All it took were three losses to the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend and panic set in with some members of the Pirates' fans base. They want prize outfield prospect Gregory Polanco recalled from Indianapolis and they want it done immediately. And if it’s not done, well, that can only mean owner Bob Nutting is too cheap to authorize the move.
This is more nonsense from people who make Nutting their favorite punching bag whether he deserves it or not.
There are sound reasons -- business and baseball -- why Polanco has not joined the Pirates and none of them has to do with the team being cheap.
From a business standpoint, it would be gross stupidity to recall Polanco in mid-April. Such a promotion would give him Super 2 status, which means he would have four years of arbitration instead of the normal three. Such a move could cost the Pirates $15 million to $20 million.
Some might call that being cheap. It’s not. It's being fiscally prudent. Such fiscal prudence is commonly practiced by MLB teams. It is more the rule than the exception that top prospects are not recalled until around the second week of June in order to avoid Super 2 status.
Neil Walker, for example, is a Super 2. In his first two years of arbitration eligibility, he has earned $3.3 million and $5.75 million. He stands to make around $8 million in 2015 and possibly $10 million in 2016. As a Super 2, he’ll earn around $27 million in arbitration. If he were not, he'd make around $17 million.
With salary escalation, rapidly increasing revenues and the wide gulf between the upsides of Walker and Polanco, there’s reason to believe Polanco could be in line for $15 million to $20 million in 2019, his fourth year of arbitration eligibility, if he were a Super 2.
Part of being a fan of a team is understanding that team's business parameters. It means not yelling "cheap" every time a team fails to make a move. Fifteen million dollars is a lot of money to the Pirates. To willingly take on that amount is the height of foolishness and not a case of having a cheap owner.
From a baseball standpoint, Polanco has done little to merit a promotion. He was in the midst of an outstanding season at high Class A Bradenton last year when he was promoted to Class AA Altoona. He fared well there, but hardly exceptional. His batting line was: .263/.354/.407 -- .762. He hit six home runs in 243 at-bats. In a late season promotion to Class AAA Indianapolis, he was 2-for-9, both singles.
There was nothing in his 2013 performance that would indicate Polanco belonged in MLB in April 2014. Nor did a strong spring training, where numbers can be meaningless, do anything to merit him a stall in the Pirates' clubhouse. He is off to a torrid start at Indianapolis this season: .465/.511/.744 -- 1.255. But what exactly do 43 at-bats prove?
Here are the first-season numbers for some of the Pirates' best outfield prospects over the past 40 years. All were called up in midseason:
Dave Parker: .288/.303/.453 -- .761
Barry Bonds: .233/.330/.416 -- .746
Andrew McCutchen: .286/.365/.471 -- .836
Starling Marte: .257/.365/.471 -- .737
Of that group, McCutchen had the most success. The fact he had 838 Class AAA at-bats before debuting might have something to do with that success. Marte had 388, Parker 309 and Bonds 158. Thus far, Polanco has 52. Parker and Bonds, two supremely gifted players, did not excel in their first season and they had more Class AAA experience than Polanco has today.
One last point: Where is Polanco going to play?
Travis Snider is doing quite well in right field for the Pirates. He hit his third home run of the season last night against Cincinnati. Polanco has two in Class AAA. Snider has an .853 OPS. How do you bench a guy with an .853 OPS?
Or do those demanding Polanco’s recall want to bench McCutchen or Marte?
Gregory Polanco’s day will come. It won’t be and shouldn’t be in April 2014.