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Prospect Polanco close to joining Pirates, but not close to new deal

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When Pirates outfield wunderkind Gregory Polanco is called up to the Pirates -- and indications are it will happen soon, though the team says officially it won't be Friday -- unlike Astros prospect Jon Singleton who signed before playing a game, he will be coming to Pittsburgh without a long-term contract in hand.

Though the sides have traded offers and counteroffers, Polanco and the Pirates are said to be "far apart" in contract talks, far enough apart that the differences won't be bridged in coming days, and certainly not by next week, when there's a good chance he'll be in a Pirates uniform.

As for exactly what day he's going to be promoted, that's turning into a little bit of a mini soap opera, at least publicly. Though a Pirates fan-based website reported it would be Friday and other signs suggested the site might be on to something, the strong belief now is that the promotion will be sometime next week. A Pirates person suggested this weekend was not likely, though indications are that the Pirates are discussing whether to do it sometime this homestand, which ends next Thursday. If not, it'll almost surely be with the Pirates by next weekend.

The long-awaited promotion of Polanco, a five-tool player putting up monster numbers at Triple-A Indianapolis, will represent the first non-spring showcase of the Pirates' great "outfield of the future," and could boost pennant hopes of Pittsburgh, which is off to a disappointing start following last season's playoff run. Polanco, the MVP of the Dominican Winter League, is batting .355 with a .962 OPS at triple-A Indianapolis.

The perceived delay has been interesting. The Pirates, who say they like to avoid rushed promotions based on past successes with stars Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole, are past the point where Polanco would be arbitration eligible after 2016, based on previous cut-off dates. The lowest cut-off has been two years plus 122 days, and if he's called up early next week, he'd be in the range of 109 to 112 days, though the CBA is up after 2015.

Anyway, this is playing out far differently than Houston's experience with Singleton, who signed a $10 million, five-year guaranteed deal the same day it was announced he was being promoted. Bucking what the Astros' and other small-market teams hoped could become a trend when Houston signed Singleton to a five-year deal with three club option years, Polanco will instead accept the big-league minimum for now while betting big on himself for the future.

While it's rare to see players sign before playing a game in the majors, some teams are now starting to try to get a handle on long-term expenses by locking up their best prospects while they're still in the minors.

The Pirates in spring offered much more to Polanco than Singleton signed for, close to $25 million guaranteed for seven years plus, as Yahoo and CBSSports.com reported. However, word is that Polanco was concerned about being saddled with three club options at the end of those seven years that are believed to have been worth in the range of $10 million to $15 million per year.

Polanco's willingness to counter the Pirates' offer, which varied somewhat based on his arbitration eligbility, suggests he's interested in doing a deal with the Pirates. However, he apparently is concerned about locking himself up into his 30s before playing even one game. That's why his counter offer is believed to have included fewer club options that were worth considerably more money per year, perhaps even twice as much.

Singleton's deal was severely criticized by rival agents as controversially conservative, to the point where some suggested the union should have stepped in to stop it. But Singleton, who isn't quite the prospect Polanco is, was ecstatic and he's an unusual case with a lot of baggage (he admitted in a spring interview he's a drug addict, which is admirable to admit but isn't helpful as a negotiating stance). While the union is said to have made a spirited case against doing that long deal with Houston, union leaders believe those life decisions are ultimately up to the player involved, which is fair since every player has a unique background.

The union, though, is said to be hopeful that Singleton's seemingly safe deal is seen as an aberration for a player with past issues and doesn't have too big an effect on future deals, nor certainly start a trend whereby big prospects sign conservative contracts and help teams save money on valuable assets.

Polanco will be at least one to buck that potential trend -- by not taking the early and easier bucks.

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