The Pittsburgh Pirates have chosen not to tender a contract to first baseman Pedro Alvarez.
As part of Major League Baseball’s non-tender rules in regards to the arbitration process, Alvarez is now a free agent, free to pursue a contract with any club.
In what some were characterizing as a game of chicken between the Pirates and potential trade suitors for Alvarez, the club blinked and chose not to go to arbitration with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 MLB Entry Draft. Alvarez has been actively involved in trade talks ever since his defensive issues transformed him from a 30-plus home run threat into a significant albatross. Alvarez found his way to 27 home runs to go along with a .787 OPS in 2015 after moving to first base full time, though his defensive struggles – 23 errors at 1st base last season – left him with just a 0.2 WAR rating as per Fangraphs.
The move to part ways with Alvarez will not be remembered for the parting itself. Rather, it may be remembered as a sign of failure on the part of an otherwise-sound front office. Since taking over as Pirates general manager in 2007, Neal Huntington has earned his share of praise. Still, it is difficult to comprehend that the Pirates did not feel the returns put forth by potential trade partners were worth the risk of adding Alvarez’s projected $8 million-plus salary to their 2016 payroll.
It’s fair to assume that other teams had taken notice of Alvarez’s shortcomings and would equally balk at spending $8 million on a hitter that profiles strictly as a DH. It’s also fair to point out that the club and Alvarez both took many missteps to lead themselves to this point.
By the time of the NL Wild Card Game, any possible suitors could look at the Pirates’ handling of Alvarez and see a team desperate to shed itself of a huge liability at an important position. Surely, there were signs present long-before manager Clint Hurdle chose to bench his lone pure-power threat for defensive purposes in a one-game scenario. The 2013 All-Star was often held out against left-handed pitching, with only 65 plate appearances against them for the entirety of 2015, a clear signal from the club that they considered him to be a very limited player.
Alvarez did not do his own trade value any favors. Alvarez’s defensive woes have been covered ad nauseam, but the true hindrance to his value at the plate may have come from an inability to work towards and then stay in favorable counts. Always something of a free swinger, Alvarez endeavored to lower his strikeout rate in 2015 to 29%, down from a career 32.3%. Looking a bit deeper, Alvarez struck out 29.8% of the time after a 1-1 count and 27.6% after a 2-1 count, painting a picture of a batter who still has not learned to maintain favorable counts.
All of the above conspired to keep Pedro Alvarez’s trade value – already limited to AL teams in need of a designated hitter – surprisingly low for a hitter with 80 home runs over the past three seasons.
In what was already a very challenging offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates will now turn their attention to back filling a position that has seen 44 different players start at least one game since the 2004 season. With Triple-A prospect Josh Bell struggling to take to the position defensively and Michael Morse as the only other lone traditional first baseman on the current 40-man roster, Huntington will now have to weigh how much the team wants to invest in the position until Bell is ready.
Outfielder Jaff Decker was the only other Pirates arbitration eligible player who was not tendered a contract.
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