Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Here's Why Polanco is Not in Pittsburgh Yet

RF Travis Snider is hitting .211 with a 623 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Platoon mate RF Jose Tabata is hitting .247 with a 605 OPS.  Every other ball seems to be a grounder to shortstop.
In Triple A Indianapolis, uber-prospect RF Gregory Polanco is hitting .395 with a 1057 OPS.  He has power (4 HR) and speed (7 SB), two things that Tabata is not showing and one thing that Snider (the speed) does not have.  By all accounts, he would be an upgrade over these two.  The added bonus is that he has no platoon splits (979 OPS v. LHP, 1092 OPS v. RHP).  So why isn't he up in Pittsburgh yet?
Let's take a look at some of the reasons, of varying degrees of legitimacy, why Polanco is not in Pittsburgh:
A spot would need to be cleared on the 25-man roster.  I find it hard to believe the Pirates would carry five outfielders, especially without the need for a platoon partner for Polanco, so that means that one of either Tabata or Snider would have to go.  I know what most of you are saying -- "OK.  Don't let the door hit your rear end on the way out," but it's not that easy.  The Pirates do not have options remaining on either Tabata or Snider, so they would have to Designate For Assignment (DFA) one of them.  If one of them were claimed during this 10-day waiver period, the Pirates would lose that player for nothing.
To the Pirates, that is a terrible offense.  They like to squeeze every last bit of value out of a player, so you can be assured that Neal Huntington is feverishly working the phones trying to trade one of them, even if it is for a low-level reliever.  A trade could be worked out during the 10-day DFA window, but those are not as common.  Because of Jose Tabata's long-term guaranteed contract ($3.1M in 2014, $4.1M in 2015, $4.6M in 2016) he seems very unlikely to be traded unless the Pirates ate a bunch of that money.  That means Snider and his $1.2M in 2014 is the better candidate.  Snider has two more years of control after this, but a team could non-tender him at the end of 2014 and not cost themselves any additional money.  There are plenty of teams out there with awful outfielders that might be interested in a flyer on Snider or Tabata.
He hasn't experienced any adversity yet.  This one always irks me, but the reasoning is that the Pirates need to see how a player responds to a rough patch.  They would rather see him work through a 1 for 32 stretch in Indy than in Pittsburgh against the best pitchers in the world.  This answer is part of the mythological "player checklist" that every team says a player has to complete before getting promoted.
The Pirates want to avoid the Super 2 Deadline.  And now we come to our portion of the program that really matters.  Essentially, if a player gets into the top 17% of service time for players in his service time class between 2 years and 3 years of service, he gets to go to arbitration four times instead of three.  This can mean an additional cost of $10-$15M of salary for a team over that time period.
This is a real, tangible thing for a team.  Not just the Pirates, either.  Many teams are wary of their top prospects getting to Super 2 status.  The rough threshold to promote is with 130 days left in the season (this year there are 181 days).  That outer threshold is around May 21st.  However, most years the threshold falls into the 118-125 range, so allow for a couple of extra weeks to be safe.  That puts the date around June 3rd.
It will be interesting to see how many top prospects around the league magically "complete their checklists" and are ready to be promoted in early to mid-June.  It's amazing how many of the top guys are always ready around the same time of the year.
When Polanco does get promoted, he can't be expected to be a miracle worker or savior.  Just because he's ripping the cover off the ball in Triple A does not mean that will translate to the Majors.  The class of competition is dramatically better.  I do think he will be an improvement over what the Pirates have in RF now, but where I expect the greatest improvement to occur is in the leadoff spot.
Polanco has greater plate discipline than Starling Marte or any of the other players the Pirates have penciled in to the spot so far this year.  Right now, the aggregate leadoff hitters are triple slashing .222 BA/.290 OBP/.310 SLG (600 OPS) with 1 HR and 7 SB's.  Polanco, even if he struggles out of the gate, should be able to exceed that very low bar that has been set.
Gregory Polanco will get here, probably within the next month, so be patient.  Once he gets here, he's not going anywhere for a long time.

No comments:

Post a Comment