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Biertempfel: Calling up Polanco this weekend would have been grand slam for Pirates

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Gregory Polanco doubles against the Tigers during a spring training game Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Saturday, May 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

John Kruk, the former big leaguer turned ESPN baseball analyst, believes the Pirates still have hope in the National League Central.

“The Cardinals are a good team, but they're not scoring runs like they did last year. Milwaukee is good. They came out of nowhere, really. Can they continue that?” Kruk said. “If you're the Pirates, you've got to think, ‘Even though we're not playing well, there's still a chance to win this division.' But they need to get some offense. They need to get some life in their lineup.”

Offense. Life. Excitement. Energy. Hmm, perhaps the Pirates should add someone like ... Gregory Polanco?

“I would love to see that kid come up,” Kruk gushed. “I would love to see him in the lineup Sunday night when we're there.”

Sorry, Krukker. The Pirates made a roster move before the start of the weekend series against the Cardinals, which will culminate with ESPN's “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast, but it wasn't Polanco. It wasn't the guy batting .389 with a 1.053 OPS at Triple-A Indianapolis, the missing piece of the Dream Outfield, the prospect many scouts say has been the best player in the minors this season.

Instead, the Pirates on Friday called up utility infielder Brent Morel, who batted .215 with one homer (a two-run shot April 8 against Toledo) and a .519 OPS at Indy.

This would have been a great time for Polanco to make his debut. With the bullpen rested and the rotation set through Monday, the Pirates were able to bring up an extra bat for the three-game set against the Cardinals. Right fielder Travis Snider served a two-game suspension Friday and Saturday. The Pirates will make their first appearance on “Sunday Night Baseball,” arguably MLB's biggest regular-season stage, since May 19, 2002.

This weekend, ESPN, a member of the Disney family, is trumpeting the opening of the movie “Million Dollar Arm,” which tells how two cricket players from India wound up in the Pirates' farm system. One of them, Rinku Singh, will do on-field interviews before Sunday's game.

Who would've thought Singh, who's out for the year after having Tommy John surgery, would make it to PNC Park this season before Polanco?

Pirates management insists Polanco is not yet ready to play in the big leagues. A better explanation, perhaps, is that the club doesn't want Polanco to qualify for Super 2 status and gain an extra year of salary arbitration eligibility.

“That's a tough way to have to go about putting together a team,” Kruk said. “Sometimes, sadly, in a market like Pittsburgh's, you don't get the best players on the field. You get the best, affordable players on the field. You're trying to save money down the road, and that's a tough way to go.”

It's not like allowing Polanco to reach Super 2 would financially break the franchise. We're talking about a one-time, potential savings of only a few million dollars for a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the majors.

“You hate to see a young kid get stuck in the minors for an unnecessary month of minor league baseball when he could be helping the big league team because they want to save money,” Kruk said. “As a player, you don't understand that.”

Many of the fans — the folks who patiently stand in line to be wanded at the Home Plate Gate, who shell out $9 for a cup of draft beer and who actually pay to watch the product on the field — don't get it either.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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