Today I recapped the third base position, which was mostly a recap of how Pedro Alvarez did in 2013 and how there are no internal options to eventually replace Alvarez at third base. Later in the evening, Alvarez won his first Silver Slugger award after leading all NL third basemen with 36 home runs.
In the last two years, Alvarez has taken some huge strides with his game. The 2011 season was a disaster, with Alvarez posting a .561 OPS and going down to Triple-A multiple times to work on his hitting. That raised a lot of questions heading into the 2012 season about whether Alvarez should even be on the Opening Day roster. He responded in 2012 by hitting 30 home runs and posting a .784 OPS. In 2013 he hit 36 homers, with a .770 OPS. More importantly, he improved his defense, holding off the questions about when he might eventually move to first base.
The Pirates should keep Alvarez at third base for the next three years. That’s not just due to their shortage of third base options, but it’s also due to is abilities at the position, and the value he brings at the position with the bat. But what about after the 2016 season? Alvarez will be a free agent, entering his age 30 season, and the Pirates have a slim chance of re-signing him.
If there’s any hope that Alvarez could be signed to an extension, that hope is ruined by the reminder that he is a Scott Boras client. Boras clients usually go to free agency when they are first eligible. There are some exceptions, but they are rare and I wouldn’t count on Alvarez being one of those exceptions. That’s especially true when you look at the history of top free agent third basemen.
Kevin Youkilis – He got $12 M on a one year deal, even though he was coming off a down year and was 34 years old in 2013.
Aramis Ramirez – He got three years and $36 M at the age of 34, prior to the 2012 season.
Adrian Beltre – This was one of the bigger deals, with Beltre getting six years and $96 M, for an average of $16 M per year. Beltre was about to turn 32 heading into the 2011 season.
There haven’t been many top free agent third basemen, with those being the biggest examples since 2009. Alvarez will be 30 in the first year of his deal, so he’s probably looking at an Adrian Beltre type deal more than a deal like Ramirez and Youkilis received. Considering the increased national TV revenues, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alvarez get $20 M per year. A power hitting third baseman is rare, and if Alvarez continues playing well defensively at the position he could definitely get a massive deal.
The Pirates could afford Alvarez at $20 M per year, but it would be a stretch. They will be paying Andrew McCutchen $14 M in 2017, with a $14.75 M option in 2018. Starling Marte is arbitration eligible for his second and third years in 2017 and 2018. Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez will be entering their first arbitration years.
For the first two years the Pirates could afford Alvarez, but only if their roster was home grown. If they had a rotation that was mostly made up of guys like Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, and Nick Kingham, then they would be off to a good start. However, the Pirates signing Alvarez would hurt their chances of signing McCutchen when he’s a free agent. They have internal options that would allow them to move on from McCutchen, and go with a guy like Austin Meadows as a replacement. But there’s no way the Pirates could bring back both Alvarez and McCutchen once they reach free agency, as that combination would take up at least 40% of their payroll.
Three years is still a long time, although it doesn’t provide enough time develop a third baseman internally. The best bet for the Pirates to replace Alvarez would be to acquire a prospect via trade over the next few years, or land a cheaper free agent who might not hit 30 homers a year, but could provide good overall value at the position. If that doesn’t happen, then the Pirates could probably afford to bring Alvarez back as a free agent. It just wouldn’t be easy, and would probably require that they move on from McCutchen two years later.
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