Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pirates don't need Alvarez at first base

Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, 11:42 p.m.
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Even as the summer sun lit their pathway toward fall baseball, the Pirates faced a hard winter. It also happens to be one of the most important in franchise history.

The franchise player knows that better than anybody. There is no other way to interpret Andrew McCutchen telling the Trib's Rob Biertempfel that the Pirates need “an everyday first baseman.”

A player of McCutchen's standing — and make no mistake, he is every bit as important on and off the field to the Pirates as Sidney Crosby is on and off the ice to the Penguins — only goes on the record with that kind of statement if he is on the same page with management or is trying to send a message to management.

There is no indication McCutchen and the Pirates aren't on the same page.

There is every indication McCutchen and the Pirates have read the writing on the wall, have come around to accept that lynchpin catcher Russell Martin will not return, and have looked at the black hole that is first base to make up for the loss of Martin's bat.

There is no doubt in my mind McCutchen was sending a message in his interview. Just give another look at what else he said regarding first base:

“The big ballclubs, the good ballclubs have an every day first baseman,” McCutchen said. “The platooning is not going to work for us. We need somebody who can be confident over there, knowing he's going to play every day, regardless of whether he's struggling or not. We need a complete lineup.”

Allow me to translate:

McCutchen's view of a “big/good ballclub” differs greatly from mine, probably yours, and certainly most people in baseball. He wouldn't be wrong, especially if his objective is to play for a pennant. The Pirates are 3-4 over the last two postseasons. They are 1-2 with a chance to win at home and advance. The clubs that beat them each went to the World Series.

I'm OK with McCutchen thinking only a series victory, if not a World Series appearance, is “big” or “good” enough for the Pirates.

I'm also OK with McCutchen throwing Gaby Sanchez and Ike Davis under the bus, though that surely wasn't his intent. Still, the Sanchez-Davis platoon at first was a clear bleak spot for the Pirates last season. Those two players combined for 17 home runs. Pedro Alvarez, who barely played in the second half, hit 18.

The Pirates should non-tender Sanchez and Davis, freeing each to find work in another major league city. Now that Pittsburgh is one where a contender plays, this city is no place for Sanchez or Davis to play regularly.

Now, I brought up Alvarez for a reason, and not just the obvious, which is that nobody knows if he can play third base given his throwing struggles, or even if the Pirates would want him at that position, given Josh Harrison's emergence last season.

Go back again and read that quote from McCutchen, especially the part about the Pirates needing a first baseman who “knows he's going to play every day, regardless of whether he's struggling or not.”

He could have been hinting at Alvarez, the one player who could return to form and fix a lot of the lineup problems that the loss of Martin would create. Adding a 30 home run/100 RBI left-handed hitter to the middle of the lineup would please manager Clint Hurdle — he with the new hip — almost as much as being able to jog to the mound to make a pitching change.

I sure hope McCutchen wasn't talking about Alvarez, though.

The Pirates would be better off moving on from Alvarez, even though his trade value is at an all-time low, and try to find an actual first baseman — one who can hit right- and left-handed pitching — with a trade.

Alvarez did once hit 30 home runs in back-to-back seasons, but he also is coming off a summer during which he forgot how to throw to first, never caught fire or carried the offense and finished with a foot injury.

Big men get bigger as they age. Alvarez is listed at 235 pounds and will turn 28 in February. He is expected to make at least $5 million in arbitration, and that is a lot of money for the Pirates to pay to a wild-card player.
As a former No. 2 overall pick, Alvarez should be more than a wild-card player, a platoon player or a bench player by now. He should be a franchise player.

The Pirates are lucky to have one of those in McCutchen, and he knows what they need. He said it.

What he never said is that the Pirates need Alvarez to be their “everyday first baseman.”

McCutchen could have made an endorsement last week. Instead, he made a plea for help.

That's all I need to know about the Alvarez-to-first base idea.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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