Joe Tuscano Column

How to solve the Alvarez dilemma

How to solve the Alvarez dilemma

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There is no truth to the rumor the Pirates are having trouble selling seats behind first base because of errant throws made by third baseman Pedro Alvarez.


Alvarez, the Pirates’ first-round pick and the No. 2 selection in the 2008 draft, has been the most polarizing figure in Pittsburgh sports recently.


From the contentious and controversial contract negotiations with his agent Steve Boras to the enormous amount of strikeouts to the latest malady, an inability to make on-target throws to first base, Alvarez stokes emotions in fans. Frustration grows with his swings and misses; thrills emerge with his mammoth home runs, some of which have reached the river behind the right field wall on a fly; and bewilderment is ongoing because of his seemingly lack of emotion on the field.


The latest folly – some call it the Steve Sax disease, named for the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman who couldn’t make an accurate throw to first – has many calling for his demotion to the minors, or trade to another team or simply a benching in favor of super-sub Josh Harrison, who spelled Alvarez at times.


None of these solutions seem appropriate, but here is a way to maximize this situation.


Offer to extend his contract.


I’m thinking three-year deal for around $20 and $25 million dollars.


Remember, greed is always a motivating factor.


The Pirates have no other player in their lineup or minor league system who has the ability to change a game the way Alvarez can with a swing of the bat, no one with that type of home run potential.


There is no better time to make the offer because Alvarez’s stock has never been lower. Amazing, considering Alvarez and Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona tied for the National League home run lead last season with 36.


Alvarez, in his fifth major league season, has 15 home runs and 49 RBI through 104 games. He is on pace for 24 home runs and 76 RBI, which might lead the team at season’s end.


Andrew McCutchen is a much better all-round player, and has a team-high 17 home runs. But he is a line-drive hitter, not a home-run hitter. There’s no loop in that swing. There will be many teams willing to deal for Alvarez in the offseason because that type of power hitter is rare, but won’t offer much in return.


Those errors are a problem and could derail the Pirates’ chances of earning a playoff berth. Doesn’t matter. I would still send Alvarez out because the Pirates need his presence at the plate. In last season’s National League Division Series against St. Louis, Alvarez hit .352 with three home runs and six RBI. He has that capability.


The Pirates’ recent history with power hitters in their system is not good. They dumped third baseman Aramis Ramirez in a salary cleansing move, traded third baseman Jose Bautista to Toronto and gave up on outfielder Brandon Moss, who has averaged 25 home runs since arriving in Oakland.


Offering Alvarez a contract extension at the end of the season will be a temptation that will be hard for him to refuse, especially after this forgettable year. He might say yes.


If he agrees, the Pirates have him for three years without an arbitrator determining his value.


If he agrees, switch him to first base next year. Alvarez has not had a problem stopping the balls, just making the throws. But position changes in season are usually disastrous.


If he agrees, the Pirates could move Harrison to third base and look for someone in their system or free agency who also can play there.


Home-run hitters tend to develop later in their careers, and it would be a mistake to let Alvarez slip away only to finally blossom with a different team next season.


Besides, you can always install a net to protect those seats around first base.



Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at jtuscano@observer-reporter.com.


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