Pedro Alvarez strikes out during a game at PNC Park earlier in the 2015 season. What will his trade value be as the 2015 season progresses? (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
By now, the fear of “losing’’ Pedro Alvarez has become a happy memory for Pirates fans.
Circa 2013, people were fearing his eventual loss to free agency. That season, Alvarez tied for the National League lead with 36 home runs. (That made it OK that he also edged out Jay Bruce for the NL whiff crown with 186.) It was Alvarez’s second consecutive season of 30 or more homers. He was only 26 and a plus defender at third base, despite his errors.
That seems a very long time ago. The way he’s played the past season and a half, the question is not whether to sign him. It’s whether to cut him or trade him this winter, with the former being a remote possibility if he doesn’t pick up his game. There won’t likely be much market for a 29-year-old, light hitting, poor fielding, platoon first baseman who would be due more than $6 million in arbitration next year.
Understand that this is baseball and a lot can change between now and the end of the season. Players that many fans wrote off in spring training or at the end of April -- Jung Ho Kang, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer -- have picked up their games. That could also happen with Alvarez, but he’ll have some heavy lifting to do.
Let’s begin with the truth that a first baseman needs to produce more than a third baseman. Alvarez threw so badly last season that he heaved himself clear across the diamond. Now he’s among some truly heavy hitters and he’s in no way a plus defender.
Looking at the rankings for offensive Wins Above Replacement for first basemen or third basemen with at least 200 plate appearances this year, Alvarez ranks 41st among 53 players. Dead last is Ryan Zimmerman, 30, of the Nationals, who’s hitting just .209/.265/.346/.611, with five homers in 211 AB. Zimmerman is another ersatz third baseman now playing first and is Exhibit Z for why it can be dangerous to lock up young players early. Zimmerman signed an 11-year, $135 million contract in 2009 that won’t run out until 2019. Ouch.
The top corner infield hitters this year are Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo, all hitting at least .290, on base at a .353 clip or better, and slugging at least .540. Alvarez has never in his six seasons hit above .244, gotten on base above .317 or slugged above .467. His numbers this year, disappointing as they are, very closely match his career numbers coming into the season.
Alvarez has cut down on his strikeouts, whiffing 26 percent of the time rather than the 33 percent of his first five seasons. Trouble is that extra contact hasn’t added power. He’s gone from a home run every 19.8 AB through 2014 to one every 21.9 this season. Again, he could make that up quickly in a hot streak, but the big picture for Pedro isn’t promising.
Looking at all active corner infielders with at least 1,500 plate appearances since 2010, Alvarez ranks 43rd among the 54 players in overall WAR. That puts him in the same company as the two left-handed hitting first basemen the Pirates let go after each of the past two seasons, Garrett Jones and Ike Davis.
You shouldn’t have to pay a lot for players like these, and teams don’t. Davis, who came up the same year as Alvarez and is also 28, was sold by the Pirates to the A’s last winter and signed a $3.8 million contract. Jones, non-tendered by the Pirates after the 2013 season, signed a two-year, $7.75 million deal with the Marlins. He’s finishing that out with the Yankees and not hitting very well.
Davis, Alvarez and Jones also have this in common: They don’t hit lefties. All have between 485 and 615 career plate appearances against southpaws, roughly a season’s worth, and have hit .195, .196 or .197 with an OPS .576, .577 or .580. I’d tell you who did what if it mattered, but none of those are first basemen’s numbers; those should be attached to a good-field, no-hit shortstop.
The Pirates need much more from Alvarez if they want to make a run at the Cardinals. They also need more from him if they expect to get anything in a trade for him this winter. I’m not sure anyone entirely understands how arbitration works, but if you had to pay Alvarez a big number next year would you offer more than a bag of balls to take on such risk?
If you think he’ll figure things out at 29, like Jose Bautista, you would. But Alvarez has been looking a lot more like Davis or Jones.
INDIANAPOLIS (46-32) lost to Columbus, 6-1. RHP Adrian Sampson (6-6, 3.76) was the loser, giving up 4 runs and 9 hits in 6 innings. LF Keon Broxton (.185) tripled. The Indians had only 3 hits.
ALTOONA (42-34) lost to Harrisburg, 4-2. RHP Tyler Glasnow (2.45) allowed 2 unearned runs and 2 hits in 3 ⅔ innings. Glasnow struck out 7 and walked 2. LHP Josh Smith (0-4, 7.09) was the loser. 1B Josh Bell (.327) went 2 for 4 with an RBI.
BRADENTON (35-40) lost to Brevard County, 4-2. RHP Luis Heredia (1-3, 4.66) was the loser, allowing 3 unearned runs and 4 hits in 6 innings. RF Harold Ramirez (.378) had an RBI triple. CF Austin Meadows (.282) went 2 for 4.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (42-32) beat Greensboro, 3-2, in a game that was shortened to seven innings because of rain. RHP Yeudy Garcia (2.55) gave up 1 run and 7 hits in 4 innings. RHP Jose Regalado (2-3, 3.23) was the winner. 3B Jordan Luplow (.227) hit a 2-run homer.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (4-6) lost to Hudson Valley, 7-1. RHP Bret Helton (0-2, 7.50) was the loser, allowing 3 runs and 3 hits in 3 innings. DH Chris Harvey (.182) tripled.
GCL PIRATES (4-2) beat GCL Yankees, 11-4. RHP Clay Holmes (3.24) gave up 3 runs – 1 earned – and 6 hits in 4 2/3 innings. RHP Jen-Lei Liao (1-0, 0.00) was the winner. CF Michael De La Cruz (.320) went 2 for 5 with 4 RBIs. DH Jhoan Herrera (.250) went 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs.
BRISTOL (3-4) lost to Elizabethton, 6-0. RHP Trey Supak (0-1, 7.88) was the loser, allowing 5 runs and 8 hits in 3 innings. 1B Carlos Munoz (.348) had one of Bristol’s 2 hits.
INDIANAPOLIS (46-31) beat Syracuse, 5-1. LHP Clayton Richard (4-2, 2.09) was the winner, giving up 1 run and 3 hits 7 innings. Richard struck out 5, did not issue a walk, and retired 19 of the final 20 batters he faced. 3B Brent Morel (.252) went 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs.
ALTOONA (42-33) was swept by Harrisburg in a doubleheader, 3-2 and 4-3. In the first game, LHP Zack Dodson (3-5, 3.69) was the loser, allowing 3 runs and 3 hits in 6 innings. 3B Dan Gamache (.311) went 2 for 3 with a home run and 2 RBIs. In the second game, LHP Tom Harlan (3.91) gave up 3 runs and 3 hits in 4 innings. RHP Jeff Inman (2-1, 2.79) was the loser. 2B Max Moroff (.313) went 2 for 4 with an RBI.
BRADENTON (35-39) beat St. Lucie, 4-3, in 11 innings. LHP Jayson Aquino (3.31) gave up 3 runs – 2 earned – and 4 hits in 6 innings. RHP Isaac Sanchez (2-2, 3.28) was the winner. LF Barrett Barnes (.274) went 2 for 5 with a 2-run home run. C Jin-De Jhang (.307) homered.
WEST VIRGINIA POWER (41-32) beat Greensboro, 13-3. RHP Alex McRae (4-4, 4.06) was the winner, allowing 3 runs and 5 hits in 6 innings. 2B Pablo Reyes (.242) went 2 for 5 with a home run and 3 RBIs. CF Tito Polo (.217) went 2 for 4 with a home run. C Francisco Diaz (.300) homered.
WEST VIRGINIA BLACK BEARS (4-5) lost to Hudson Valley, 11-3. RHP Jonathan Brubaker (0-2, 9.45) was the loser, giving up 4 runs – 2 earned – and 6 hits in 4 innings. RF Logan Hill (.303) went 1 for 4 with a home run and 2 RBIs.
GCL PIRATES (3-2) did not play.
BRISTOL (3-3) swept Princeton in a doubleheader, winning 4-3, in 10 innings, and 7-6. In the first game, RHP Logan Sendelbach (6.75) gave up 2 runs and 5 hits in 2 2/3 innings. RHP Dan Urbina (1-1, 4.91) was the winner. RF Nick Buckner (.176) had 2 RBIs. In the second game, RHP Neil Kozikowski (5.63) allowed 6 runs – 3 earned – and 8 hits in 3 innings. RHP Scooter Hightower (1-0, 0.00) was the winner. LF Henrry Rosario (.182) hit a 3-run homer.
Game: Braves (35-39) at Pirates (41-32)
Time: 1:35 p.m.
Site: PNC Park
TV, radio: ROOT Sports, KDKA-FM 93.7
1. Jace Peterson 2B
2. Cameron Maybin CF
3. Nick Markakis RF
4. Chris Johnson 1B
5. A.J. Pierzynsk
6. Pedro Ciriaco 3B
7. Jonny Gomes LF
8. Andrelton Simmons SS
9. Alex Wood LHP
1. Josh Harrison 3B
2. Jung Ho Kang 3B
3. Andrew McCutchen CF
4. Starling Marte LF
5. Francisco Cervelli C
6. Jordy Mercer SS
7. Sean Rodriguez 1B
8. Gorkys Hernandez RF
9. Jeff Locke LHP
Dear Washington Nationals,
Jose Tabata was designated for assignment today. He will be available shortly on waivers. He’s very popular in your city.
Here are today’s moves: Tabata DFA’d (third time’s the charm?), Chris Volstad was DFA’d, Gorkys Hernandez and Steve Lomabardozzi recalled from Indianapolis.
It’s the latest in a flurry of fringe-of-the-roster moves for the Pirates this week. Nothing major, but always notable.
Hernandez hasn’t played in the majors since 2012, when he had a cup of tea with the Pirates (2 for 24 in 25 games) before being traded midseason to the Miami Marlins for Kyle Kaminska and Gaby Sanchez. He’s hitting .275 this season at Indianapolis.
We just saw Lombardozzi on the Pirates last month. We barely knew Volstad, who threw two scoreless innings in his short stay here.
Moving Tabata now is somewhat interesting. He wasn’t playing a large role with the Pirates, but is Hernandez a better option? A little surprised it’s not Jaff Decker joining the club, bringing a left-handed and hotter bat to the bench. But it’s Hernandez, and Tabata is gone, back to waivers where he may or may not get claimed.
Again, Nationals, he’s available. Have at him.