After seemingly not having an off day for months, the Pirates have three in eight days going into Monday's trade deadline, so plenty of time to kill. Rather than propose 50 different unlikely-to-happen trade scenarios, I thought I take a stab at an MVP vote for the Pirates to this point in the season. I'm sure there will be plenty of different opinions on this, but one thing is for sure. Nobody's list is going to look remotely close to what they would have predicted at the beginning of the season.
From 10 to 1, here it is:
10B.) Jung Ho Kang:
The sexual assault allegations that surfaced on July 5th undoubtedly are weighing on Kang. It's unclear exactly when he was made aware of them, but since the time they were made public he's slashed .184/.262/.289, for a .551 OPS. He's now splitting time with David Freese at third. Kang has made a nice recovery from his injury and is playing an excellent defensive third base. Maybe his three-run double on Wednesday will lead to better things down the stretch.
10A.) Sean Rodriguez:
The change in Sean Rodriguez in his age-31 season is pretty remarkable. SRod came into the season with a career slash line of .228/.295/.371, a .666 OPS and an 85 OPS+. Last season with the Pirates he drew five walks in 240 PA. This year in 207 PA, he's hitting .247/.330/.495, .825 with a 117 OPS+ and 19 walks. He's played excellent defense at five different positions and his ability to adequately handle shortstop means the Pirates don't have to carry an extra glove, as they have in years past, to give Jordy Mercer the occasional day off. If he's higher on your list I won't argue.
9.) Matt Joyce:
I didn't think Joyce should make the club out of spring training. I was more interested in seeing Jason Rogers off the bench even though that would have meant the Pirates lacked a left-handed bat for that role. Wow was I wrong. Who saw this coming? .283/.412/.559, .971 OPS. The only thing keeping Joyce from being in the top half of this list is he only has 177 PA. What a bounce back season at age 32. Along with SRod, David Freese and Adam Frazier, the Pirates the best bench in baseball.
Placing relievers on a list like this is always the most difficult decision for me. Both of these guys have been outstanding but I'll give Watson the slight nod because he has pitched 44.0 innings vs 39.1 for Feliz. After back-to-back rough outings on June 4th & 5th Watson has made 20 appearances and given up one run in 20 innings. Opponents are hitting .186/.240/.229 during this stretch.
It's hard to chose between Joyce, Freese and Feliz as Neal Huntington's best free agent offseason acquisition. At $3.9 million Feliz seemed to be a bit of an overpay. He's been worth all of that and more. From day one Hurdle slotted him into the seventh inning role and he's delivered with 45 Ks in 39.1 innings and a WHIP under 1.000.
6.) David Freese:
Another great offseason pickup by Neal Huntington. I'm not sure who the Pirates starting third baseman is right now. Freese is putting up his best numbers since this All-Star 2012 season and has been a capable corner infielder. The fact that he's had about 100 more PAs than Kang, SRod and Joyce moves him above them.
5.) Jordy Mercer:
This for sure will be the most-controversial ranking on the list and if you wanted to move Mercer back, I'd understand. While the defensive metrics aren't as kind to Jordy this year as they have been in the past, he continues to be a very consistent, reliable glove at the most important defensive position. Jordy's also having the best offensive season of his career. After posting a 69 OPS+ last year, he's at 103 this year and continues to rake against lefties with a .889 OPS. I think he's the most underrated player on the team.
4.) Gerrit Cole:
Cole was equally difficult to place on this list and before Wednesday's superb first career complete game I might have put him behind Watson/Feliz. My knock on Cole this year is that he hasn't given the Pirates the innings you would expect from a front-of-the-rotation starter. In 15 starts he's only thrown 87.1 innings, an average of less than six an outing. But he's put up good numbers and the Pirates are going to need him to be dominant down the stretch and in the wild card game if they make the playoffs.
3.) Mark Melancon:
Apparently the Pirates are at least exploring the idea of dealing Melancon (which they now have done). While I understand the logic, anyone is available for the right price, it still would surprise me if it actually happens. Melancon's peripherals don't stack up with some of the other names on the market, but his results stack up with anyone's. It's hard to put a guy who has only pitched 41.2 innings this high on any list, but Melancon continues to be outstanding. The strikeout numbers aren't impressive, but he doesn't walk anyone, generates a ton of soft contact and has a WHIP under 1.000. There is zero chance the Pirates offer Melancon a qualifying offer at the end of the season, in my opinion, but think it will be fascinating to see what kind of offers he gets. Regardless of whether he's traded or leaves in free agency, he is in the books as having maybe the best four-year run by a reliever in Pirates history.
2.) Gregory Polanco:
A breakout season for Polanco at age 24. It was pretty much a coin flip between he and Marte for the top spot. From day one of this year Polanco has show great plate discipline and a much-improved ability to handle lefthanders. He looks to be a perennial All-Star and top 10 MVP candidate for years to come.
1.) Starling Marte:
Marte is slightly improved plate discipline away from being one of the ten best players in the NL. Although his home run numbers are down this year he is a legit five-tool star. He got the nod over Polanco due to defense and base running. His 36 stolen bases lead the majors and are just five off his career high. I still don't think Marte has tapped his full potential, but he's close. He and Polanco will form the core of this team for years to come.
At the beginning of the year every list ranking the Pirates best players would likely have included Andrew McCutchen, Francisco Cervelli, Francisco Liriano and Josh Harrison. The fact that none of those guys made the list and the team is still four games over .500 bodes well if at least a few of them revert to form.