The Pirates have entered February with a seemingly comfortable take on their roster heading into camp. With pitchers and catchers slated to report to camp in less than two weeks, veteran free agents may start to look for lesser deals to break into camp with certain ball clubs.
One key piece from the Pirates’ recent and playoff-bound seasons was 3B turned 1B – Pedro Alvarez. “El Toro,” who will be entering his age 29 season in 2016, hit for a .243/.318/.469 line with 27 home runs, 77 RBI, and a .787 OPS in 2015. There is no doubting Alvarez’s power traits when he makes contact, but that exactly is the issue – when he makes contact. Alvarez struck out 131 times and drew 48 walks in 2015 – both career highs for Alvarez since he led the league in strike outs in 2013 (186).
The big question within El Toro as a player is, and always has been, his defensive metrics. In 2015, Alvarez finished last among qualifying 1B in terms of fielding percentage (.978), and he committed 23 errors as a first baseman, which was 12 more errors committed than the next fewest (Jose Abreu, 11 errors.) He also ranked last among qualifiers in terms of UZR (-14.3) and defensive WAR (-2.3). There is no question that the lack of defensive skills opposite the hot corner has hurt Alvarez’s value in some way, shape, or form. What does the rest of the MLB rumor mill think?
According to media reports throughout the winter, there were about a handful of teams interested in Alvarez on a lower-end contract. Of these teams, only one was a member of the National League: The Milwaukee Brewers. Since expressing interest, however, the Brewers have remained quiet within any talks involving Alvarez. American League teams showing interest over the winter include Cleveland and Baltimore. Reports said that Cleveland contacted Alvarez’s camp after being non-tendered, but since have signed 1B Mike Napoli and have essentially cut those talks off. Despite the quiet actions from the Indians, you can never rule out the signing of Alvarez as a platoon option with Napoli at 1B or young 3B Giovanny Urshela. As for the Orioles, they signed 1B/OF Mark Trumbo to a one-year deal over the winter, so a situation involving an Alvarez signing remains unlikely, as well.
One driving force in potential negotiations for Alvarez is, of course, notorious agent Scott Boras, who represents Alvarez. Boras has gone on record talking about how Alvarez has wrongly been given the stigma of being a DH-only player, claiming to MLB Network Radio that Alvarez still has the skills and athleticism but has been coined DH-only “based upon a short sample size or a moment in his career where he’s had an irregularity in throwing.” Boras is known as one of the toughest negotiators as an agent in all of sports. It’s tough to support Boras’ claims simply because the defensive metrics and facts do not correlate.
Do I think there is a home for El Toro? Could it be back with the Pirates? Looking at the current Pirates depth chart, there seems to be a bit of a logjam at both the 1B and 3B positions. Recently-signed John Jaso appears to be in competition with Michael Morse for the starting 1B job, and Jung-Ho Kang has the starting 3B job all but locked up. The versatile Sean Rodriguez can man either position, as can Josh Harrison, who is expected to be the team’s starting second baseman, can easily step into 3B if needed. Also, let’s not forget that Josh Bell is due to come up in the near future, and Pirates fans worldwide are anxiously awaiting his arrival, I’m sure.
Is Pedro Alvarez doomed? I don’t think so, as I do see him as a viable option as a DH for an American League contender, a la Kendrys Morales for Kansas City last season on a high note, but if he and agent Scott Boras want to get into Spring Training this month, they more than likely need to quell those expectations a bit. What I don’t see is an option for El Toro to sport a Pirates jersey in the near future. When the Pirates earned their first playoff berth in 21 years back in 2013, Alvarez was the driving force, literally, in the heart of that order. Fast forward three years, and now he’s nothing but an afterthought to Pirates fans.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Runter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on twitter @cdcrisan.