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How the Polanco narrative died a gory death

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media


If you missed WPXI-TV’s Subway Final Word late last night, here are Mark Madden, Alan Robinson and I discussing — what else? — Gregory Polanco ‘n at:

But for my real final word on this, I’ll use this blog for these three thoughts on the topic now that a lot of stuff has crystallized and Polanco is soon to arrive:

1. The Pirates never, ever would have — nor should have — brought up Polanco in April, money notwithstanding. That’s because a player missing 30 days or more of major-league service time does not get credit for a full year. Which also means he needs to go six years plus five months to get to free agency.

In other words, by keeping him down a month, you get an extra full year before he can declare free agency.

This is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. It’s choosing between one month at the beginning of a career and a full year in the prime. And again, I stress, it’s independent of the Super-2 discussion, which is entirely about money.

2. Being that the Pirates never, ever would have — nor should have — brought up Polanco in April, all that mattered to the current team was how they’d navigate May in right field.

Well, then. Below are all the National League’s right fielders for May:

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 3.31.36 PM

You’ll notice Josh Harrison is all the way up at sixth, and that’s not counting his home run last night in L.A. because that was June 1. Also, Jose Tabata had a decent May at .288. You’ll find that both were at least comparable with Marlon Byrd, the player that some people insanely wish the Pirates had signed to a two-year contract to keep someone’s seat warm for a couple months. Not that they can or should be compared, given that you’d never, you know, sign someone for two years to play two months.

In the broader sense, the Pirates collectively had a very good offensive May …

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 3.32.19 PM

So basically, what the Pirates needed to have happen, in order to do the smart thing and preserve a full year of pre-free agency and not spend $15 million or so on two months for a player … all of it did happen. All of it came up completely roses. Because their right fielders batted well above average in May. That’s it. Nothing else to it.

3. Now, I can hear the anti-Nutting machine cranking as I type, desperately seeking a way to keep the narrative alive. And the most obvious vehicle is, ‘Ah, who cares about that extra year before free agency? He should have been up in April, too!’

Apologies in advance for the bluntness here, but no matter how you feel about Super-2, that would have been outright idiotic. On a bunch of levels.

I don’t believe for one second that Polanco needed to stay down this long for any reason other than Super-2. To shout it out loud for the millionth time: He’s in Indy right now entirely because of the money. But I also believe there was merit to starting a player at Triple-A when he had only 286 plate appearances at Double-A to his credit. And history will support that powerfully, and it won’t have anything to do with free agency or Super-2. It will have had to do what’s best for the prospect. Check the career paths of some of the game’s greatest prospects, and you’ll find very, very, very few that reach the majors without 500 plate appearances at the top two levels of minors.

Should Polanco have been made an exception?

Here was FanGraphs before this season:

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 3.54.47 PM

Here was Baseball America before this season:

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 4.04.41 PM

You could look up as many of those as you’d like. Or you could take my simple word for it that a scout in Sarasota told me it would be ‘criminal’ for the Pirates to fill a team need by having Polanco come up right away, given how great a player he can become.

Bottom line: April was never in play for Polanco. Only May was. And May went just fine in right field.

Case closed. Narrative over.

Now bring the kid up already!

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Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.

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