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May 14, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Right field is the least of the Pirates worries

OPINION — As someone pointed out the general direction of right field to Gaby Sanchez Saturday night, maybe that’s when you got it.

Gregory Polanco is not passing through the players’ door to PNC Park one day sooner than the day he is no longer Super 2 eligible, a mathematical formula that determines the probable date a player first called up to the majors will not be eligible for arbitration after only two years, instead of the usual three.

Neil Walker is such a player. His Super 2 status could turn out to mean as much as $10 million to Walker when he reaches his fourth season of arbitration in 2016, Pittsburgh writer Bob Smizik says. Smizik figures that the more-talented Polanco could reach $20 million with his fourth year of arbitration, probably to come in 2019.

It would be fiscal folly to promote Polanco now, when waiting about four weeks could save the Pirates $20 million.

Was there a better option for right field than Sanchez?

Absolutely. Even former general manager Dave Littlefield could have figured that one out.

And even with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte out with injuries and Travis Snyder out due to a suspension from the Easter Day Massacre with the Brewers, it would have been irresponsible to bring up Polanco.

No one will tell you truthfully that there is anyone in the organization who could better play the position better than Polanco (save for McCutchen or Marte, who have other assignments).

Polanco is not the panacea for All Things Wrong with the Pirates; there are many other concerns with the mid-May Pirates that Polanco’s standing under the Clemente Wall will not solve:

ä Jason Grilli, the team’s closer, is on the 15-day disabled list and hasn’t pitched since April 20.

He is 0-1  (4.50 ERA) with three blown saves in seven chances.

ä Francisco Liriano, the team’s top pitcher last season, is 0-3 in eight starts, with a 4.64 ERA.

ä Charlie Morton, fresh with his three-year $21 million contract, is 0-5 in eight starts, albeit with a 3.22 ERA.

ä Wandy Rodriguez, slated to come off the disabled list tomorrow and pitch in Milwaukee, is 0-2 with a 7.65 ERA in his four starts.

 ä Newcomer Edinson Volquez is 1-3 in eight starts. His ERA is 4.36.

ä Last year’s sensation Gerrit Cole took a 3-2 record and 3.64 in seven starts into last night’s game. His win last Wednesday was the first recorded by a Pirates starter since April 17.

ä That gives Liriano, Morton, and Rodriguez a combined 0-10 record. Adding Volquez, the record is 1-13. Even adding Cole to the mixture, the starters are 4-15—not good for any team, but surely not good for a team basically built on its starting pitching.

ä Pedro Alvarez needed a .262 average over his past 10 games to lift his season average to .214 before last night’s game. Although he has eight homers and 24 RBI, he has left a ton of runners on base and has erred at the worst possible times. For example, on Sunday, Alvarez hit a key late-inning RBI, but his first inning error led to three unearned St. Louis runs in the Bucs’ 6-5 loss.

ä Sunday gave shortstop Jordy Mercer his only homer and half of the season’s four RBIs. In his 10 May games, he parlayed a .273 batting average to lift his season average to .202. The other half of the shortstop tandem, Clint Barmes, has a .189 average with four RBIs.

ä Disabled list catcher Russell Martin has been sorely missed since he last played on April 25. Although batting only .242 with two homers and 11 RBIs, Martin ranks behind only Yadier Molina in handling a pitching staff. The more crucial the situation, the more liable his replacement, Tony Sanchez, is to throw a ball away.

Instead of fretting that Polanco is not here, Pirates fans should be worried that the people who are here can get it right before their newest star arrives next month.

Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.

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