwbicster gwbicster

    Patience, grasshopper. He needs to see a few at bats at AAA. Even if he is raking, it’s too much of a difference in money to promote him, with the caveat that if they extend him it won’t matter. I would think it would matter in negotiations anyways, unless they extend him before he comes up, which got the Astros in hot water with Springer.

  • SteveW

    Another issue is that by not letting him get Super 2 status, it gives the Bucs more leverage if they want to try to do a Marte-type extension after a year. If Polanco’s an extra year away from making big money, then he may be more likely to want to do a deal and lock in a big paycheck.

    • lonleylibertarian

      And if he is an idiot he won’t factor in this silliness in his asking price – you guys really think he is stupid I guess

  • emjayinTN

    I cannot see any reason why he needs to get to PNC any earlier than mid-June, and I think that is the intent of NH. Snider is playing well and the “holes” in the lineup that were of great concern to many prior to the season have not materialized. Instead, they have been solid contributors, but the lineup is missing that one guy in the middle who makes it all work. We are getting input from Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, and I think Marte is doing well so far – 5 or 6 Walks already? If he hits a HR or two, that OPS will go up accordingly. Mercer came from nowhere last year to post some strong numbers and earn the job at SS, but he is struggling out of the gate. The Pirates have done well record-wise even though there have been some gaps in consistency that were unexpected, but it is early.

  • sweetleb

    hey can I get a discount on my tickets this year ,since the pirates are not putting the best possible lineup on the field.that being said lets wait 30 games and make the polanco -snider comp. also if they can unload tabata wouldn’t that savings in tabata contract offset any super two cost.

    • leowalter

      Anybody as ill informed as you seem to be should be charged double.

    • https://profiles.google.com/117072260031604417798 PikeBishop65

      Acutally the one team whose fans really should be upset about this sort of thing is the reeking excuse for a Major League team known as the Astros. While putting a steaming pile of dung on the field for three years now, they are deliberately keeping their top prospect, George Springer, in the minors just for financial reasons. Springer, by the way will be almost 26 when he gets called up. With a straight face the Astros are telling fans that Robbie Grossman, LJ Hoes and Alex Pressley are more talented and deserving than Springer.

      • meatygettingsaucy

        How dare they rebuild properly!

        • Kevin_Young

          It’s certainly how you have to do it…but I wish baseball would do
          something about this so guys like Springer aren’t individually punished
          because of a horrible team like the Astros.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    Another thing is that Polanco has potential to be great, he isn’t there yet. We’re not looking at a Griffey type at 19 here or Puig. He’s more like a Cutch still growing into his potential.
    No rush for him.
    By the way I love seeing Grossman and Pressley on the same team getting their opportunity! Good luck guys!!

  • lonleylibertarian

    I really think that you are assuming agents are idiots – when it comes time to talk extension with Polanco his agent will factor in this silliness and be sure his client gets paid accordingly – or no extension.

    I am curious why they have not started having Snider work at first base in anticipation of Polanco arriving in June or whenever.

    • Kevin_Young

      You can’t factor in money that doesn’t exist.

      • lonleylibertarian

        I beg to disagree – if I am polanco’s agent I tell the pirates that the price of signing a long term deal will be based on what would have been paid had my client started 2014 in Pittsburgh – Tim already placed a value on it – not a hard thing to do.

        • Kevin_Young

          And if I’m the Pirates I say no. Your client wasn’t in the major leagues. In what world do you get paid for things that didn’t happen?

          • lonleylibertarian

            Fine,
            Saying no is always an option – seems to be one NH and the FO love..

            No to Trumbo
            No to Abreu
            No to AJ – looks like that may have been good thing right now

            But IF you want to extend him you will need to find a way to pay him fairly – part of that calculation by Polanco’s agent will include the decision to keep him down NOT because he was not one of the best 25 – but for silly games that distract from being focused on winning.

            The talk around Springer – and others is making it clear that agents – and players are not going to “roll over” on this silliness any longer.

            I am a fan – I want to see my team compete and play well and win. I find it very hard to swallow the
            “But if we keep Polanco in Indy until mid-june we get an additional year of control – hell he could blow out a knee before then – who knows. LET’S PUT THE BEST TEAM ON THE FIELD AND WIN NOW!

            Tomorrow is for the Cubs – and LOSERS!

  • Douglas Byrd

    The problem with pure WAR calculations is that we don’t know how much a specific win is worth. What if we finish one win away from the playoffs etc? I think, besides the obvious need to wait in order to secure a sixth year of control, you field the best team. I would hold him back if he wasn’t ready: he’s ready.