Pirates make right call with Alvarez

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SOUTH HILLS – It’s true the free agent first base market is thin. It’s true the Pirates don’t have an ideal – or perhaps even passable – internal option to replace Pedro Alvarez on Opening Day. It’s true that the Pirates’ power is in a three-year decline, falling from 6th in home runs in 2014 to 23rd in baseball last season.

All that being said, the Pirates made the right call in not tendering Alvarez a contract on Wednesday night.

At a sentimental, emotional level, it had to be difficult call for Neal Huntington. Alvarez was the first draft pick of his tenure – No. 2 overall – and while Alvarez did not pan out like one would expect of a No. 2 overall pick, he did usher in the correct process: spending on the draft, not cutting costs there.

pedrotrade

As the final chapter is written, Alvarez’s performance left much to be desired (Horner photo)

From a s business and performance perspective, it was likely a relatively easy decision. The Pirates had shopped Alvarez to the American League as a DH since at least last winter to no avail.

“There wasn’t as big of a market for Pedro as you might anticipate,” Huntington said.

In the NL, he had to play in the field and had combined for 0.2 WAR over the last two seasons due to his historic-level defensive struggles. It was the yips that dropped Alvarez from a 3-win player in 2013 to a replacement-level one.

His final career line with the Pirates?

724-games

133-errors

131-home runs

.236-average

.750-OPS

807-strikeouts

6.1-WAR

Alvarez simply does not hit enough to justify putting his glove on the lineup, and he did not show much evidence of growing from a slightly-above average bat to an elite one.

I think it is plausible his defense improves from horrible to merely poor in 2016, but was it worth making an $8 million bet – his projected salary through arbitration – on that hope?

The other thing to consider, as I wrote about earlier in the week, is the Pirates had to create more financial flexibility.

Shedding Alvarez’s projected $8.1M salary puts the Pirates’ projected Opening Day payroll at $92M – which is still $2M greater than last season before signing a free agent or making a trade.

It might have also been difficult to bring Alvarez back because one has to surmise the relationships on both sides soured. The Pirates leadership gradually seemed less willing to defend Alvarez (it might not have helped that he didn’t show for the voluntary minicamp last January) and Alvarez seemed to grown disenchanted with his playing time.

Alvarez will find a home.

It’s most likely as a DH in the AL, but he might be an interesting fit at Coors Field.

The Pirates always needed rotation help going into the offseason, now they  need a short-term answer at first until Josh Bell is ready. Michael Morse is not the answer. Maybe Byung-Ho Park could have been given his relatively modest contract.

Some will view cutting ties with Alvarez as creating another hole, but in truth that hole already existed and now Huntington and his front office now has some financial flexibility given the constraints they worth within.

Maybe Alvarez will put it all together in another locale, but more likely the player he was over the last two seasons is the player he is and one worth cutting ties with. Most likely, Alvarez is an AL DH.

Said Huntington: “Our goal is to put a championship-caliber team on the field every year. As strange as it may sound, we felt this is the best way to do that.”

-TS

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