The Pittsburgh Pirates will have some interesting 40-man roster decisions in the near future, one of them is Jared Oliva. So what should they do with the outfielder?
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of noteworthy outfield prospects. Travis Swaggerty ranks the best among them, ranking as FanGraphs’ 107th best prospect. Matthew Fraizer had a phenomenal breakout campaign and went from unraked by MLB Pipeline to the Pirates’ 23rd best prospect by their measure (pretty impressive considering the large talent influx over the past year).
Lolo Sanchez also had a fine breakout season. Canaan Smtih-Njigba had a good season at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A during the last weeks of the season. Cal Mitchell was another guy who put up solid numbers at Altoona. Now with Ji-Hwan Bae getting reps in the grass while adding Tucupita Marcano who started to see playing time in the outfield this year, who came along with Jack Suwinski, the outfield picture is looking pretty crowded.
One name I didn’t mention was Jared Oliva. A few years ago, Oliva was one of the Pirates’ better outfield prospects. Back at the begining of 2020, FanGraphs considered him a borderline-50 FV prospect and their 9th best overall prospect. While that was before the major additions of Nick Gonzales, Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Hudson Head, so on and so forth, being ranked 9th in what was then considered a top 5 farm system (now top 3) was still very good.
But fast forward to 2021, and Oliva’s future with the club is now in serious jeopardy this off-season. The Pirates have to make a ton of room on the 40-man roster to accommodate a handful of Rule 5 eligible prospects. So what should the Pirates do with Oliva?
I think we should first start by looking at his 2021 season. Oliva did appear in the major leagues, but for only 43 plate appearances, and put up a very poor 43 wRC+. He spent most of the campaign down at Triple-A. Oliva was hurt for part of the season, only racking up 249 trips to the plate and batting .249/.321/.364 with a .308 wOBA, and 86 wRC+.
Now Oliva did better down the stretch. He had a .271/.345/.401 line, .333 wOBA, and 101 wRC+ from August to the end of the season. Still, that’s not great numbers and only about league average. It’s a large departure from the 124 wRC+ and 123 wRC+ he put up in 2018 at High-A ball and Double-A.
At this point, Oliva definitely won’t get a shot over Swaggerty, Fraizer, Bae, Marcano, and probably not over Smith-Njigba, Mitchell, or Suwinski. All of them performed better than Oliva at their respective levels this year. Oliva would also be entering his age-26 season, making him the Pirates’ oldest ranked prospect on FanGraphs’ list.
So what options do the Pittsburgh Pirates have with Oliva?
The first is just straight-up DFA’ing or releasing him. As we’ve seen, the Pirates have more than enough young outfield capable players that will likely make their Pirate debut in 2022. Not to mention all the other young talent like Lonnie White, Braylon Bishop, Shalin Polanco, and Rodolfo Nolasco, Oliva isn’t needed for the long haul. The 40-man roster spot Oliva currently takes up would be better used by a young, high-upside prospect like Tahnaj Thomas, Abrahan Gutierrez, or Eddy Yean.
The other option the Pittsburgh Pirates have is to trade Oliva. As you could probably conclude so far, Oliva doesn’t have much trade value. Though the Pirates might be able to find a team willing to do a change-of-scenery swap where Oliva gets a better chance at more consistent playing time, and the Pirates get another younger player in a similar situation, somewhere at first base or pitcher.
They might also get a young lotto-ticket-like prospect, one with high-upside, but still in their teenage years. They could also include him as a deal sweetener if they do end up deciding to trade any of Colin Moran, Ben Gamel, or Chris Stratton.
I would not completely rule out the Pittsburgh Pirates keeping Oliva, but when push comes to shove, Oliva is definitely one of the first that gets the boot. I’d rather the Pirates trade Oliva if they can, but I’ll admit that the chances he brings back anything worthwhile are slim to none. Still, Oliva’s future is going to be very much up in the air as we approach the Rule 5 Draft.