Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported today that the Colorado Rockies will be searching for a new third baseman in 2012, and will be casting a wide net. Renck mentions Pedro Alvarez in his list of the intriguing, and mentions that the team inquired on him in trade talks for Ian Stewart at the trade deadline, but received no interest.
Alvarez is coming off a horrible year in 2011. He had a .191/.272/.289 line in 235 at-bats in the majors, and was optioned to AAA twice. He struggled the second time around in AAA, dropping his line there to a .256/.365/.432 line in 125 at-bats. The poor performance has Pirates fans jumping off the Pedro Alvarez bandwagon. The general feeling is one of doom and gloom, with no hope that the 24 year old third baseman, who has 582 major league at-bats, will see any improvements.
The idea of trading Alvarez might be appealing coming off his 2011 season. Fans might want to be anxious to get rid of a guy who was expected to carry the team for years to come and has failed to live to to that hype in the early part of his career. However, a trade of Alvarez probably doesn’t make sense for the Pirates.
There would definitely be teams interested, as they should. Despite the “glass is half empty” view in Pittsburgh, Alvarez is still a young player who isn’t really proven in the majors. The common expectation for prospects these days, at least from the fans perspective, is a perfect track record, with no signs of struggles anywhere. If a player has a down year in the minors, people start to suggest he’s washing out. If a player doesn’t have immediate success in the majors, people can’t envision him improving to a higher level with more experience and maturity. So even though people are down on Alvarez because of his 2011 season, teams would probably look at him as a good “buy low” candidate.
Unfortunately, that’s where the problem lies. The Pirates aren’t going to get a good deal if they trade Alvarez. More likely it’s going to be a change in scenery deal, where they get a top prospect who is struggling early in his career. Basically, we’re talking about the exact same situation as Alvarez. You’re unlikely to see a top prospect like Drew Pomeranz or Tyler Matzek. Instead, you’re probably going to see a guy like Ian Stewart or Dexter Fowler. Both guys are in the same category as Alvarez: they’re young, and have the chance to realize their potential, but they’ve struggled initially.
Stewart wouldn’t make any sense, since he’s two years older than Alvarez, and lacks the potential upside that Alvarez has. Fowler wouldn’t make sense, as the Pirates don’t have a spot for him, with Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley starting in the outfield, and Starling Marte making the jump to AAA in 2012.
Any trade involving Alvarez would have to potentially fill a need, as the Pirates would be abandoning their only hope of an above-average or better third baseman. So we’re talking a first baseman, a shortstop, a long term catcher, or a solid starting pitcher. And since the Pirates are likely just going to get a “Pedro Alvarez” version of one of those positions, there’s no guarantee that they upgrade the team with a move.
The big drawback for an Alvarez trade is the fear that he might eventually realize his potential. The Pirates drafted him, hoping he would eventually carry the lineup. The view is bleak now, but if he goes to another team and realizes his potential there, fans would revolt. They did this with Jose Bautista, despite the fact that he had a .239/.324/.398 line through the age of 27, put up another poor year at the age of 28, then broke out at the age of 29, a year and a half after the trade. There’s no question that people would look at Alvarez in hindsight, see that he only had 582 at-bats at the age of 24, and say the Pirates gave up on him too soon.
The Pirates are pretty much stuck with Alvarez, for better or worse. They’re unlikely to get a guy with the same upside, which is why they’d be better off keeping him and taking their chances on him reaching that upside. They’d have a hard time trading him, for that same reason. Any trade would be bringing in someone with a lesser upside, the same struggles, or both. It would be easier if they had another third base option, although that’s not an easy position to fill. I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard more Alvarez rumors over the winter, but I would be surprised if we see him get traded.