The Pirates may be biding their time with Pedro Alvarez until they can find an upgrade over him at first base. Manager Clint Hurdle spoke to the media yesterday before the game and was asked several times about the play of Alvarez at first. As Travis Sawchik, Pirates’ reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, notes in an article from yesterday, Hurdle is committed to Alvarez at first, for now. The fact that there is no clear Option B at the moment, coupled with Alvarez’s ability to drive in runs, has bought the team time with him at first.
However, while Hurdle remains committed to Alvarez at the moment, his commitment of him wasn’t firm. Alvarez has been a frustrating player for the Pirates since he was taken with the second overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft. While he’s always struck out a lot, he’s managed to warrant a place on the major league roster because of his power and his ability to drive in runs. That was the case, at least, until last season, when Alvarez’s defense became an issue, as he notched 24 throwing errors at third base and permanently lost his starting spot in late August to Josh Harrison.
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This season, Alvarez has been a negative win player (-0.6 according to ESPN) and is batting .230/.298/.419 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. He also has been unable to adjust to first base defensively, as he has accrued 15 errors at first, by far the most in the majors. As Sawchik notes, that’s the most for a first baseman in a season since Prince Fielder had 15 in 2011. There’s also over two months of the season left to be played.
Here’s what Hurdle had to say when asked about whether the team is running out of patience with Alvarez:
"“I think we’ll evaluate (Alvarez) as we did last year,” Hurdle said. “I don’t know what is going to happen two weeks down the road. Could it be different? It could be. Could it be the same? It could be. … Play separates playing time. They all know that. We’ve become a team that is predicated on defense: pitch it and catch it.”"
If the team evaluates him like they did last year, and Alvarez ends up losing his starting position at first base late in the season, who are the available internal options? Currently, the only other players on the roster that can play first base are Travis Ishikawa and Sean Rodriguez. Ishikawa has only one hit in 14 at-bats this year, while Rodriguez has been a negative win player and is batting .215 with 36 strikeouts and only three walks. And we all know how Corey Hart‘s done this season.
None of those three are ideal options at first. If anything, each would give you better defense at first while provided nowhere near the production Alvarez gives you. Considering the way Hurdle spoke about a lack of clear options at first beyond Alvarez, it’s safe to say that the team may be looking externally to find that upgrade. Who could they look to?
In a trade market that lacks notable first base options, Lind stands out. He has a history of success in Toronto, and he has an .881 OPS this season and has been slightly more productive than Alvarez at the plate. He has a much higher batting average (.289 compared to .230) and OBP (.374 to .298), and he only has three errors in the field. Unfortunately, the Cardinals also may look for a first baseman with Matt Adams potentially having to miss the rest of the season due to injury, so the price may go up as the deadline approaches.
The Pirates need an upgrade over Pedro Alvarez at first. They are more than likely already pursuing that upgrade. Give me Lind, Mr. Neal Huntington, and I will be a happy fan.