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Super 2 is not so super


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)

PA: 585

AVG: .311

OBP: .403

SLG: .482

HR:  15

SB: 25

CS: 12

R: 84

RBI: 94

BB/K: 77/89


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:

 A player can be classified as a “Super Two” and be eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service. A player with at least two but less than three years of Major League service shall be eligible for salary arbitration if he has accumulated at least 86 days of service during the immediately preceding season and he ranks in the top 22 percent (increased from 17 percent in previous agreements) in total service in the class of Players who have at least two but less than three years of Major League service, however accumulated, but with at least 86 days of service accumulated during the immediately preceding season.

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.

– TS



  1. NMR says:

    Less Duquette, more Hart. ;)

    Super 2 is similar to the Qualifying Offer in that people make a way bigger deal out of it than it actually ends up mattering. We’re talking about a handful of prospects that are held back each year, while the majority end up benefiting from an additional year of arbitration.

    The player certainly isn’t hurt by it, and the team only ends up being hurt by it if the player defies all odds and ends up immediately being a superstar.

    This is one of those rules that is more of an annoyance than actual factor in the grand scheme of major league baseball and the absolute worst thing that can happen is for the fourth year of arbitration to become permanent for all players.

  2. Jim S. says:

    Bob Nutting always benefits. Even if you look at something from every conceivable angle and conclude that he doesn’t benefit … he still benefits. He’s evil, and devious, and he always benefits. He is putting that $15 million in his pocket as we speak. He isn’t even buying ski lifts with it this time. He’s putting it right into that big wall safe behind his desk.

    Just wanted to get that out of the way. :-)

  3. Nate83 says:

    Well it’s a factor in this case if it is indeed keeping the Pirates from bringing him up and using him for the next 50 games. I’m still not convinced they won’t say screw it and bring him up. It would have to be in the next 2 weeks I would think. Anything after that makes less and less sense. Spending 5,10, 15 million for 15 games of a player just wouldn’t make any sense. If you wait that long you should just wait until the deadline to pass to save the money.

    If they don’t bring him up until the end of June I may just take a week off from the blog. It will be a difficult couple of days of negative comments. Some of which will have points well made and others of which will just be crazy ranting like Jim’s angst towards Grienke :)

  4. Jim S. says:

    Nate, Zack forgave me. It’s time you did likewise.

  5. NMR says:

    The Hills of West Virginia are blooming with dollar bills this spring!

  6. Nate83 says:

    I actually only bring it up because Jandy thinks you are so nice and I do as well. It’s the only time I saw you get really passionate about something to the point that I could tell you where getting a little frustrated (which we all do) with defending your opinion. I definitely wasn’t comparing you with any of the post I would actually consider crazy ranting. You are one of the most level headed, open minded people on this blog.

  7. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, Nate. I was just kidding. I thought your Greinke comment was funny.

  8. Andrew says:

    I have a hard time believing that in a sport that is the leader in analytic based valuations that a large number of teams are making dumb decisions in holding back top prospects in order to avoid Super Two status. Take the list of hitters that Hidden gave yesterday when discussing the un-importance of AAA at bats, half of those hitters did not perform at 4.0 WAR/600 PAs in their first 100-120 MLB PAs. Polanco is not some savior.

    Super Two is a by-product of the MLB labor structure, and actually having a strong players union, I think Garret Jones and Michael McKenry are better served by getting to arbitration a year early. Certain player do benefit, that is my contrarian take.

  9. NMR says:

    Thank you!!

  10. Nate83 says:

    +++ Andrew (blog saber expert)

    Shocking that rookies don’t come in and dominate. He would help the team but right field has not been the problem just like it wasn’t the problem for the Dodgers last year. Puig gets way to much credit for that turn around. So many players underperformed early in the season for them.

  11. Let’s not even say the Pirates miss the playoffs by or 2 or 3 games. Lets’ say they fall out of contention early and miss their ticket sale estimates by 1/4 of a million. That is almost $5 million in lost revenue. Then you have to ask, can the Pirates take a significant step backwards and still hike ticket prices again next season? I’m thinking no. So there goes couple more million down the drain too. Now, I’m not suggesting that Polanco could reverse a bad year for the team all by himself. But the cost of opportunity loss is fairly great for this organization, and Polanco should help this team and might stem those losses. The point is Polanco can bring real value to this organization. I’m not saying it is a dollar for dollar value of his Super 2 costs, but it is something. And a substantial portion of those “Super 2″ savings could be eroding right before the Front Office’s eyes.

  12. NMR says:

    Can Gregory fix Pittsburgh’s crumbling bridges and save the August Wilson Center from financial insolvency while he’s at it?

  13. Nate83 says:

    If they fall out of contention before he is brought up they will fall out of contention even if he is called up right now. It will just be one or two games later. No matter how you cut this cake it still ends up with him adding probably less then 1 win over the 45 games he isn’t playing. He effects ticket sales very little.

  14. NMR says:

    *Groupon joke*

  15. dcpinpgh says:

    I believe Super Two benefits the players that are already in the union. If Gregory Polanco came up now(then joins the union), one of the veteran Right Fields would be off the team. Not saying its logical, but that’s why their is a rookie salary cap in football(the older players then get a bigger share).

  16. Ghost says:

    I think the spark Puig provided the Dodgers last year was very real. Just as the one Bryce Harper provided the Nats the year before. But in both those cases, the teams those players joined were very talented and really only lacking just that, a spark. The 2014 Pirates, meanwhile, are harder for me to figure out. How much better would the offense be over the course of the year if it added Polanco (and he performs as we hope)? More importantly, how will our pitching shake out?

    If you think we have enough bullets once we add Polanco, then don’t hesitate — get him up here. If you’re not really sure, or even doubtful, then save that bullet for the future.

  17. Steelkings says:


    Just like a video game, when you master a level, you move up to the next. Grand Prix is hitting (.400).

    Struggle when he gets to the majors? Whats your point? GP is going to lace up his cleats and put them in right field, replacing two guys who have been struggling for years. Will GP struggle Jose Tabata .262 bad? Is someone insinuating he will struggle Travis Snider .227 bad?

    Its about the money. Its always about the money.

  18. Botherhood of the Redus says:

    Love this analogy….I’m not suggesting that the Pirates are anywhere near the Dodgers were in terms of ceiling…let’s be honest, the Dodgers were and are redic with what they are packing between the rotation and 1 through 8, but it just shows how timing is more important than mean or projection – THIS IS WHERE A MANAGER MAKES HIS MONEY

  19. Botherhood of the Redus says:

    I say if Polanco shows up in the next two weeks, it will be the result of Marte coming up lame and hitting the DL

  20. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting take, Andrew.

    The MLBPA should be pushing for a far greater percentage of Super 2-eligible players. 22 percent seems pretty low in an era where owners are taking a greater share of revenues and young players are undervalued. 50 or 60 percent would make things more interesting … it would compel teams to promote players earlier if they are indeed ready or stash them for the entire season.

  21. Andrew says:


    I think the next CBA will be interesting, as you have covered (probably the first writer I have seen to do so) the player’s share of revenue is declining and below other leagues.

    I agree Super Two in the case of Myers, Polanco, Tavares is irrational for all the reasons you list, I am just willing to accept that when you have two strong groups meeting in labor negotiations you end up with odd outcomes. I would think the MLBPA would want a larger number of players covered but the owners wouldn’t, but lets hope they play some baseball today, we discussed enough economics in the off-season.

  22. Nate83 says:

    The dodger ironically have 4 “all-star” outfielders that are all playing below expectations. Only Puig is batting over .250 and he is at .265. They have a young kid being blocked and will need to trade somebody. Most likely Crawford or Ethier will be moved.

  23. Andrew says:

    Hidden, I think the best illustration of your point would be the Rays and Myers last year you could easily make the case that had Myers come up sooner the Rays would have avoided the one game playoff prior to the wildcard playoff and it would have improved their chances in the ALDS.

    I just have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of Polanco being a 2 win improvement over a six week period, the most optimistic projections can get you to a win.

  24. Nate83 says:

    Did the Rays finish only a game or two behind the Red Sox last year?

  25. Andrew, I don’t disagree that the absolute top end Polanco could provide in WAR or win values would be 2. But win values and on the field wins aren’t the same the thing and rarely equal up. I think the Pirates have a better chance of outperforming their production by upgrading the lineup with a player that has Polanco’s tool set. Andrew McCutchen is likely to put up around 2 WAR over the next 45 games too, but I think we would all agree that subtracting him from this lineup would likely hurt them much more than that in the win/loss column.

  26. NMR says:

    I need baseball! Even stinky, disappointing baseball.

  27. Jim S. says:


    I thought the whole point of WAR was to approximate the precise value of a player, in terms of wins and losses, vs. a replacement level guy. By that definition, even though it is just an estimate, I believe the cost of Cutch being replaced by an ordinary player would have to be estimated at his WAR for that time period.

  28. Jim S. says:

    Yes, with a mere wave of his hand.

  29. chethejet1 says:

    He was the best Rf in spring training. But the Pirates no matter what many think of Nutting, operate to put a good team on the field and make money. Polanco will be here in mid June and will benefit from the experience and be in a position to really help the team for 6 years. I’m not 20/20 here but the Pirates passing on Abreau the Cuban first baseman was given little questioning. If the Pirates viewed him as to much risk for 10 million a year, what was the amount? Maybe there were other considerations of signing a player who was being controlled by some very bad people. Or they just thought they had a real shot at Loney. In any event, the growing pains have to be secondary now to talent and paying for it.

  30. NMR says:

    Hey chet, my guess is that it wasn’t the $10m/yr number that scared the Pirates off as much as it was the six year duration of the contract he ended up getting.

    Dude looks impresses, though, doesn’t he?

  31. NMR says:



    {because NOW is not nearly as important as 6 seasons from NOW}

  33. Yes, in theory. But how many teams at the end of the year when you add up the player WAR and the 48 replacement level wins equal the team’s record? Just about every team is going to outperform or under perform their WAR. Simply looking at their WAR from last year the Pirates should have only won 87 games. So whether by luck, or great managing strategy, or some other unknown force, excess wins can be had. And some players seemingly impact their lineups more than their actual production. It is hard to prove as the samples/examples are too few and anecdotal, but I do believe it to be true. The example that comes to mind is Evan Longoria in 2012. He put up 2.5 fWAR in 74 games. The Rays played at a .635 clip with him in the lineup. With him out of the lineup the Rays played at just a .488 clip. No question the team outperformed with him in the lineup and underperformed with him out of the lineup. The same could be said for Puig last year.

  34. Jim S. says:

    I think a lot of teams were pretty close to pulling the trigger on a decent offer for him, but didn’t have the cajones to do it at the last second, and CWS took the gamble.

    Same thing with Tanaka. High risk/high reward on both of those deals, and both seem to be paying off so far. Time will tell.

  35. Jim S. says:

    I agree with you that it can never be exact, Hidden. If the Pirates combined WAR was 87 last year, I’d say that was a pretty good approximation. I think they won more than their #’s overall would say they should have.

    I’m not really a WAR guy, per se. But, I think it is a pretty good attempt to try to put a real value on the total value of a player. From that standpoint, I think it is pretty good. But, I’m with you in that I would never take it as gospel.

  36. Fausto Carmona says:

    So if some of us say the Pirates were being horribly cheap if they bring him up in june, its negativity??….No my friend that is reality. Let me make some points here..First, you have a team that should be competing right now and Polanco would bring a serious boost…He has to be much better than Tabata and Snider, trust me on that…No.2…If you don’t bring him up and just wait until they have the super 2 nonsense out of the way, then what kind of message does it snd to the fanbase?? Its like they are telling you they are committed to winning but only to a point.. they aren’t all in and they should be…Did they honestly think they could get away without spending at least a couple bucks on a firstbaseman?? Or a decent pitcher to replace Burnett??Im sorry but Volquez will rear his ugly head…I have seen that guy start decent and then implode. God bless Serage but this is one he might not be able to fix…

  37. Steelkings says:

    This is the way it works, Jim.

    This year fans are saying he’s a beast and we have him for 6 years!
    After a cold sophomore year fans will say, “Urgh, we got to deal with this dude for 5 more years?”
    In his third year when he turns into Albert Pujols, Fans will be like” 4 more years of greatness, Woo Hoo!”
    After a major injury, fans will say the team is cash strapped because of his over valued contract.
    He will have a above average year mashing 35 HR’s. Oh crap, he’s a free agent in two years!
    Abreau will sign a 6 year contract extension.

  38. Andrew says:

    Gregory Polanco is not some cure-all. To be a two win player over 160 PAs, means he would perform at a 7.5 WAR/600 PAs, I think it is safe to assume that baseball players are not 7.5 WAR players until proven otherwise.

    Team WAR doesn’t have a one to one correlation with actual wins because it is context independent, and context matters for winning games. I do not think it is very sound to credit a player for team’s over performance in high leverage situations.

    I really do not have a strong opinion on the entire Super Two debate, I just think individuals who think Polanco is white knight are bit deluded. The Pirates right now are bad baseball team, I think it is highly possible, but not certain, that Polanco makes them less bad. What will make them good is when line drives start falling in, the starting pitchers start striking batters out, Marte makes more contact, and they get something from the SS position, defense or offense.

  39. Andrew says:

    Abreau’s early returns are something to behold. I do not think that right handed power hitters are best fit for PNC, but of all the moves the Pirates were rumored to be linked to, not getting Abreau might be biggest whiff.

  40. Travis Sawchik says:

    What’s interesting re: Abreu is the subjective crowd might have won the day in many organizations over analytics departments.

    Scouts across the board thought Abreu lacked bat speed to handle premium velocity.

    But the numbers Abreu put up in Cuba were staggering, and some projection systems (Davenport, ZiPs) liked him to translate here as an All-Star.

    It’s early but he looks special, and he looks like a bargain for Chicago.

  41. Andrew, no question Pirates need a lot of things to start to reverse to fix this mess. They need some luck to change. They need several players to pick up their games. By I think the Pirates have a flawed lineup and I think Polanco could make it much less flawed. I don’t view him as a white knight. But I think this season is too important to just let it slip away without taking the gamble that maybe Polanco could make a big impact. I’d rather the FO be proactive in attempting to reverse fortunes than to simply wait it out and hope things will change. $10-$15 million is a fairly big nut for this team to eat, but they did have similar money unspent in their budget going into the season.

  42. NMR says:

    Great point, Travis!

  43. Leo Walter says:

    In hindsight,the biggest whiff was not attempting to re-sign Morneau. But I have to admit,I would have been opposed to that myself.

  44. Andrew says:

    Hidden, fair point, like I said I don’t have a strong opinion either way, I think Polanco is an upgrade, and I certainly won’t miss Tabata running down balls in right, Snider trying to catch with his face and the odyssey that waiting for his power potential has become. I just question how much, though the season is teetering on the point of no return and all and any upgrades are welcome.

  45. Leo Walter says:

    Travis,lets see how Abreu looks after a season or two before we start preparing the HOF bust.

  46. NMR says:

    Give it a month or two…

  47. Travis Sawchik says:

    Doesn’t hurt to pump the breaks … but he looks like a monster

    He does have some swing and miss to work out

  48. Steelkings says:

    Yeah, by then we wont remember how you are wrong

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