The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a horrible start, currently 7.5 games out of first place in the National League Central at 9-14. The Pirates are in the toughest division in the NL, competing against the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds for the division crown. If things don’t change soon, the Pirates could find themselves in a hole too steep to climb out of.
What if I told you the Pirates have a right fielder in Triple-A who could provide immediate help? Seriously, if the Pirates were to promote him, he would likely provide a bigger impact than any trade the team could realistically make without the risk of giving up any great prospects. His name is Gregory Polanco.
The Pirates want to wait until June to promote Polanco to the big leagues to avoid the possibility of him becoming a super-two player, which would make it more expensive to hold on to him several years in the future. Well, here’s the thing: If the Pirates want to compete for the NL Central crown, they need to get the best 25-man roster in the MLB immediately. Being 7.5 games out of first place is bad enough, but it will only continue to increase if the Pirates aren’t fielding the best 25-man roster possible. The Brewers and Cards aren’t going anywhere, folks.
As for what Polanco brings to the table? Well, he’s as close to perfect as a baseball player can be. He hits for average, he has great strike zone discipline, resulting in very few strikeouts, he has elite speed, plays great defense and has rapidly developing power. A left-handed hitter, Polanco can hit both lefties and righties. This man is the real-deal. Prospects aren’t normally viewed as ‘safe’, but Polanco is as safe as they come in terms of success probability.
The Pirates aren’t exactly deploying elite options in right field right now. Jose Tabata is hitting .216/.259/.255 with a 47 wRC+ and Travis Snider is batting .242/.319/.387 with a 104 wRC+. Polanco, in Triple-A of course, is hitting a modest .420/.469/.679 with a 222 wRC+.
People will say the Pirates should continue to make shrewd financial decisions and wait until the last possible second when it comes to promoting prospects to ensure team-control for as long as possible, and I generally would agree. In this case, that is ridiculous. Polanco needs to be promoted now. The Pirates’ offense is sputtering, the pitching has taken a step back and the team needs a spark. Polanco could be that spark. Promoting Polanco wouldn’t just be an obvious upgrade to the offense; he would bring a major upgrade on defense over Tabata and Snider and he would be another threat on the bases.
Instead of having free-swinging Starling Marte leading off, the Pirates could replace him with Polanco and move him lower in the lineup where on-base percentage isn’t as important. Having Polanco and his on-base skills at the top of the lineup would improve the entire top-half of the lineup because he would be on base more often than Marte.
Like I said, in most cases, the Pirates need to be smart. In this case, the Pirates need to quit worrying about five and six years in the future and concern themselves with now. If they are able to sign Polanco to an extension that buys out his arbitration and a few of his free agency years, doesn’t the entire ‘super-two’ idea become moot anyway? The Bucs’ postseason hopes are quickly fading and waiting until June for Polanco seems irresponsible. It may only be April, but it’s not early anymore; especially not in a division where the Pirates will need every possible win to stay in contention.