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Andrew McCutchen and Nyjer Morgan: Not the Only Choices

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John Perrotto writes that the Pirates will send Andrew McCutchen back to Indianapolis because of concerns about his service time:

Then you throw in the performance of both players this spring, though that comes with the caveat that numbers compiled in exhibition play carry less weight than the regular season and come within an extremely small sample size.

McCutchen has a .255 batting average, a fine .388 on base percentage and a .436 slugging percentage in 67 plate appearances. Morgan’s numbers are .179/.226/.250 in 62 plate appearances...

However, sometimes the obvious decision in baseball isn’t necessarily so obvious. That is the case in the McCutchen/Morgan debate...

The sooner McCutchen makes his major-league debut is the sooner he begins accruing major-league service time, putting him on the road to free agency after six full seasons. Thus, it makes no sense to burn a year of McCutchen in the majors in what almost surely will be a lost season.

That is why Morgan will be the left fielder on April 6 and McCutchen will be at Indianapolis, even if doesn’t seem like the right move to make at first blush.

If McCutchen's service time was the Pirates' only reason for keeping him in Indianapolis, that would be a perfectly valid basis for their decision. There's no need to sacrifice McCutchen's rights in 2015 just to have a bit more fun in the first two months of what will surely be a dreadful 2009 campaign.

But service time isn't the only reason to keep McCutchen at Indianapolis. Perrotto rightly points out some of the flaws in Spring Training stats, but I'll go further: Spring Training stats mean virtually nothing. What matters most, at this point, is how McCutchen did last year, and last year he performed well at Indianapolis but didn't dominate. Let him dominate, and then bring him up. It's far from clear that there's any sort of developmental advantage to be gleaned from bringing a player up before he proves he's absolutely ready. 

Also, comparing McCutchen to Nyjer Morgan is understandable but a bit misleading, because it implies that McCutchen and Morgan are the only two choices. Not to pile on, but there are lots of unripe prospects who would look pretty good compared to Morgan. In the meantime, the Pirates could turn to Jeff Salazar, or Steve Pearce, or Eric Hinske, or someone they acquire on the waiver wire or in a trade. (They could also give the playing time to Craig Monroe, but I'm not sure that'd be much better than playing Morgan.)

If we compare McCutchen to a substandard player as if the only option is one or the other, we're likely to make bad decisions. In baseball, these sorts of decisions are rarely binary. It is possible to believe that Morgan is a bad joke and that McCutchen should start the year in the minors.