Pedro Alvarez has always been a polarizing player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The man affectionately known as El Toro has undisputed power in his bat as evidenced by the National League-leading 36 home runs he hit last year. However, that power comes at a cost in the form of dismally-low batting averages, loads of strikeouts and poor fielding at third base.
The questions surrounding Alvarez have become more prominent since the emergence of super-utility player Josh Harrison and his stellar play since becoming a mainstay in the lineup. Some fans in Pittsburgh think Harrison can and should shoulder the full load at third base, relegating Alvarez to a platoon-like situation off the bench. Those fans are a bit premature in their zeal to see Alvarez ride the bench, but the question still remains as to what his future with the team holds.
First and foremost, Alvarez is represented by super agent Scott Boras, a man whose clients usually opt for free agency and big-money deals when their time is up. The team is paying Alvarez $4.25 million this season, a number that is likely to inflate to more than $10 million during arbitration in the offseason, according to Rum Bunter’s Adam Perry.
So perhaps the bigger question isn’t to bench or to play Alvarez, but rather to trade him and get something in return before he leaves for free agency anyway. The team controls Alvarez until after the 2016 season, but that doesn’t mean the Pirates shouldn’t start exploring ways to move him now, especially because he’s in line for a big pay raise after the season.
Do the Pirates want to pay upwards of $10 million a year for a third baseman who currently leads Major League Baseball with 17 errors? That’s a lot of money for a player hitting .232 at the plate, second-worst among all third basemen in the league. Of course, he’s always liable to go on a tear and hit seven home runs in a week.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik makes a relevant point in a blog post from several weeks ago, a point that illustrates the conundrum that is Pedro Alvarez.
Alvarez will be a free agent after the 2016 season. Since he is represented by agent Scott Boras, whose clients usually opt for free agency, the belief is the Pirates will trade him before that day comes. If Alvarez’s career takes off, there’s no way the Pirates can afford him. If it does not, there’s no way they'll want him at the salary he’ll still command.
Smizik goes on to say that Alvarez could be a prime target for American League teams looking for a designated hitter, or for a team looking to convert him to first base. His ability to hit 30 or more home runs a year cannot be denied, especially on a Pirates team lacking in power. But the Pirates are not the New York Yankees and cannot afford to pay a player tens of millions just for a power bat.
The debate in Pittsburgh isn’t centered around trading Alvarez, although maybe it should be. Instead, manager Clint Hurdle is faced with hard decisions now that second baseman Neil Walker is back from the disabled list, forcing Hurdle to get creative in finding a lineup spot for the hot-hitting Harrison.
For one, Perry thinks it’s time for Alvarez to ride the bench. If that happens, could a trade be far behind?
The immediate question is: Who gives the Pirates a better chance to win, if you’re writing the lineup card tomorrow? I’d go with Harrison, and give him a chance to prove he’s not an everyday player, rather than continuing with Alvarez, who has yet to prove this year that he’s an everyday player.