By Jason Shetler
Whether it’s been through most of the consecutive losing season streak or recently with being a perennial contender, the Pirates have had their fair share of solid players. Here now is a list of the Top 25 best Pirates players since 2000.
25. Pedro Alvarez: The Pirates selected Pedro Alvarez with the #2 overall pick in the 2008 draft. In 2012, he became the first Pirates third baseman to put up a 30 homer season since Aramis Ramirez in 2001. Alvarez hit 36 home runs in 2013, which was tied for most in the NL. He was also named to the All-Star team that year.
24. Francisco Cervelli: Prior to 2015, the Pirates acquired Francisco Cervelli from the New York Yankees to replace Russell Martin. Cervelli’s first season with the Bucs was solid, as he posted a .370 on base percentage along with a 114 OPS+. He was considered the second best pitch framing catcher in 2015 behind only Yasmani Grandal of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
23. Edinson Volquez: The Pirates brought in Edinson Volquez before the 2014 season as a reclamation project. Ray Searage and Jim Benedict certainly worked their magic with the veteran right-hander, as he put up a 3.04 ERA with an ERA+ of 118.
22. Jung-Ho Kang: In a move that surprised most in baseball, the Pirates signed Jung-Ho Kang out of Korea prior to the 2015 season. Kang had a solid rookie campaign, posting an OPS of .816 with a 124 OPS+ and a 4.0 WAR.
21. Jack Wilson: The man known as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” put on an absolute show as the Pirates shortstop with his defense from 2001 to 2009. Wilson made his only All-Star appearance in 2004 when he batted .308 along with a .794 OPS. His best defensive work came the following year in 2005, putting up an incredible 4.1 dWAR, a 14.3 UZR and had 32 Defensive Runs Saved.
20. Garrett Jones: Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made quite a find when he signed Garrett Jones to a minor league deal before the 2009 season. Jones made an impact that year after getting called up, as he posted .938 OPS with an OPS+ of 146 and finished seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Jones had a .780 OPS with a 113 OPS+.
19. Adam LaRoche: In 2007, the Pirates acquired Adam LaRoche from the Atlanta Braves in a deal that involved Mike Gonzalez. While most fans viewed LaRoche unfairly as being passive, his numbers were actually very good in his three seasons with the Bucs, as he put up an .809 OPS with a 112 OPS+.
18. Xavier Nady: The Pirates obtained Xavier Nady from the New York Mets at the 2006 trade deadline for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez. Nady was quite productive during his three years with the Pirates, as he posted an .835 OPS along with an OPS+ of 117.
17. Craig Wilson: When Craig Wilson joined the Pirates in 2001, he tied a Major League record for most pinch-hit home runs in a season with seven. Wilson’s best year came in 2004 when he smacked 29 homers while posting a .853 OPS. In his six seasons with the Pirates, he had an OPS of .846 and a 118 OPS+.
16. Reggie Sanders: Looking to add a right-handed power bat, the Pirates signed former All-Star outfielder Reggie Sanders in 2003. Despite playing just one season in Pittsburgh, Sanders was extremely productive, putting up a .913 OPS. He also hit 31 home runs, which was the second highest single season total of his career.
15. Matt Stairs: Just like Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs spent the 2003 season with the Pirates. The Canadian born slugger was mostly known for being a terrific pinch-hitter. His only year with the Pirates was one of his best, as he posted a very strong .950 OPS, as well as a 145 OPS+.
14. Joel Hanrahan: The Pirates acquired Joel Hanrahan from the Washington Nationals in 2009. After trading Octavio Dotel to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2010 trade deadline, the Bucs inserted Hanrahan as the closer. During his four seasons with the Pirates, Hanrahan put up a 2.59 ERA with a 151 ERA+ and was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012.
13. Tony Watson: When the Pirates drafted Tony Watson in 2007, he was used primarily as a starter, but injuries forced him to become a reliever. The Pirates called up Watson in 2011. Since joining the Bucs bullpen, Watson has been exceptional, posting a 2.46 ERA along with an ERA+ of 151, and is currently one of the best lefty relievers in baseball.
12. Freddy Sanchez: At the 2003 trade deadline, the Pirates acquired Freddy Sanchez from the Boston Red Sox as part of the Jeff Suppan deal. He took over as the Pirates third baseman in 2006 following an injury to Joe Randa, and wound up hitting .344 to capture the National League batting title that year. Sanchez would become a three-time All-Star during his time in Pittsburgh.
11. Neil Walker: The Pirates drafted Neil Walker as a catcher in 2004. A few years later, he was moved to third base. In 2010, Aki Iwamura struggled mightily as the Pirates second baseman, and Walker got his chance and never looked back. During his seven seasons with his hometown club, Walker had a .769 OPS and a 113 OPS+.
10. Starling Marte: The Pirates signed Starling Marte out of the Dominican Republic as a highly touted amateur in 2007. By 2012, he was the Pirates top prospect in the organization. Marte made his big league debut that year, and homered in his very first at-bat against the Houston Astros off 2015 AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. During his time with the Bucs, Marte has posted a .785 OPS with a 118 OPS+, 113 stolen bases and won the NL Gold Glove award for left fielders in 2015.
9. Mark Melancon: After trading Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox prior to 2013, the Pirates brought over Mark Melancon as one of four players the Bucs got in return. Melancon has not only been great, but his numbers have been historic in terms of all-time Pirates relievers, posting a 1.85 ERA along with a stellar 199 ERA+.
8. A.J. Burnett: The Pirates were looking to add a veteran starter to their rotation prior to the 2012 season. They acquired A.J. Burnett from the Yankees in exchange for a couple minor league players. After two solid years with the Bucs, he signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014. Burnett returned to Pittsburgh in 2015, his final big league campaign. In his three seasons as a Pirate, he put up a 3.34 ERA with an ERA+ of 111.
7. Francisco Liriano: As once a promising young starter for the Minnesota Twins, Francisco Liriano battled injuries and inconsistency. Before the 2013 season, the Pirates decided to take a flier on Liriano. After becoming a free agent following the 2014 season, Liriano re-signed with the Pirates. From to 2013 to 2015, he posted an ERA of 3.26 with a 113 ERA+ and a 9.6 K/9.
6. Jason Kendall: Entering 2000, Jason Kendall had established himself as one of the better offensive catchers in baseball. The three-time All-Star continued to be a force at the plate, as he put up a .379 on base from 2000 to 2004. He was also above average behind the dish in that span with a 31% caught stealing rate.
5. Russell Martin: Prior to 2013, the Pirates were in need of a reliable catcher. They surprised many by signing top free agent backstop Russell Martin. Despite playing just two seasons with the Bucs, Martin was certainly impactful on both sides with a. 362 on base while throwing out runners at very solid 39% clip.
4. Gerrit Cole: In 2010, the Pirates hit rock bottom by losing 105 games. Entering the 2011 draft, they had the first pick overall, and selected UCLA standout Gerrit Cole. The flame-throwing righty made his much anticipated debut in 2013, and has not disappointed, posting a 3.07 ERA along with a 121 ERA+ and placing fourth in the 2015 NL Cy Young voting, the highest finish for a Pirates starter since Doug Drabek in 1992.
3. Jason Bay: After five great seasons in Pittsburgh, Brian Giles was traded to the San Diego Padres in 2003 for a package that included Oliver Perez, Corey Stewart and Jason Bay. Based on the production from Giles, Bay certainly had some pressure on him, but he responded extremely well, and was productive in his own right. In 2004, he became the first Pirates rookie ever to be crowned NL Rookie of the Year. All told in six seasons, Bay put up an OPS of .890 with a 131 OPS+, and was named to three All-Star teams.
2. Brian Giles: Former Pirates GM Cam Bonifay pulled off his best trade acquisition prior to 1999 when he obtained Brian Giles from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Ricardo Rincon. The two-time All-Star outfielder had a phenomenal first season with the Pirates. That success carried over in a huge way, as Giles posted a 1.011 OPS with an OPS+ of 157 from 2000 to 2003. He’s currently sixth on the Pirates all-time home run list.
1. Andrew McCutchen: The #1 Pirates player since the beginning of the 21st century is Andrew McCutchen. The former first round pick of the Bucs in 2005 became the Pirates center fielder in 2009 following the trade of Nate McLouth. To this point of his career, McCutchen has posted an .884 OPS, a 144 OPS+, been named to five All-Star teams, has won four Silver Slugger awards, a Gold Glove and captured the NL MVP in 2013.