SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – With the trade deadline a week away, I thought today was a good time to update our in-house evaluation of the 25 most valuable Pirates. Essentially, this is a list of trade value.
This is not a list tied only to 2013 value, rather, it’s all-encompassing value ranking. The list takes into account present skills, future projection, age, contract (cost) and club control. It’s essentially the trade value list ESPN’s Bill Simmons made famous.
It contains a wide range of players from current Pirates’ regulars to minor league players yet to play in Low-A ball, from ages 36 (Jason Grilli) to 18 (Luis Heredia). It’s a delicate balance between current and future production.
TIER 1: THE UNTOUCHABLES
Rank. Name. Position. (Previous rank)
1. Andrew McCutchen, OF (1)
McCutchen has produced 11.6 WAR over the last two seasons. The industry values a win above replacement at about $5 million, so McCutchen has produced $58 million in value over the last two seasons. If McCutchen averages out to be a 5-win player over the course of his six-year, $51 million deal he’ll have a surplus value of $98.5 million. That’s incredible value and unlikely to be matched by any Pirates on this list. Yes, he hasn’t had an MVP-stretch like last season, but he’s actually cut his strikeout rate and continues to impact the game in number of areas. He’s a super star and he’s signed to a team-friendly deal through 2017.
2. Gerrit Cole, RHP (2)
He has the Majors’ best fastball velocity among starters (96 mph), though the Pirates are still waiting for his offspeed stuff to catch with his heater. Still, he has the build, arm talent, and mechanics you look for in a No. 1 starter. If he sharpens his offspeed stuff his upside is Justin Verlander. Fangraphs.com rated Starling Marte as a more valuable player but I think Cole carries more trade value and has a year less of service time.
TIER 2: SUPERSTAR CEILINGS, BUT NOT THERE YET
3. Starling Marte, OF (4)
Marte has been one of the breakout stars of 2013, posting a 3.4 WAR to date. Marte has the great speed, impressive bat-to-ball ability and more power than you think. Marte has even more value to the Pirates as PNC Park’s deep left-field requires another player with the speed and athleticism of a center fielder. He’s a prime candidate for a contract extension. But he’s not without his weaknesses as he continues to walk at a well below average league rate, he strikes out to much, and is too aggressive at the plate. If he can refine his approach he could become a superstar.
4. Jameson Taillon, RHP (3)
Yes, in a redraft of 2010 the Pirates would surely take Manny Machado over Taillon. But Taillon is still an extremely valuable asset. Like Cole he has the size, fastball, and offspeed components to be a dynamic top-of-the-rotation starter. It can be argued that Cole and Taillon are the best 1-2 U22 pitching duo in baseball. That’s something to be excited about, Pirate fans.
5. Gregory Polanco, OF (5)
One scout likened the 20-year-old Polanco to the Cobra Part 2.0 earlier this season. Dave Parker won an NL MVP award while with the Pirates if you need a refresher on the original Cobra. This 6-foot-4 lefty has all five tools. A scout said he has more power potential than the Cardinals’ Oscar Taveras. He can hit and has kept his strikeout totals low while making the leap to face more advanced pitching in Double-A this season, and his run tool plays anywhere. I think he has more upside than Starling Marte, and that’s saying something.
TIER 3: THAT PERPLEXING CLIENT OF SCOTT BORAS
6. Pedro Alvarez, 3B (8)
This is what I wrote in May: Alvarez is the most frustrating asset the Pirates’ possess. He has rare raw-power. He posted a 30-home run season last year, and while he’ll never be Brooks Robinson, he probably doesn’t have to move off of third base in the near term. But he has a tremendous amount of swing-and-miss in his game, Boras is his agent, and it seems unlikely he’ll the expectations of being drafted No. 2 overall. (Hey, even the Rays passed on Buster Posey). I think there’s still upside remaining here but it might not be reached in Pittsburgh. He’s arbitration eligible this winter, and eligible to become a free agent in 2017.
Alvarez had a remarkable run after a horrendous April and he’s on pace for a career season, showing the kind of power the Pirates expected from him when making him the second overall pick in 2009. He’s a flawed player. He’s going to be streaky, but no one else on the roster has his power.
TIER 4: A WEALTH OF ARMS … AND FUTURE CLOSERS … AND THE FIRST-ROUNDERS
7. Jeff Locke, LHP (13)
It’s hard to believe Jeff Locke is this good. We keep waiting for him to regress to a No. 4 starter like level. But Locke continues to impress while keeping his ERA and BABIP at seemingly unsustainable levels. Even if he’s not this good, he’s left-handed, and he’s also under club control through 2018.
8. Tyler Glasnow, RHP (16)
No player has risen on this like Glasnow, who has a chance to be one of the bigger draft steals of the Neal Huntington Era as a fifth-round pick in 2011. The 6-7 right appears to have top-of-the rotation upside.
9. Austin Meadows OF (NR)
John Hart placed a Jay Bruce tag on Meadows, and I’m not one to argue with John Hart.
10. Mark Melancon, RHP (20)
It’s tough to value relievers too greatly because of their year-to-year fluctuations but Melancon has pitched like a guy who could be an elite closer thanks in part to his increased use of his elite cutter. (Thanks Russell Martin?) He’s under club control for three more seasons and he could be Grilli’s replacement. He’s about to get more expensive, though, as he’s headed to arbitration this winter.
11. Luis Heredia, RHP (6)
Sure, he got a late start to the season because he wasn’t in great shape and he hasn’t pitched above A-ball and the Pirates are treating him with mink gloves. But there’s a reason the Pirates gave him a $2.6 million bonus out of Mexico, their most ever for an international free agent. Heredia could touch the mid 90s as a 16-year-old. A scout told me he’s now taller than his listed 6-foot-6 frame. He has tremendous raw tools. A lot can go wrong with an 18-year-old arm’s patch to the big leagues, but he has the upside of a No. 1 starter. That’s why he’s here.
12. Reese McGuire, C (NR)
The history of prep catchers isn’t great, but McGuire, selected 14th overall, is the top defensive catching prospect to come around in years.
13. Justin Wilson, LHP (21)
He’s a been a versatile and effective arm out of the bullpen who has seen his velocity increase throughout the season, touching 100 mph. He’s a name teams will call about.
TIER 5: RUSSELL MARTIN
14. Russell Martin, C (14)
I think you can make a case that he was the first-half MVP of the team when you look at what his pitch sequencing, framing, and throwing arm has meant to the staff. Yes, he’s only under contract through 2014. Yes, he’s on the wrong side of 30. But we’ve seen what his offense and defense means at the catcher position for Clint Hurdle.
TIER 6: LOCAL BOY DONE GOOD
15. Neil Walker, 2B (7)
He’s not the next Chase Utley. He’s had too many nagging injuries. But he still posted an above-average OPS for a middle infielder last season. He’s now arbitration eligible in 2014.
TIER 7: AN ALMOST ACE, A SOMETIMES ACE, AND A CLOSER – BUT ARE THEY RENTING OR BUYING?
16. Jason Grilli , RHP (11)
Grilli’s injury complicates his ranking. Grilli has been great, one of the game’s best closers this season – if not the best closer in the game. He’s under club control for another season at a reasonable price. But just how much value does any closer have?
17. Francisco Liriano, LHP (12)
Liriano had a great first-half proving to be one of the top free-agent bargains off the offseason. He posted a 1.99 ERA in the first half, his best stretch since 2009. A mechanical adjustment gave him better command over his fastball, which still offers rare velocity (93 mph fastball) for a lefty. He has a rare three-pitch mix with plus velocity for a lefty and he’ll be back next season at a bargain price.
18. AJ Burnett, RHP (10)
Burnett has cooled off after a terrific start and he’s only under team control for two more months. I’m not sure if he’s a true ace, but he’s No. 2 on a playoff-caliber team. And we saw what Matt Garza, another No. 2 rental returned, a pretty nice haul. And if Burnett gets the ball in Game 1 of a playoff series and wins that game, it’s tough not to overvalue that.
TIER 8: OFFENSIVE PROSPECTS AND A FUTURE SS?
19. Alen Hanson, 2B/SS (15)
Hanson is perhaps the only player in the minor league system with the change to be an above average hitter at a middle-of-the infield position. Dilson Herrera is in the conversation, too. There’s a lot to like about his game. He can run, hit, and hit with some surprising power. Scouts don’t think he can stick at short. His future home is likely second base, and he could eventually be Walker’s replacement. But if he could stick at short, his value would skyrocket.
20. Jordy Mercer, SS/2B/3B (24)
Jordy Mercer has been thrown into a pennant race as a rookie shortstop and handled himself relatively well. He’s improved his defense and he’s shown some pop and if he can continue to improve and be a poor man’s JJ hardy he’ll possess rare value.
21. Stetson Allie 1B (NR)
80 power is 80 power and Allie has shown some plate discipline at High-A.
22. Josh Bell, OF (19)
He’s about to turn 21 and he’s produced a so-so .805 OPS in Low-A, but the tools are loud and he missed all of last season to injury.
TIER 9: WOUNDED STARTER
23. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP (11)
Rodriguez’s elbow injury has diminished his stock and has a player option of $14 million for 2014 and it will be interesting to see what he decides to do given the weakness of the free agent class. When he’s healthy he’s a proven to be a solid middle-of-the rotation arm, but one with extreme road-home splits throughout his career.
TIER 10: LOTTERY TICKETS
24. Vic Black, RHP (21)
Speaking of future closers, Black dominated at Triple-A Indianapolis and throws harder than Grilli and Melancon. He looks like a potential late-innings option, and is a cheaper future option than Mark Melancon who is arbitration eligible.
25. Tony Sanchez, C (22)
In the 2009 draft, Sanchez went fourth overall. Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake and Jacob Turner went 6-7-8-9. Then consider of the three ACC catchers to be drafted in the top five since 2007, the Pirates passed on Buster Posey and Matt Wieters and took Sanchez. But don’t completely write off Sanchez. He’s had an offensive breakout, though his throwing is now a concern.
First five out: Garrett Jones, Dilson Herrera, Nick Kingham, Kyle McPherson, Tony Watson