Why Do Teams Hold on to Under-performing Talent?

Pittsburgh Skyline

Yesterday, I wrote a piece about the unprecedented questions most teams in MLB will face, some with more importance than others.

In that column one of the points was exercising the options on Chris Archer and Gregory Polanco. I received quite a few comments essentially saying there was no way the Pirates would spend that much to keep those two “bums”. Sure, there comes a point where even a team like Pittsburgh is inclined to cut their losses and move on. This is not one of those times.

Both of these players will be back. Period. Now, why do I say that with such authority? Because the Pirates simply can not afford to let either of these gentlemen walk for nothing.

Let’s go back a few seasons, in the off season following 2014, the Boston Red Sox jumped on Pablo Sandoval and gave the Panda 95 million over five years. It didn’t work out to say the least and in 2017 Boston designated Sandoval for assignment. Cutting ties cost the Sox roughly 49 million in guaranteed money still owed, all the while allowing him to go play should he be able to drum up interest from another club. This is one huge example; Josh Hamilton is another with the Angels. For the Sox the roster spot was worth more than the downside of paying him for less than satisfactory results.

They can afford it. They don’t like it, but they can afford it. They tried trading him, but nobody bit, nobody was going to pay upwards of 14 million a year for a player hitting under .250 and showing signs of being out of shape and lacking power that made him so attractive in the first place.

If this situation played out with the Pirates, first of all we’d run out of smelling salts waking the swaths of fans who passed out from shock that the Bucs went out and signed a player for 95 million. After that no matter how bad the signing looked, no matter how badly he performed, there is no way the Pirates could or would eat that much dead contract. They’d sooner eat half of it in exchange for International Pool money.

Polanco is this example in miniature. This season he was scheduled to make 8.6 million, next season 11.6. Then the Pirates hit the option years with El Coffee, 12.5 and 13.5 respectively, taking him through 2023.

So obvious, cut him or trade him next season, right? No way the cheap Pirates will pay him that 12.5 for 2022, well, hold up, here is a team that has very little power, likely won’t have Josh Bell anymore, and you think they’ll just let a player with a track record of two 20+ homerun seasons walk rather than pay him 12.5 million?

It’s bad business all the way around. He’ll stay for one of two reasons; 1. They want him to be part of the team and need his power or 2. They won’t let him walk for nothing and surely someone will find his reasonable contract worth a risk.

Step one of good business, recognize a bargain when you see one. Step two, don’t screw it up.

Archer isn’t much different; 9 million a season is next to nothing for a starting pitcher. Not a number one starter mind you, but a decent number 4 or 5. If you really think about it, that’s what Archer has performed like. People want to think he is a total bust of an acquisition and stacked up next to who he was traded for, of course he is. None of that is his fault, he’s here now and he has an extremely reasonable contract for his production level, with a hint of ability to peek above that level.

He is a valuable piece, even if he doesn’t produce here, he makes so little he is eminently moveable. That’s his ticket to having his options picked up.

There is more to the business of baseball than numbers and comparisons. At times you need to weigh the pros and cons of inaction as well. If the prospect hungry Pirates allow two assets who could net that very commodity in return to walk for nothing, quite honestly, Mr. Cherrington should not retain his position. It would be an absolute short sighted and penny-pinching move that would actually set the club back further than they already have position themselves.

I didn’t even mention how Polanco has performed when healthy because that very detail is exactly what this year was going to prove if everything went as expected. Teams like Pittsburgh can not pay for two things above all else, power and pitching. Expecting them to give both of those away is simply choosing not to see what’s right in front of your face.

Follow the money when trying to figure out what the Pirates will do in situations like this, rest assured, they will.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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