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
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