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Why is Gregory Polanco still in the minors?


The likely Super Two threshold has passed, and Gregory Polanco is still in the minors. Ken Laird asked me why on TribLive Radio this morning, and I didn't have a great answer (and I worded my response way too strongly, given that I didn't, and don't, have all the relevant information about this). Ken Rosenthal suggests one possibility:

Only 112 days remain in the season. The lowest previous Super Two cutoff was two years, 121 days, meaning that it should be safe for the Pirates to summon Polanco without him gaining an extra year of arbitration.

Then again, the members of the Super Two class are impossible to predict two years out. So, it’s possible that the Pirates are taking every possible precaution with Polanco, and why shouldn’t they? Club officials would be subject to ridicule if, after all this, they miscalculated and Polanco qualified for Super Two status.

In fact, there is a precedent for such a blunder.

The Padres recalled third baseman Chase Headley on June 17, 2008 after he had appeared in eight games the previous season. Club officials figured they had let enough time pass to deny Headley the extra year of arbitration, but oops! Headley later qualified for Super Two status – by one day.

Headley ended up making about $27 million (EDIT: it's about $25 million; that's what I get for doing the math in my head) in arbitration, much more than he would have made had he not been a Super Two.

The projected Super Two threshold for 2015 is two years and 128 days, and we're way past the point where Polanco's service time would exceed that threshold, with only 112 days left. The threshold is different from year to year, but the lowest threshold in past years was two years and 122 days, which would mean that prospects promoted after May 31 likely would not be awarded Super Two status.

Perhaps, from the Pirates' perspective, the key word there is "likely." We don't know for sure what the threshold will be, and as Rosenthal says, it would be awful to hold Polanco back like this, guess wrong, and still have him reach Super Two status. And the fact that the threshold increased following the 2011 season means that there are limited precedents upon which to make an educated guess. If you're going to play the Super Two game the Pirates seem to be playing (and I do think they're right to be playing it, given the likely cost of taking Polanco to arbitration four times), you may as well make sure you play it right.

In any case, I'd expect to see Polanco in the big leagues very soon. If he's still in the minors a week from now, something strange is going on.