All-Star Game notebook: Handling of prospects -- like Polanco -- on players association radar

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Major League Baseball Players Association is keeping tabs on instances in which service time considerations might affect when a top prospect, such as Gregory Polanco, reaches the major leagues, executive director Tony Clark said Tuesday.

“We are concerned any time it appears that players’ rights are being trampled on, are being challenged, are being set aside,” Clark said in a meeting with the Baseball Writers Association of America. “In a situation where it appears that that may have happened, we are going to pay attention.”

Clark spoke in response to a question about Polanco and Houston Astros outfielder George Springer. Polanco declined a long-term contract offer in spring training, as did Springer last fall, according to reports. Both began the season in the minors.

Had either player signed an extension, the contract would have removed concerns that calling up the player too early would make them eligible for a fourth year of arbitration as a Super Two player and the team could have promoted them immediately.

“We are hopeful that as each club makes the decisions that they believe are in the best interests of those clubs, that certain considerations aren’t being manipulated along the way,” Clark said.

The Pirates promoted Polanco last month and he hit .260 with a .352 on-base percentage in his first 32 games. General manager Neal Huntington has said the timeline had nothing to do with arbitration and that the Pirates wanted Polanco to polish his game. Polanco’s early play has verified that to some degree: He is 4 for 30 against left-handers and has shown inexperience while adjusting to right field.

The Astros called up Springer in April. Had either one agreed to terms, it would have represented another example of teams striving for cost certainty by locking up young players with little or no major league experience. Springer’s teammate, Jon Singleton, took that route. The player gets security, but possibly forgoes an exponential payout when he reaches arbitration or free agency.

“What we try to do is make sure that every player understands every moving piece that’s involved in whatever decision he is going to make,” Clark said regarding advising players in those situations.

Smokeless tobacco talk

Clark and MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who also addressed the BBWAA, indicated they wanted a reduction in the use of smokeless tobacco, a topic in discussion after the recent death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. Gwynn had said he believed his tobacco habit caused the cancer that eventually killed him.

“It’ll be something that they’ll discuss at the next collective bargaining,” Selig said. “We had some of the same discussions over the whole steroid issue. This is a matter of health.”

Clark said the union’s position was that the players would have a choice to use tobacco, meaning no outright ban, but hoped further educational efforts would curb its use.

“We believe the numbers suggest that the usage has declined significantly,” Clark said.

Controversial rule will stay

The rule restricting home-plate collisions, dubbed “experimental” when announced in spring training, is not going anywhere, executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre said.

The rule, intended to prevent injuries to catchers and baserunners in collisions at home plate, is full of gray areas and inconsistency. Torre said the rule could be tweaked, as it already was this season after a force play at the plate went against the Pirates.

Bill Brink: and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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