Super Two paranoia hurts teams, players, and fans
The Pittsburgh Pirates are finally calling up top prospect Gregory Polanco, Fox Sports's Ken Rosenthal reported late Monday night. Speculation on Polanco's arrival has been rampant since at least May 10th, when Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Rob Biertempfel wrote the Pirates should have called Polanco up that weekend.
Polanco owned a 1.053 OPS at Triple-A then and hasn't fallen off much, as he owns a .347/.405/.540 line in 274 plate appearances at Indianapolis. Right field has been a morass for the Pirates this year, as their .662 OPS from the position (entering play Monday) ranks 12th in the league. Josh Harrison -- .289/.327/.472 in 150 plate appearances -- has taken a step forward this year, but he is primarily an infielder and has made an adventure out of numerous fly balls in his 182 1/3 innings in the outfield this year. Polanco represents an upgrade either in right field or in left field over a struggling Starling Marte, but the Pirates rightly have little desire to give up on Marte.
The Pirates trailed the Brewers by 6.5 games entering last weekend's series. Had they swept -- Milwaukee's victories in the final two games were both close late -- the Pirates would have pulled within 3.5 games of the division. Instead, they sit 7.5 games out, and according to Rosenthal, the Pirates still aren't keen on bringing up Polanco. According to Rosenthal, Polanco's roster spot is only open because Neil Walker underwent an appendectomy Monday night. As such, expect Harrison at second base and Gregory Polanco to get his first start in right field Tuesday against the Cubs.
It would be easy to rake Neal Huntington and the Pirates over the coals for sacrificing this season for nebulous future value. But unfortunately, Major League Baseball's competitive system makes decisions like what the Pirates have gone through with Polanco, the Astros with George Springer, the Cardinals with Oscar Taveras and others have made. I think the Pirates would improve their chances at a World Series enough to make it worth calling up Polanco in May, or earlier, and allowing him to become a Super Two player. But it's not my money.
The Super Two rule is a problem because the interests of the money run counter to nearly every other possible interest. It runs counter to the interest of Polanco, who has deserved an MLB paycheck since at least Opening Day and possibly earlier. It runs counter to the interests of the Pirates' players and coaches, who want to win as many games as possible. It runs counter to the interest of the fans, who want to see the best teams with the best players. And it runs counter to the competitive interest of most of the rest of the league, with the notable exception of teams like the Brewers who benefit from the easier competition (and now own a 10-3 record against the Pirates on the season).
If the rules allow owners to save money, some will take advantage of it, regardless of its effect on the competitive interests of both the team and the league. Such is a reality of commercialized sports. Fixing the Super Two rule should be a priority come the next revision of the collective bargaining agreement.