Let’s start with the obvious. Pedro Alvarez is not going to re-sign with the Pirates after 2016. His agent is Scott Boras, he is one year removed from being the NL Home Run leader, and no matter if he tanks again over the next two years, some American League team with money to burn will give him a $100m contract to be the DH of the future.
Of course Neal Huntington is well aware of that and maybe the plan all along was to trade Pedro Alvarez before his last contract year in 2016. The only problem is that after Pedro’s shaky 2014 campaign his trade value has plunged lower than the ruble. So if he has another season like last year and you’re Neal Huntington, what do you do?
Keep Alvarez, cross your fingers, hope that he can play a decent first base, hit 30+ home runs, drive in a hundred, and help the Pirates make a deep run into the playoffs. Then after the 2016 season, negotiate in vain with Boras and watch him leave in free agency with nothing in your pocket to show for it. Unless you win the NLDS and/or the World Series in those years it is a loss to have kept him and if Josh Bell isn’t ready to step in to the role in 2017 you have a serious void at the position.
Move him before the 2016 season starts for the best deal available and try your luck with some other options at first base. In that instance, you may end up with some high end prospects or perhaps a major league ready catcher, first baseman, or pitcher. The downside of that scenario is that if Pedro Alvarez returns to form, belts 40 home runs and has an all-star caliber year that could have helped your team get over that first-round hump, you were an absolute fool to trade him.
Neither option is ideal, but the Pirates have shown that they can be successful without an impact first baseman. They’ve played winning baseball with the likes of Travis Ishikawa, Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, and Garret Jones over the last two years. And yes, Justin Morneau played the position for a month.
So perhaps they can roll the dice with a below average first baseman and just try to get what you can out of Pedro Alvarez in a trade while his value is still somewhat high. Unfortunately in regards to a successor at first, the cupboard is bare in Pittsburgh. If Alvarez was moved immediately and no first baseman was garnered in the deal, the Pirates would be looking at the following players to step in and work the platoon. None of which will make you happy.
Newly acquired, self proclaimed utility dynamo from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays played all of 40 games at first over the last two seasons and could probably step in and be at least average in the field. With the bat in his hand he’s a much different story. Rodriguez hit .221 in 3 seasons with the Rays and although he hit a career high 12 home runs in only 96 at bats last year, he sported a horrendous .258 OBP and his batting average barely stayed above the mendoza. (.211) I’m not exactly salivating over here.
Andrew Lambo played one game at first base last year for the buccos and only has 62 total first base appearances in his career in the minors. The rub on Lambo is that he tends to knock the cover off of the ball in affiliate leagues but as soon as he gets to the bigs he forgets how to hit. Over the last 189 games in the minors, Lambo hit 44 home runs and put up a .294 batting average. Over the last 39 games in the majors he’s hit 1 home run and batted .246 at the plate. Maybe he just isn’t capable of adapting to the pitching at the major league level. Either way, it doesn’t inspire much confidence.
There are some rumors that Neil Walker would step in at first base. This is too preposterous to even discuss so I won’t spend much time on it. He is an All-Star caliber 2nd baseman that fields that position superbly and he’s only played first base 7 times in 9 seasons as a pro and that was in his first few years in the minors. It’s not going to happen.
Hart used to be a perennial thorn in the Pirates side during his years with the Milwaukee Brewers. However coming off of two major knee surgeries that kept him out all of the 2013 season and a .203 average in 68 games last year, it seems as if his best years are behind him…..way behind him.
And if you’re looking to the farm system for options, you’ll be disappointed.
Aside from Andrew Lambo, the minor league first base options are non-existent. Josh Bell won’t be a viable option in 2015 and maybe not even 2016. Matt Hague joined Russell Martin in Toronto, a promising Chris McGuinness is now across the state in Philadelphia, and while trading Ike Davis for $270k in international dollars might have taken a bit of the edge off from winning the Jung-Ho Kang lottery, Ike Davis looks like Keith Hernandez right now compared to what else we’re looking at.
Whether you ride it out with Pedro or not, there will be naysayers on either end. Whatever the decision ultimately ends up being, I trust in the judgment of the GM who took the least desirable position in all of sports 7 years ago and turned it into something where making these choices actually meant something for a change.
He’s earned that trust by now.