On Saturday morning, Buster Olney continued his rankings of the best players at each position around baseball. These rankings are from Olney, but he talks to MLB evaluators and other members of the ESPN staff, so it’s not just a solo opinion for each position.

We mentioned earlier this week that Felipe Rivero wasn’t among his top ten relievers in the game, but he did get mentioned as part of the “best of the rest” group. That was after no Pittsburgh Pirates were in the top ten for starting pitchers.

The lists continued for Olney on Thursday with catchers. Predictably, Francisco Cervelli wasn’t listed among the top ten. He also wasn’t one of the three honorable mentions. Cervelli has dealt with injuries each of the last two seasons and his production at the plate has dropped compared to pre-2016 numbers. So there was no surprise here.

Friday was the top first basemen and Josh Bell didn’t rank in the top ten or get mentioned among the five extra names. The position is deep for the NL, with eight of the top ten first basemen playing for NL teams and that’s with free agent Eric Hosmer ranking #8 on the list. There have been rumors of him possibly signing with the Padres, which would give the NL nine of the top ten players at the position.

On Saturday, Olney moved on to second base and Josh Harrison didn’t make the top ten. He did get mentioned in the best of the rest, with Olney saying that if he was a regular second baseman instead of a utility player (and put up the same stats), he probably would be in the top ten.

Now five positions into his rankings, Olney and his group of evaluators/contributors don’t have a single player from the Pirates in their top ten. That won’t change tomorrow with the top ten third basemen list coming out. I also don’t expect Jordy Mercer to be among the top ten shortstops, though he could get an honorable mention.

The three outfield positions will be posted Tuesday through Thursday, so that’s when the Pirates should finally break through with someone among the best at their position. Of course, one of those players is Andrew McCutchen and with all of the trade rumors surrounding him this winter, there’s no guarantee that he will still be around on Wednesday when the center field list comes out.

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57 COMMENTS

  1. one man’s “opinion” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Team’s don’t win on paper, just ask the Dodgers, Indians, Cubs etc…

  2. Hold on now John; in case you haven’t heard Cutch isn’t one of the top ten any more in fact he’s barely worth anything according to pretty much all media outlets this off season so don’t hold your breath that any pirates make a list.

  3. not that these rankings mean much, but even still, it’s more reason to sell. the pirates just don’t have the elite talent needed to compete in the mlb

  4. This isn’t surprising. Their best players either didn’t show up, were banished, injured and/or ineffective. That’s why they were a losing club. No reason most of those players can’t have an above average (for them) season this year, and have the Bucs challenging for a WC. There must be a natural pessimism about the PGH area. If our players have an above average season, well then they will surely regress to the norm. But if they have a below average season, well that is the new norm, no regressing to the mean in a positive way for them. Always the worst prognosis given any set of facts.

    • That’s just a byproduct of 20 years of losing. As a lifelong Pirates fan that was 8-9 years old when the losing streak started I fell in love with baseball by seeing Van Slyke, Bonds, Bonilla, Drabek, et. al, now as an adult I find the most joy as a Pirates fan when they make moves like trading for a future potential back of the bullpen arm in Nick Burdi for 500k of international spending money simply because its a move in a positive direction, regardless how innocuous it may be.

  5. The state of this team and franchise should not be a shock to anyone who has been following the Pirates over the past several years….

    Since the end of the 2015 season – when the Pirates won 98 games yet were bounced from the playoffs by the Cubs – this team has been in steady decline. Its been an accumulation of poor trades, injuries, suspensions, ill advised free agent signings, unexpected lack of production among a few key players, and the team’s ownership being cheap and not willing to spend money on quality free agents.

    To further exasperate the situation, the team has made some poor drafting decisions, still continues to sit out the annual signing of LA’s top young prospects, and ignores any and all of the top Cuban players who become available.

    In fact this year, the team has done the unforgivable – they have yet to even spend their allotment on LA free agents. For a small market team which needs to compete by drafting, signing, and developing young talent, that is just inexcusable. Its either being so cheap, that the team cannot spend the money, or incompetence. Yet this team wastes $10-20m annually on washed up veteran retreads – Gosselin, Hudson, LeBlanc, Stewart, Jaso to name just a few….at the expense of their own prospects.

    If you point out the obvious on this Board, you often get criticized for being too negative by the apologists and snowflakes…There isn’t ANYONE on this Board who loves the Pirates team more than I do, but I will not sit by and be silent while ownership and management incompetence runs this team into the ground. At a minimum , the team needs a new GM, new scouts, and new manager/coaching staff – a new owner who actually will put his money where his mouth is would help too. The Liriano trade and Nicasio debacle made the Pirates the laughing stock of MLB.

    I don’t trust NH to be savvy enough to trade the likes of Cole, Cutch, Harrison, and others and get proper value. Having him making these decisions is a frightening thought.

    • Totally unrelated to the point of your post and for the most part I agree in regards to the Pirates situation that there is very little hope for true World Series contention based on the organization’s structure, financial self-restraint and reluctance to make virtually any sort of big win now types of moves though just the same as you I will continue to be a very passionate Pirates fan, but can you define what you mean by snowflakes without using any of the more inflammatory words you probably want to use in its place? If not, then you shouldn’t be calling people snowflakes either. Softening the terms used to express bigotry in an effort to appease political correctness doesn’t make those views or opinions less hateful.

  6. With SS, 3b and OF to go, it remains to be seen if we’ll get shutout? Our only hopes are Cutch and Marte.

    If that doesn’t tell NH to rebuild, what will? As of now, even IF we get a coupla good relievers, this is a sub-.500 team.

    Blow it up, NH.

      • And Buster Olney’s. Truly, I believe NH is trying to rebuild. The thing people forget is- who wants bottom half starters for top prospects? It takes two to tango in a trade. This is the “Jeff Locke” effect from years past where everyone and their grandma on comments sites were saying “trade Jeff Locke!”… for who?

        • In fairness it depends on which “years past” you’re talking about. There were plenty of people asking for Jeff Locke to be traded for a case of sunflower seeds or two rosin bags for much of his Pirates tenure.

  7. Since the market is so slow NH should be in no hurry to give away anyone. Teams
    have gotten much smarter about spending which is still to the Pirates advantage-
    our players are “price fixed.”

  8. That was idiotic of Olney to exclude Harrison because he helps out at other positions. If he is one of the 10 best 2Bs, then he is one of the ten best – end of story.

    The only exception would be if he was going to rank Harrison as one of the top ten Utility players.

    • I think the Olney’s logic takes away some credibility from his rankings. Give me a guy who can fill in a little somewhere else and it adds to his value. I thought the fact that having Kang on the roster gave you a backup SS increased his value.

  9. I saw an analysis that was based on runs for and runs against predictor. Even in that if the players just play to normal expectations they would win 86 games.

  10. No surprises with Olney’s rankings, except Rivero’s ranking. Assuming no off-season moves, the Pirates success will be determined by the success of the starting pitching and three outfielders, where there is a lot of low side and high side variability.

  11. Go back the past couple years and see who made the list from the Pirates and who didn’t. Players mentioned here who did not make it this year, did in years past. When is everyone going to realize things change all the time? There is no standard set formula. When Polanco hits .325 with 37 Homeruns this year, he will be on the list next year.

    • Sure he will… In my happiest dream, maybe. I’ve just about lost confidence waiting for the happy big guy with the one of the greatest eyes in the game to FINALLY come to the conclusion that hitting baseballs is his career of choice!

  12. I think these rankings show the true nature of the Pirate team. At most positions they are marginal at best. Changes need to be made if this team is going to compete for a playoff spot.

  13. I really wish the Pirate front office would start making some moves, though I understand the need to maximize return by being cautious. We’re just chewing the same old cud again and again and again. Give us some new grass, NH.

  14. What we are seeing is what we fans have noticed on the field. This teams talent is in the bottom half of the league at almost all of the positions and at the bottom at third. After we trade Cutch we will only have one player in the top half and that will be Marte (Possibly Rivero). We have a long road to get into playoff contention in the future.

    • If Marte ranks that high it is strictly based on his fielding, and not his hitting. He is a sucker for the breaking pitch.

          • Do infield hits not count? I’d rather he get an infield hit than to hit a 110mph scorcher to SS for an inning ending DP like he did vs Cubs in WC game.

            • Just sayin his quality of contact is not what you would expect for someone with his BA…also as his speed inevitably declines the nubbers will not be hits. Didn;t our “neck lips” guy also excel at infield hits ?

  15. for every player that averages above 15th-ish, they have a player that ranks below 15th-ish. This is an 81-81 team if i’ve ever seen one.

    do *something* gahhhhh.

    I honestly believe that dealing Harrison and Cutch, and then replacing them with a frankensteiny platoony mish mash of Moroff, Frazier, Meadows, and Luplow could make them just about as good. Difference being that they could then spend 25 million on other help on the team that would then make them *better* than 81-81. Todd Frazier? Moustakas? Lucroy? Lots of possibilities!

    They could do more with the 25 million saved than they would lose by downgrading Cutch/Harrison to their internal replacements.

    I’m torn on the Cole thing. Since i think that a team without Cutch and Harrison could still compete because of their decent (IMO) replacements, i might be against dealing Cole. But the future teams also could use some starpower injected. Cole would be the hardest decision for me.

    That said, it’s entirely possible that trading Cole and using his 2 yr/20 mil to get Jaime Garcia (or whatever other cheap, shortish term FA SP they “like”) instead could work out too and be the best of both worlds.

    • It’s not just hometown bias here and I actually welcomed a trade at the time – Neil Walker is the highest upside guy out there just give him a third or fourth year – hopefully he wants to come back. Same with Ian Happ and he could slot into the OF immediately and also help the IF and he helps level off the right-handed hitting skew. I think the super platoon of fringe guys yields something even if there’s an 80% fail. Add in breakout pitching performance (s) it is not impossible to be 10 wins better in ’18. If not they spend heavier in ’19. But I’m in complete agreement with the idea that the drop-off from some of these guys is not insurmountable.

      • Yeah, all things equal, Walker might even be a better fit than Todd Frazier since Walker and Freese would make a pretty nice platoon.

      • Who said rebuilds had to be slow? Heck, I never even used the word rebuild 🙂

        If you like Moroff, Frazier, Meadows, and Luplow (and I do and im assuming the pirates do to) then why force a bad year that doesn’t even have to happen by not spending what they’re allowed to spend?

        What reason would Huntington have to keep payroll under 60 millionwhen he is clearly allowed to spend 100?

        I truly believe that Cutch and Harrison’s replacements are solid enough that the pirates can have their cake (compete) and eat it too (trade away those veterans for decent prospects)

        Bit that’s because I like Moroff Frazier Meadows and Luplow. You might not.

  16. Harrison hasn’t been a utility player for 3 years. I’m not sure who exactly Olney is talking with, but he needs to find some better unnamed sources.

    Not that I know much outside of Pirates players, and I’m not going to pay for ESPNs garbage, but one would think Harrison would be a top 10 second baseman.

    • Why….?

      Seriously, branch out and you will see that the talent on the Pirates is OK but not championship level and for me not even playoff level, maybe ranking as a team somewhere around the 8-10 level.

      When the Pirates lose McCutchen after 2018 the team will fall below top 10 NL teams. Which is why it’s imperative to either re sign him or trade him NOW to get what ever value and move on with the rebuild.

      Rebuild consists of trading Cole, Cervelli, Harrison, and of course McCutchen with Rivero also possible.

        • Dunno about ‘not for the nutting organization’ on this one… They have had one rebuild since Nutting took over from McClatchy. It turned into three (albeit way too brief) playoff appearances!

    • In 2015, he played 72 games at 3rd, 37 at 2B, and 22 in the OF.
      In 2016, it was 128 at 2B and 1 in the OF.
      2017: 83 at 2B, 49 at 3B, and 9 in the OF.

      Outside of ’16 he has been very utlity-ish.

      • And Utility Players enable the Pirates and other MLB Clubs the ability to spread players over multiple positions. When successful, like in 2015, it is hard to argue with the practice, but when that is followed by two successive losing seasons, it sparks doubt.

        This management team seems to have lost its way, its direction.

        • Having these multi-position players on a team is a wonderful asset. And, yeah, it’s a great way for marginal players to enhance their value to a team…so I’m all for the practice. The problems the Pirates have had as of late, in my opinion, isn’t that that they’ve relied too much on them…but that there aren’t enough quality starters to take the at-bats away from the utility guys. Give the Pirates a Kang-level 3rd baseman, and there won’t be a need for people to get excited with things like: “Hey, look! Osuna is getting some starts at third in winter ball! Maybe he can help us out there!”

          • Yeah, a legit 3Bman is their most needed addition. Even if Kang could gain admission to the USA, which he likely won’t, his performance in the Dominican indicates he has been away from competition for too long. It might take him more than half a season to find his game. Best thing is to move on. I am excited to see what they do.

            • I’m with you on that assessment…Kang was just the easiest way to illustrate a lack of talent at one position that might attempted to be filled with utility guys.

              Having 2-4 (super) utility guys is great, but they don’t take the place of winning ballplayers…if anything, they just make a club mediocre when they’re relied upon to be full time players.

              • Josh Harrison, Sean Rodriguez, Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, That’s 4 on an active roster that will only have 12 or 13 position players at most, and 2 of them will be Catchers, and another one will be David Freese. Formula for Failure.

                Feast of the Epiphany yesterday – I was hoping the Pirates would have an epiphany.

      • I didn’t realize he played so much 3B last year. Even so, had Kang not been a douche, hr would have been basically limited to 2B.

        He played 3B out of necessity, not because the Pirates wanted to move him around.

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