I’m not sure if I can recall a player who has been anticipated as much as Gregory Polanco, at least for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I also don’t know if I can recall a Super Two debate as big as the one currently taking place with Polanco. Then again, I didn’t cover guys like Wil Myers (June 18th debut), Mike Trout (July 8th debut), Stephen Strasburg (June 8th debut), or other impact prospects over the last few years who were called up to avoid Super Two status.
The Pirates have the perfect storm this year. They are coming off a contending season. Their team is struggling, and the offense has been horrible. One of the big weaknesses is right field. Meanwhile, they have a right field prospect who is showing no weaknesses in Triple-A, and who is only being held back for Super Two reasons. Then there’s the fact that the Pirates are still somewhat fresh off their losing streak. So they’re still going to be treated like the poorly managed team over that 20 year period, while ignoring how the current group has taken massive strides with this team. To put it in perspective, they inherited one of the worst teams in baseball and one of the worst farm systems. Now we’re talking about how the Pirates need to call up the best performing prospect in baseball, because they’re expected to be contenders.
Tonight, Jim Bowden of ESPN and XM Radio was leading the charge for Polanco to come up immediately. The comments were on his radio show, and passed along by Rob Biertempfel. The first one looks at whether Polanco deserves to be in the majors.
Excellent point by @JimBowdenESPNxm: "Doesn't Polanco earn the right to be Super 2? The game deserves to see the best players."
— RobBiertempfel (@RobBiertempfel) May 19, 2014
To the first comment, technically, Polanco hasn’t earned the right to be a Super Two player. There’s nothing in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that says you must make a player Super Two eligible if he is performing at a certain pace.
If you’re asking whether Polanco should be up right now, in a perfect world, then I’d say yes. If you’re asking if Polanco is currently one of the best 25 players for the Pirates, I’d also say yes. But this issue goes beyond those two qualifications. It’s about the bigger picture, which is where Bowden’s second line comes into play.
Bowden says that the game deserves to see the best players. I really don’t know what this means, but it basically says that the Pirates owe it to the game to call up Polanco, regardless of the price. The Pirates don’t owe anything to the game. The reason they can’t just call up Polanco with total disregard for Super Two status is because the game isn’t fair. You’ve got certain teams who can spend $150-200 M or more. Then you’ve got several more teams who can spend over $100 M. Then you’ve got teams like the Pirates, who would max out at around $90-100 M.
The Pirates are at a financial disadvantage in baseball, due to the uneven financial playing field. Big market teams can burn $15 M on top of home plate, and it wouldn’t impact their chances of success. A small market team like the Pirates has to be financially responsible. They can’t just throw $15 M away on six weeks of a rookie — which is now down to three weeks, making the continued Super Two argument even more ridiculous. That $15 M means a lot more to the Pirates than it does to the Yankees or Red Sox, who don’t have to worry about this kind of situation.
If baseball had a level playing field, and it was common to bring up impact prospects prior to the Super Two deadline, then the Pirates might owe the game something. The game is unfair, and the unbalanced financial playing field is the primary reason why the Pirates — and almost every other team at one point or another — hold players back for Super Two purposes. It’s for these reasons that the Pirates owe nothing to the game.
Going back to Polanco’s rights, any rights that a player has are negotiated by the union and the owners in the CBA. That’s the same CBA that restricted draft and international spending, taking away a huge advantage for small market teams like the Pirates. It’s the CBA that made it harder to get extra draft picks with qualifying offers, and made a qualifying offer almost cost prohibitive for certain teams. The same CBA agrees that baseball has an uneven playing field, and offers up the solution that one extra draft pick for small market teams after the first or second round will help bridge the gap.
You kind of feel bad for Polanco in this situation. He should be in the majors right now. But I don’t blame the Pirates. They’re just playing the game. It’s the same game that many other teams have played in the past. MLB could try to make a change to prevent this type of situation from happening with Polanco or players like him. But if they’re going to make the game fair for Polanco, they need to make the game fair for small market teams. Otherwise it’s just another move to hurt small markets.
And speaking of small markets and big markets, let’s go back to another comment by Bowden, this time offering up a random comparable to the Yankees.
One more from @JimBowdenESPNxm: "Yankees wouldn't be letting Polanco sit in minor leagues, because they're all about winning, every day."
— RobBiertempfel (@RobBiertempfel) May 19, 2014
I agree that Polanco would be in the majors with the Yankees. Actually, if he was with the Yankees, he might have been traded a year or two ago. But let’s say he is with the Yankees. If that’s the case, then there’s no doubt that he’d be in the majors, because the Yankees don’t have to worry about Super Two status. Once again, $15 M is just a drop in the bucket to them.
Let’s also recall the previous plans for Polanco from Bowden. First, we go back to last year, where Bowden suggested that the Pirates should trade Polanco, along with Nick Kingham and Jordy Mercer, in exchange for Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez. That’s not the first time Bowden suggested trading Polanco. Prior to the 2013 season, he said the Pirates should deal Polanco and Alen Hanson to the Padres for Chase Headley, who was only under control for two more years.
So let’s recap. Call up a guy for three weeks, which would result in a raise of $10-15 M over the long run? Multiple trade offers of a highly ranked prospect in exchange for veteran players who have 2-3 years remaining on their contracts, and who are making big money?
These are big market moves. These are moves that the Yankees would make, because the Yankees don’t need to worry about Super Two costs, or prospects. That’s the flaw with Bowden’s analysis that Polanco should be up. He’s only looking at this from a big market view, and not considering the long-term impacts for this small market team. Big market teams can live in the present, and let their money take care of any issues in the future. Small market teams need to look to the future with their plans, since they don’t have the same money to throw around.
It’s not just Bowden. Anyone arguing for Polanco to be up while only focusing on the impact this year is taking a big market view at the situation. You can’t just focus on the present and totally disregard the impact in the future. Yes, Polanco deserves to be up right now in a fair league. But the league isn’t fair. Not to Polanco, and not to small market teams like the Pirates.
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.