SOUTH HILLS – Pirates GM Neal Huntington maintains Super 2 status is not a “driving factor” in Gregory Polanco still renting in Triple-A while the Pirates are struggling offensively at the MLB level. The GM to openly say they are holding a prospect back because they don’t want to potentially pay him millions of more dollars during future arbitration years will be the first. We understand the game and it makes financial sense … though the competitive sense of it can be debated.
Still, as many pound the table for Polanco (perhaps even some coaches inside the Pirates’ clubhouse) I wonder who is actually really benefiting by holding Polanco back?
Polanco is at least ready to be a league-average outfielder if not more. Listed below is what he’s done through 136 game above A-ball since being promoted to Double-A last summer (I included his time in the competitive Dominican winter league)
He looks ready on paper.
His 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame looked ready in person. I saw him in spring training double off a Rick Porcello changeup in a fastball count. The is a precious and supremely talented individual.
We’re beyond the most important service-time related issue which is how long the club has control over Polanco. If called up today, 2014 would not count as a full year of service for Polanco meaning he’s under club control through 2020 whether he’s called up today or Sept. 12.
So who is benefiting by holding Polanco back?
*It’s not Polanco, who looks ready for another challenge and to begin punch in his service-time timecard.
*It’s not Clint Hurdle and his staff, who are in need of more run production.
*It’s not the Pirates’ executives who do not have their best 25 on the 25-man roster at the moment.
*It’s not the Pirates, sans Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, because they become a better team with Polanco’s arrival.
*Fans certainly don’t benefit.
*You can argue Bob Nutting benefits. It could be eight figures in savings but that’s assuming Polanco blossoms into a star and remains healthy. But, say, the Pirates miss the playoffs by a game, or two, or three in 2014, what is the actual cost in not having Polanco with the club now if he’s ready to make an impact? The Rays nearly cost themselves a playoff berth a year ago by not promoting Wil Myers more quickly.
In short, no one is really benefiting.
Baseball is the only major sport where the best players don’t break training camp with a major league club. Heck, teenagers start seasons with the NBA. The NFL forces rookie quarterbacks into the fray. Former GM Jim Duquette told Rob Biertempfel that too many teams are worried about Super 2.
“In my opinion, too many organizations are worried about the Super 2 status,” said Jim Duquette, a former GM and current MLB Network Radio analyst. “Winning is too important to be overly concerned about that service-time issue. If the player is ready and is better than the major league alternatives, then he should be brought up as soon as he’s ready.”
I’m sure many of you are familiar with Super 2 status but here is the official criteria from MLPBA:
With young players undervalued and owners enjoying a much greater share of revenue, perhaps players should really fight for greater access to a four year of arbitration in the next CBA. Perhaps it should be the top 22 percent, rather the top 50 percent that are eligible for a fourth year of arbitration. So if you want want to compete and want your best 25 up, teams will have to make earlier decisions on impact talent.
But this is the rule that we have today.
Huntington has said since the spring the Pirates want Polanco up not when he’s ready just to survive at the major league level but thrive. That makes sense. Why burn service time on a player who’s not ready to impact? It’s a position he maintained Sunday in speaking with reporters. But if you (you being Polanco) are batting .400 with plate discipline, power and speed at Triple-A isn’t Polanco ready to do more than survive?
“It’s not a driving factor for us,” Huntington said of Super 2 recently. “We’ve worn (that criticism) every year with a guy in Triple-A who’s doing well. We were holding Pedro Alvarez back. We were holding Starling Marte back. We were holding Andrew McCutchen back. I would argue that the guys who have come up with significant Triple-A experience and hit the ground running have had fewer pitfalls than the guys who, as I look back on now, I feel we’ve rushed.”
It’s true you don’t want to rush a prospect. It should also be true prospects determine their own timetables. And the difference between Polanco’s case and the McCutchen and Alvarez and Marte situations is a critical one: The Pirates were in developmental mode then. They are designed to compete today.