Coming into the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had question marks at first base, both in the short-term and long-term. They added Ike Davis in a trade with the Mets, hoping that he could help in the short-term and possibly the long-term.
The third base position looked good with Pedro Alvarez in the short-term, but had long-term questions with Alvarez expected to be a free agent after the 2016 season.
And now? Neither position looks good in the short-term or the long-term.
At first base, Ike Davis has not worked out. Gaby Sanchez, who has had good numbers against lefties in his career, has not been doing his part in the right-handed side of the platoon. At third base, Pedro Alvarez has had a disaster year. His power has been down offensively, and his defense has been horrible. The Pirates are now moving him to first base, which was a move that was made possible by the emergence of Josh Harrison this year.
“Josh Harrison gave us comfort,” Neal Huntington said on the move for Alvarez. “We’d still prefer to jump Josh all around and be able to keep everybody strong by having Josh play regularly, but play at a bunch of different positions. We still feel like in an ideal world where we’d like to go. There’s been some challenges with Pedro with the throwing. So we felt that as we moved towards it that our best lineup was with Josh at third base. And now how do you keep Pedro sharp and keep this club going and that was to hand him a first baseman’s mitt and see how quickly he can become comfortable over there. It gives an option to Clint, it gives him extra flexibility, extra versatility off the bench if Pedro can play both corners, if Gaby can play both corners. Ike is primarily a first baseman, but it gives Clint some extra versatility and some flexibility with Pedro having the ability to play first base.”
In the short-term, the Pirates are now going with Josh Harrison as their third baseman, with question marks from the three struggling players who are at first. Huntington mentioned that he’d like Harrison to remain a utility player, but that doesn’t make much sense with the way he has been playing this year. The only way it would make sense for Harrison to serve in a utility role would be if the other spots on the team were filled by productive players. That’s not the case at third base.
Neal Huntington did say that Alvarez still wants to be a third baseman, even though he’s accepting the move to first base for now.
“You know Pedro’s been strong through this and he still wants to stay and fight and stay at third base,” Huntington said. “And, he’s accepted the first baseman’s mitt to help the club. Because he recognizes how well that Josh is playing and that he’s contributed to some of our challenges at time. But in his mind, man, he still wants to play. And, he wants to be out there helping this club and that’s the reason why he accepted the challenge of seeing if he could learn first base very quickly and be an option for us there.”
The problem with Alvarez returning to third base is that his throwing issues will still be there. It’s possible that he could get over this case of the yips, but that’s an issue where you’d need to see him playing third base with no issues. With the way Harrison has been playing, there is no incentive to move Alvarez back to third base for a trial.
As for Alvarez at first base in the long-term, Huntington said that he’s still their third baseman, and that the move would be a decision to make in the off-season.
“We’re going to work as hard as we can to get Pedro through this throwing challenge, it makes us a deeper more talented club and gives us a lot more flexibility and versatility,” Huntington said.
At the moment, it seems like they’re focusing more on getting Alvarez over to first base. With Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen out, now would be the perfect time to put Alvarez at third base if you did trust him to get through his throwing issues. That would allow Josh Harrison to move to second base or left field, while eliminating the need for one of Jayson Nix or Travis Snider as a starter. Instead, the Pirates are benching Alvarez in favor of both of those guys, and focusing on having him get reps at first base.
If Harrison continues with his 2014 performance, that would solve the problem at third base for now. As for first base, it seems more likely that Alvarez will be playing that position before he plays third. As long as Harrison plays well, I can’t see Alvarez moving back. Even if Harrison doesn’t play well, it’s hard to see Alvarez moving back, especially when they’re in the perfect situation right now to move him back temporarily. One of the things I’ve been hearing in the organization is that the Pirates are making plans to reshuffle the infield next year, due to the struggles Alvarez has been having. Those plans are obviously already in the starting stages with Alvarez getting time at first base, and Alen Hanson moving to second base to speed up his path to the majors. It looks like Alvarez will get a chance to play first base this year, which could help clear up the infield picture by the off-season. I’d be surprised if he plays another game at third base for the Pirates, outside of several injuries forcing a big need for him to temporarily switch positions.