First Pitch: No Clear Answers For the Pirates at First Base

A few weeks ago I wrote about the first base platoon, asking which players should stick around for the platoon in 2015. The Pittsburgh Pirates saw all of their internal options have down years in 2014, with Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, and Pedro Alvarez all struggling at the plate. Based on the career numbers, a platoon of Davis and Sanchez would be the best internal option. However, this would also cost around $7 M, which is getting close to the price you’d pay for a regular first baseman.

At the time of the article, Adam LaRoche wasn’t a free agent, and I wasn’t sure if he would have his option picked up. Since that article, LaRoche had his option declined, and is now on the open market. The FanGraphs crowd sourcing has him receiving a two year, $20 M deal. Having Davis and Sanchez would cost at least $15 M over those two years, and possibly more. So would the Pirates be better off with LaRoche, or their internal options?

LaRoche is coming off a year where he had an .817 OPS and a 1.6 WAR. By comparison, the Pirates combined for replacement level production at first base. The easy call based on those numbers would be to go with LaRoche, who would cost $3 M more than Davis/Sanchez, or $2.5 M less than those two and Alvarez.

The downside is that you don’t know what you’re going to get with LaRoche. I liked him when he was in Pittsburgh before, but the last few years he has been wildly inconsistent. He posted a 3.3 WAR in 2012, then an 0.5 WAR in 2013, followed by the 1.6 WAR in 2014. You might have a good shot at getting the 2012 or 2014 LaRoche for one year, but what are the odds that he will show that production for two years?

On the flip side, what are the odds that every current Pirates’ first baseman will follow up a down year with another down year? If Pedro Alvarez bounces back offensively, then that’s a 2-3 WAR player. If Gaby Sanchez hits lefties like it’s 2013 and not 2014, then that’s another win. Ike Davis would be worth a win as a platoon player if he bounces back to his career numbers.

Ultimately the decision comes down to whether the Pirates trust their current guys to bounce back, or if they trust LaRoche to remain at his current levels and want to pay a few million more to play it safe with him (although they haven’t been linked to him, so this is just theoretically speaking).

It’s not an easy decision to make. The finances are about $2-3 M on either side, depending on whether you’re comparing LaRoche to two or three of the first base options. Therefore, the main focus is on the production from either option. No matter what happens, I think the Pirates will part with at least one of their left-handed platoon options (Alvarez or Davis). Even that is a decision that is without a consensus pick, which pretty much sums up all of the decisions on first base.

So which one would you take? Vote in the poll below, and respond in the comments.

[polldaddy poll=8431108]

Links and Notes

**Pre-Order the 2015 Prospect Guide

**Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker Win Silver Slugger Awards

**AFL: Tyler Glasnow Has Another Mixed Outing

**Winter Leagues: Stetson Allie Moved to Reserve List

  • Pedro and Ike are the same player. Certainly the Bucs wouldn’t carry both of them into 2015, right?

    As much as I love McCutchen, I disagree with him about platoons at 1B. It has been done successfully in the past, and there is no reason it could’t work for the Bucs… as long as they have the right players.

    The Bucs could keep either Ike or Pedro, and platoon him with a free agent right-handed 1Bman like (e.g.) Mike Morse or Billy Butler. I know Butler can’t field, but on the short side of a platoon he wouldn’t need to play too many innings.

  • Arik Florimonte
    November 7, 2014 7:43 pm

    According to baseball reference, both Gaby and Ike were each -0.4 WAR, and on the NL page they show Pit at -2.4 WAR at first base ( ). So it sure looks to me like they did not get replacement level production from first base last year. With merely replacement level production they should have won the division.

  • I’m curious what it would cost in order to trade for morneau. What would be a hypothetical trade scenario that is reasonable

  • The hardest part of predicting this, and other changes is not knowing the intangibles. How is the guy in the clubhouse? Who has the right attitude toward the assignment. I guess I’m mostly thinking of Alvarez. He has the greatest potential for improvement, but if he’s sulking about his role, he’s not going to improve. We don’t know that, so hard to predict what they’ll do. If he’s being a PITA (pain in the a$$), then cut bait and trade him.

  • Each lefty projects to be roughly the same player, 114-118 wRC+/1-2 WAR.

    That seems plausible. If you can agree to that, the decision likely comes down to risk.

    LaRoche will require the most money, a two year commitment, and is by far the oldest, but also has the best track record.

    Davis has an extensive injury history, but is the cheapest option.

    Alvarez will likely bunch his production more than the other two, but otherwise has been healthy and won’t be expensive.

    I think health and potential position flexibility gives Alvarez the nod over Davis, and contractual status give him the nod over LaRoche. But all said, not likely to be a more than a win difference one way or another.

  • Ike Davis is cheaper than Alvarez, same age, and has experience at 1B. I’m fine with that.

    • Ike Davis is a depth option type player. He is not the answer. He proved it last year in PITT and the year before in NY.

      Pedro probably isn’t either, but he has proven to be a feared hitter in short bursts for Pirates w league leading HR power. Davis doesn’t scare anyone, ever. Except me if he’s brought back as the primary 1B!

      • They are only one month apart in age, and only about 100 PA’s apart for their career.

        Davis has a higher career OPS, wOBA, and wRC+.

        However, Alvarez was MUCH better in 2013. Davis was a bit better in 2014, but not that much.

        Neither is a great option. But if it saves $1M, I’ll take Davis.

        • Ike’s numbers against LHs are really in the tank. So much so that a platoon is necessary if Davis is going to be at 1st base. The Davis/platoon is only cheaper than Pedro if the RH hitter in the platoon is relatively inexpensive which probably means Tony Sanchez. Tony didn’t have a great year at AAA last year with the bat (OK but not great – asking him to learn a new position and perform well in a MLB platoon where he would not play often is asking a lot).

      • Actually, he likely upsets opposing pitchers more than Pedro currently. Ike will take pitches and sees a lot of 2-2 and 3-2 counts, where as Pedro is a guy that may launch one deep but is also going to be an easy out at least 1-2 times. As a pitcher, you can lay off the fastballs and be confident against Pedro. Ike forces a pitcher to go deeper into his pitch selection.

        • Ike Davis doesn’t upset pitchers. He is a replacement level 1B. Nothing more, trending to be something less.

  • To me, Gaby Sanchez is done. I think he is too risky to bring back at his arbitration salary. He hit only 2 homers is last 190 at bats (one in August and one in September) and was a total washout in June and July. Maybe if he could be signed for 1.5 million but if you are spending over 2 million on him there has to be other alternatives out there.

  • If Neal Huntington finds a workable solution at 1B that gets average production, he might deserve Andrew Friedman like money.

    • League average production at the position last year was just 109 wRC+.

      If Huntington can’t manage to pull that together it’ll be a failure of his duties, not some reason for celebration.

      • I was thinking more along the lines of 2.0 WAR.

        I just think sifting through several mediocre in-house options, LaRoche, (who will get more than 2 year $20 million, the crowd is the mean/median estimate, players don’t sign for the mean they sign the highest offer), and moving Walker (don’t consider this realistic), is a bit of minefield.

        • Fully agree with your second paragraph.

          Which is why I prefer for teams like the Pirates to spend as few resources at the position as possible. This is mostly anecdotal, but it seems like the resources needed to get a 2-3 WAR first baseman compared to a 1-2 WAR first baseman are more than you’d need to get one additional win or so elsewhere.

          It’s the offseason, so this is what we talk about. But I just don’t think it makes much of a difference.

          • Agreed, it is the whole positional scarcity thing, a lot larger pool of players who can play first base and potentially have a .775 OPS, than second or right field. Also, say what you want about dollars/WAR, but historically it shows that 1B receive the highest amount by position, makes sense considering usually the best power threats reside there. If you want a longer solution from outside be prepared to pay a steep price.

  • One thing that you didn’t note, but I think is noteworthy is that Going with one person rather than the platoon means also filling a bench option. Going with Gaby/either lefty means you also have a decent hitting guy on the bench to use as a pinch hitter in some situations. That doesn’t necessarily tilt it, but think it’s important to remember.

  • The idea of Walker at 1B has really grown on me. That seems like the best move, for all the reasons already outlined. What’s the harm in getting someone like Bonifacio to keep 2B warm for Hanson and then taking over Harrison’s vacated super utility role once he arrives? Doing so would allow allocation elsewhere, namely the rotation.

  • Based on poll results so far, it’s pretty clear that fans still like Alvarez. Go figure. Most anyone else who put up the numbers and looked as bad as he did this year would be firmly on the “get out of town” list. Is this still based on potential? I know he had one good year and has hit some big HRs in the past but for someone who’s been in the league as long as he has to still be waiting for him to develop seems like a stretch.

    • Two words. Jose Bautista

      • Two more words. Brandon Moss

        • Every team in baseball has had the same thing happen and the Pirates have turned around players who had problems elsewhere.
          Does that mean that they have to hold on with a death grip for fear that a player will turn it around?
          If every GM feared that a player they unloaded will bounce back there never would any movement in MLB.
          The only thing that fans can hope for is that their GM makes wise decisions regarding the players and understand that sometimes they are wrong but too many wrong decisions make them an ex-GM.

          • I agree it is all about making “wise decisions” and I never said anything about a death grip. However, potential, which was the original question, certainly is a consideration when making wise decisions and it is not something to be discarded lightly. In the case of Alvarez, he has potential and a record of performance. In 2012 – 2013, he hit 66 HRs, drove in 185 runs and averaged an OPS around .780. In the 2013 post season, his OPS lead the team at 1.148, he averaged a HR every other game, and he set a record, as I recall, for RBIs by a first time post season player. Bautista and Moss are cautionary examples. I am not saying Alvarez will necessarily duplicate their performance, but he has shown potential which is not dissimilar to the potential those two players showed at equivalent times in their careers. In fact, Alvarez generally has outperformed those two players compared to what they did through their age 27 seasons. Did Pedro have a bad year last year? Absolutely. Is he guaranteed to bounce back this year? No, but it is not unrealistic to think that he has a likely chance to move back toward the player he was in 2012 and 2013 rather than establish a new normal at the level of his performance last year.

            • Agreed and well said! Two years ago he led the league in HR’s. He is still a potential 40 homer player who is just coming into his prime years. Why give up when they still control him for 2 more years and not at a crazy price.

              • The reason to do it would be to save dollars to contribute to the total required to buy a #1 starter. The only reason SF won the Series was Mad Bum. The Pirates have no “Mad Bum” at present, Liriano is at best a #2, and Cole hopefully will grow into a #1 eventually but he’s not close now. If the Pirates had a “Mad Bum” they could be considered a legit contender for the WS Championship. The next two years when they have Cutch for certain are a time of ripe opportunity. Given Pedro’s history there is a good chance Lambo could give equal production for several million less in payroll.

  • Lambo

    • If doing this and letting everyone else in the 1b smattering go lets them get like… Russ, Liriano, AND someone else like Headley or McCarthy, i’m all for it.

      Lambo probably isn’t better than the others, but maybe choosing him would help them put a better team on the field.

      • That’s a big wishlist jay 🙂

        • I think it’s reasonable if they chose to go into the season with Lambo as the 1b.

          To me, it’d be utterly unacceptable to get rid of both ike and pedro and go with Lambo, and to not use those savings elsewhere.

          • You could be right? Just in my mind if we got both liriano and martin back we’d be limited to a Volquez/worley contract. . McCarthy is likely getting $12+ given the Yankees value him…. I guess these conversations hinge on ones belief of payroll expectations though.. I think 82-85 to start the season with flexibility to get to 92-95 by year end is reasonable? What ranges are you thinking

            • I guess the logic i use is… they offered Burnett $12 million, so that means that they were willing to spend at least $90 mil last year. In that ballpark. They just didn’t get there. they have about 8 or 9 million just sitting there that they didn’t spend. Dejan K has given the $8 million figure that they just chose not to spend as well.

              So i think when you factor in inflation, extra money into the cash register from attendance, and a ramp up in the money from the mlb TV deal, I think they could spend 95 to 100 this year.

              Plus they DO have that bonus $8 million from 2014 that they could’ve spent but didnt just sitting there as well.

              I bet they could do 90 to start and then stretch to 100. I would be surprised if they couldn’t do that. I would not be surprised if they wouldn’t do that just because NH won’t make the deal if it’s not the right deal. and that’s a good thing!

              Overall, you and i are in the same ballpark pretty much, plus or minus.

    • Yes for Lambo and trading Pedro while cutting ties with Davis and Sanchez.
      Other than that I am in the Ike Davis camp.

    • Lambo projects as a replacement level player. While projections arent perfect, i still dont see Lambo as anything more than a 1 WAR player at his best. Cheap and somewhat useful, but i think we can get more value elsewhere and have Lambo as a very solid bench bat.

      • I think your are undervaluing Lambo. His minor league OPS for the last two years, mostly at AAA, are about .920. That projects more than a replacement level player to me. Of course what he’ll do with full time MLB ABs is at this point totally unknown, but his AAA OPS record has been better than JHays (.820 – .880) and look what Jhay did with his full time opportunity. I’d be very comfortable parting with all of Pedro, Ike, Gabby and installing Lambo at 1B and directing the money saved towards pitching. Think Jon Lester.

        • How does his AAA numbers impact any of his projections at the major league level? Guys can do all of what Lambo does in AAA and be overmatched in MLB. You then compare him to J Hay, who plays a different position and took multiple years to figure himself out. I also see no realistic way we save enough money to sign Jon “Boston and CHC are both interested” Lester unless we drop both Martin and Liriano. Lambo is a quality bench bat, but assuming he is going to be anything more than Ike or Pedro seems to put a ton of trust in his AAA numbers. I dont see Andrew Lambo hitting above .250, getting on at a rate above .320, or hitting more than 10-15 HRs as a full timer. It’d be a poor mans Garrett Jones. Cheap, but slightly below average.

          • There’s a lot to reply to:
            First, unfortunately the Pirates won’t be able to match the highest offer (contract length or salary) for Martin’s services. he’s gone.
            Next, add up what they paid Wandy last year, Volquez last year, and the differential between Martin and his replacement and the avoidance of paying Pedro, Ike and Gabby and there is enough money there to sign Lester. Make those moves and they could sign Liriano as well based on the increased attendance.
            Third, Lambo didn’t look overmatched in his callups. He did lose his bat on the way to Venezuela last winter and didn’t recover it until May. But it was a good learning experience for him, teaching him to stay within himself. JHAY wasn’t taking a few years to find himself. It’s just hard to play well irregularly. Give Lambo regular AB and his line ends up .270/.325/.485/.810 . The best comp would probably be Walker. Compare Walker’s and Lambo’s minor league careers and Lambo compares well.
            Finally, high level minor league performance is the best indicator of Major League performance. It’s not that everyone who performs well in AAA will perform well in MLB. But everyone who performs well in MLB probably also performed well in AAA. If you take Lambo’s .920 OPS in AAA and de-rate in .100 to get .820 in MLB would you really be unhappy?

            • Your projections for Lambo are on the way high side, I’m not saying he couldn’t do it but I need to see more MLB at bats to think he will produce like that.

              • Don’t see the reason for your relative pessimism CS. Compare the minor league year end OPS for Cutch, Walker and Lambo:
                Cutch: .852, .809,.717,.770, .853 for MiB average of .785 preceding an MLB career OPS of .883
                Walker: .741, .760,.733,.784,.694,.773,.951 for MiB ave of .764
                preceding an MLB career OPS of .771
                Lambo: .960,.833,.717,.732,.683,.905,.922,.923 for an Mib ave of .813. Now Lambo’s MLB career to date consists of two 30+AB cups of coffee resulting in a .665 OPS but the limited at bats on an irregular basis makes the MLB AB unimportant.
                Looking at the three player histories side by side why would you conclude Lambo has less potential than the average of the other two players? I’m not saying he’s another Cutch. But I do think he can be another Walker or maybe better.

                • I could go show you a side by side of Player A and Player B and their AAA stats. One would be Lambo and the other would be Jeff Clement and Clement would have a few years better than Lambo. The problem with using just AAA stats is it ignores the overall talent level and abilities of the player that go along with the stats. Its why those who do projections for a living have different projections for different guys rather than just having a set projection based on minor league numbers. At my most giving i would still look at his stats and go “It’ll take him a year of playing time in the bigs to get to those stats like it did at every level”. Lambo struggled at each level when he first arrived and it took around a year to adjust.

  • Fun fact that i don’t think people really realize…

    Pedro Alvarez is one month older than Ike Davis.

    Not trying to say anything with this fact. Just that I thought it would surprise a lot of people.

    • And for the record, the Steamer projections on fangraphs have both Ike and Pedro bouncing back a little bit this year.

      Ike for a .233 / .344 / .421 …. (good for an OBP-heavy OPS of .765)

      and Pedro for a .241 / .315 / .446 ( good for a SLG-heavy OPS of .761).

      Very similarly valuable players. I happen to be in the Ike Davis camp, barely.

      But when it comes down to it, the best outcome is for Pedro to just fix his damn throwing issues and keep Jay Hay as the rover.

      Or sign Chase Headley…

      • No offense because this isnt a shot at you, but how the hell is J-Hay as rover a good thing? It either means Walker is hurt, or Polanco isnt taking over RF. I get the theory that it gives flexibility, but J-Hay so clearly deserves to be starting everyday and without real worry over where. Polanco should be deserving of 1-2 months at least to prove he is taking over RF and J-Hay would lock down 3B. As it is, we have only 1 spot where we question who is taking over (1B) with J-Hay as a rover we would still have problems at 1B and be looking over the shoulder at Pedro to see if he is throwing well….all J Hay doesnt play everyday or Polanco sits the bench.

        • It’s a good thing because in reality, you almost always are going to need ONE of the positions Harrison can play. That’s just how baseball works.

          If Harrison wasn’t able to get 140 starts next season, even as a rover, it would mean the team had exceptional health and performance at six positions.

          • There is nothing stopping the team from starting Harrison at 3B and if the team isnt healthy move him. Harrison doesnt lose his flexibility by starting at one spot. OD having Harrison at 3rd and Polanco at RF should be an easy call. If Polanco falls off and isnt playing well (somewhat unlikely IMO) Harrison moves to RF. I would see not giving Harrison the firm starting job at 3B as giving the team two unknowns (Pedro at 3rd and 1B overall) rather than one.

            • Like NMR said, Jay Hay should still get plenty of ABs. And i’d only be for it if they thought they could find him enough ABs.

              Remember how much everybody hated Nix and Morel?

              Well, with Jay Hay as a rover instead of the starting 3b, you don’t need them.

              It really isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. But I just happen to like the depth it gives the team. Tom”ay”to, tom”ah”to.

              • Harrison roving would not save us from both Nix and Morel, since the reason for those guys was injuries. Harrison not being a full time starter hurts the team. If there is need elsewhere, he simply moves.

                • Yes. Harrison moves, but who plays third when he moves? A Nix and Morel equivalent.

                  • Pedro. Lambo covers first. Long term injury would require outside help in any scenario including Harrison roving.

            • Polanco in RF to start the season is not such an easy call. Travis Snyder actually put up Hunter Pence like numbers over the half season worth of ABs that he got last year, whereas Polanco struggled in the second half. No doubt that the long term upside for Polanco is higher than Snyder. But Polanco’s career might go better if he spends another half to full season at AAA settling his approach at the plate. And Snyder might establish himself as someone who has great trade value when Polanco is fully ready.

              • Fair point, and i agree. That wouldnt really help the case of Harrison roving between RF, 3B, and 2B. Snider simply makes the idea of Harrison not playing full time at 3B rather odd. Best argument would be move Walker to 1B, move Harrison to 2B and find a 3Bmen. Problem is the market is crap at 3B and Headley isnt going to come cheap with NY interested and without a serious man at 1B.

        • The facts of baseball life are that people are always getting hurt. If you have the flexibility of putting JHAY in for the injured player your performance doesn’t suffer much. Not many high performers have the defensive flexibility that JHAY has. That said his bat needs to be in the lineup on a fulltime basis, so I have no problem with him starting at 3rd where his OPS profiles among the best in baseball.

          • Plus if jhay was a rover it would account for the possibility of jhay regressing 🙂

            • so let me get this straight. J Hay is a rover, but people are assuring me he will play a ton. Now that player, who is roving but playing a lot!, would be safe from regression? Either you play him as much as possible and he is subject to regression like every player is, or he is roving and NOT playing as much as possible and he is safer from regression and safer from succeeding because the team likes depth more than good starter. If the Pirates get serious in FA, they cant afford to sign an additional 3Bmen to make up for Harrison unless both Liriano and Martin walk, making this argument dumb because the team will have glaring holes elsewhere.

              • Hmm. I was thinking more like keeping pedro over ike to play 1b/3b.. if someone gets hurt then we simply move pedro to 3b and have the replacement player at 1b where a defensive drop off isn’t as impactful as say 2b..that keeps jhay in the lineup full time

      • If anyone has earned a starting job it would be Harrison. Putting him back to utility guy is a bad call. 3rd base should be his unless and until he doesn’t produce.

        • I still want Harrison in the lineup almost every day. He should start against every single lefty. he should come into the game when a lefty reliever comes in. so that’s probably 40% of a season of ABs right there. Already more than a typical utility guy.

          Neil Walker will get hurt. Marte will get hit by a ton of pitches. Polanco will probably have some growing pains. He can give whoever the regular at 3b would be a rest. Probably no Barmes next year, so he can fill in at SS occasionally. Cutch deserves a break (jay hay to left, marte to center). There are plenty of ABs for everybody.

          having a starting 3b other than Jay Hay means that you don’t have Jayson Nix and Brent Morel filling in. You have Harrison.

          Jay Hay is absolutely good enough to be penciled into 3rd. I just think doing that wastes a lot of what makes him awesome.

          This is only relevant if Pedro remembers how to throw OR they sign a 3b like Headley. Otherwise, Jay Hay should play 3b every day.

          • Pedro’s days at 3B are over! Also, Harrison should start at 3rd no question about it. Find another utility guy like Bonafacio.

  • Put Pedro over at first full time. Please, no more Sanchez, and Ike Davis blows.

    • What makes Ike Davis blow, but not Pedro? They both blew last year…

      • Power.

        • I disagree that that should be the one category you look at, but fair enough.

        • Most over rated value to a team. Not saying power isnt good and shouldnt be valued, but power is treated like something that takes Pedro clearly over Ike, which it doesnt.

      • Ike blew worse. Even facing only righties, he blew. Pedro at least faced both lefties and righties.

    • So you are a fan of Pedro full time at 1B even against LHP? Fair enough to not trust Gaby but it’d be nice to have someone that at least has a history of hitting LHP at some point in their ML career.

      • Sure, it would be nice. But none of these options other than Gaby can be expected to hit lefties, LaRoche included.

        • Oh absolutely, id call for a cheaper option not listed to replace Gaby. The platoon really only makes sense if the LHH is at a cheap enough price. Scott Van Slyke being a guy i like, though his value may be a bit inflated at the current time.

          • Great points. I honestly wonder how low the market for Corey Hart and Kendrys Morales will get? Hart would especially interest me, granted I’m not entirely sure he currently has two working legs.

            • Hart may be worth it at a good price, but i have no faith in Morales being able to play defense and stay healthy.

      • lonleylibertarian
        November 7, 2014 1:27 pm

        Well you could put Tony Sanchez in the mix as a third catcher – RH platoon partner. I heard he did not like playing 1st base – but I suspect he would like a major league paycheck vs AAA.

        • I would be for that, but have Sanchez as the #2 catcher.

        • I doubt the team will want to roster a 3rd catcher even if they planned on using him in the mix at 1B. Maybe, as said below, if Sanchez was the backup catcher and platoon at 1B but i find that rather unlikely considering Sanchez hasnt been exactly a world beater on offense.

  • Joe Sweetnich
    November 7, 2014 7:38 am

    Don’t think Neal Huntington will go there (LaRoche).

  • Scott Kliesen
    November 7, 2014 5:33 am

    I voted for Pedro/Gaby mainly due to age and gut instinct. Clearly any of these options are crapshoots.

    I wouldn’t be disappointed in LaRoche is brought in. He would be a legit cleanup hitter, veteran presence, who plays exceptional defense. However, one must be concerned w his age and his ability to stay healthy.

    • SK: This is the same guy many of us could not wait to see leave the city of Pittsburgh. He vastly underperformed and walked around with that constipated look on his face because he never got beyond the the fact that he was pissed he was traded from Atlanta to the Pirates. He was hitting 6th or 7th in the lineup and doing well in Atlanta and the Pirates thought he would be the long lost hope for a LH power hitting cleanup hitter at 1B. How many years started with him not producing at the plate until our chances to compete were gone? Then he would start padding his stats when it really meant nothing. Those are my not fond memories of this guy.

      I have been in the “Walker to 1B Camp” since last year and aside to the guy who mentioned that Walker could learn how to play 3B – he was a 3B when he was switched from the Catching position at AA. He was voted the best defensive 3B in the Eastern League that year, and came to the Pirates as a 3B at the end of 2009. Freddy Sanchez was our regular 2B and was traded to the Giants in 2009. Walker worked with Maz over the Winter and at ST and was moved to 2B in 2010 where he played about 100+ games. I think that Walker has limited time left at 2B due to Alen Hanson, but he could be a continuing presence in Pittsburgh at 1B for many years into the future. We were always worried that he could not hit for power, but he has worked the HR total from 12 to 14 to 16 and then last year to 24, and a Silver Slugger Award in the process. Alternate he and Alvarez at 1B this year to start 2015, and hope that Pedro can make this a hard decision and possibly provide proof he can be trade bait to an AL team; trade Davis and Sanchez for a bag of balls and move forward.

      • Vastly underperformed?

        Laroche had an .809 OPS as a Pirate. His career OPS is .811.

        • True. The problem, looking at it with hindsight, is that the Pirates and us fans, wanted him to be something he wasn’t and was never going to be. A middle of the order bat. On this team, right now, he doesn’t have to be anything other than what he’s always been. And that will be an improvement.

        • The problem was his poor April-May every year. Only started hitting when the Bucs were out of contention. If he were to underperform in April again, there would be a fan revolt.

        • Bad Aprils and being the best player on some really bad teams has tarnished his rep in Pitts. I would take him in a heart beat he is a little streaky but he can hit both lefties and righties and would allow us to use Lambo as a back up

      • Agree with everything ( I to remember that about laroche) except keeping pedro another year. Send him to texas for a corner infield prospect.

      • Yes, LaRoche had a well deserved reputation as a slow starter when he played for Pirates. Then again, so do a lot of players (including Cutch) due to cold temps, pitchers being stronger, etc. The difference I see, is on this team, he would be counted on to be a cog in the wheel, and not the straw that stirs the drink.

        It’s probably a moot point as he most likely is not coming here.

        As for Walker to 1B. I could see that possibility by mid season if Hanson is ready and 1B is still a dumpster fire. But I think Bell has the long-term dibs on this position. I see Walker being traded before he hits FA.

      • I believe Sanchez was voted the best defensive catcher in the Eastern League. I will take anything from that league with skeptisisim

    • I wouldn’t call LaRoche’s defense exceptional anymore. Earlier in his career, yeah; but not so much now.

  • For me this is easy. I voted other because I want no part of Gaby Sanchez returning. I would go with Pedro. Pedro is just coming in to his prime and could be a 40 hr player at 1B. Now would be a good time for a cheap extension too. I liked what I saw in his brief time defensively. Without the worries of defense at third I think he could explode. I would add a right handed bat that could fill in at first against tough lefties but no straight platoon. Have Lambo as the backup plan if Pedro stumbles.

    • Some folks have suggested saving money to address potential needs on the mound and behind the plate – but the way to save the most money is to start Pedro (assuming he is healthy) at 1st, trade or part ways with Ike Davis and G. Sanchez, and potentially have Walker and Harrison switch positions to address Walker’s limited range at 2d. That move would be contingent upon Walker’s back and his ability to play third which likely, one would think, he could learn and play pretty well. Harrison seems to play an excellent 3d base and ideally it would be great to leave him there, but Walker really doesn’t cover much ground and likely that situation is only going to get worse with age and injuries. BTW, the Sporting News ranks Davis and LaRoche as the worst two defenders at 1st base in MLB – now maybe their opinion is not necessarily definitive, but it certainly suggests some defensive issues with both players.

      • I read that Sporting News article and they were using ONLY UZR/150 to rank players. UZR is a useless stat for first baseman. Besides, Adam LaRoche is one of the best defensive first basemen in the league. They don’t need to have range, they need to be able to pick balls out of the dirt and stretch. Two things LaRoche, and Ike, do very well.

        • Range “is a useless stat”? Don’t you think that is a little bit of an overstatement? (Especially since the primary defensive strategy of the team is to get as many ground balls as frequently as possible). As I said, I don’t think the SN opinion is necessarily definitive, but it certainly is relevant in deciding who you want to have playing in the infield.

          • UZR is a useless stat in that it rates players in a vacuum. For instance, if you have a very rangy shortstop it makes the people on either side of him look worse, UZR wise, than they may be. The 2nd and 3rd basemen don’t have to go as far to make plays because the shortstop gets to them. Additionally, the wave of shifting skews UZR due to better placement of players in the field. Odds are a player doesn’t have to go as far to make a play. And since all teams do shifts differently, there’s no accurate way to account for it.

          • Okay maybe useless was too strong of a word. But IMO, first basemen shouldn’t be judged by UZR because their primary responsibility is not to field groundballs.

          • Greg Ron is right the most important thing a 1B can do is pick balls out of the dirt. If Pedro goes back to third we better get someone who is fantastic at that.

            • Who is talking about Pedro playing 3d? Not me. To the contrary, before the All Star game I posted on this site that the “obvious” change which should have been made then in light of Pedro’s throwing errors was to move him to 1st and have JHay play 3d. Some weeks later the Pirates did that. Scooping balls at first is important, but so is fielding the position and turning into outs as many ground balls as possible. In light of Andrew’s comments below, it really would be interesting to know and quantify how a first baseman gets more outs – which is the name of the defensive game – i.e., by having greater range and getting to more balls (getting more outs) or scooping bad throws. BTW, Pedro is an excellent fielder (scooping batted balls in the dirt) – his problems are almost exclusively throwing the ball. Scooping batted balls in the dirt (aka fielding) and scooping thrown balls in the dirt are far from mutually exclusive skills, if they are even different skills at all. Given that we know that Pedro is at least above average at one of those closely related skills, there is no reason to think that he cannot develop into a good fielder of balls thrown in the dirt just as he now is a good fielder of balls batted into the dirt except he already has shown more fielding range than Davis or LaRoche.

            • I agree. Ron is right. How many times did LaRoche save Jack Wilson the first time he was with the Bucs? I was wondering if Pedro’s throwing errors were mostly in the dirt or did he air-mail them to the hot dog vendor?

              • A couple points. The Sporting News article did NOT use “ONLY UZR/150 to rank players” – the article also used DRS. For example, that was how SN broke the tie between Ike Davis and Adam LaRoche for the worst defensive 1st baseman in MLB. Both players had the worst UZR/150 in MLB for any regular 1B – they were tied at minus 5.2 However, SN broke the tie using DRS which suggested that Ike was a much worse defender than AL. SN also used DRS to decide that Martin was the best defensive catcher in MLB (which BTW suggests that the SN rankings are legitimate). So, the article did not use “ONLY UZR/150 to rank players.” UZR does not evaluate or consider only a player’s range – it includes evaluations of the likelihood of the player initiating a double play, his likelihood of committing an error and his range. All of those factors are very important in evaluating the defensive value of a 1st baseman. So, is UZR “more important” than scooping a ball at 1B? Who knows? If Andrew is correct, below, “scooping” balls well only saves about 2 or 3 runs per year. UZR/150 and DRS suggest that Ike Davis playing full time would cost the Pirates about 5 runs per year compared to just an average first baseman. Not only is the runs effect of supposedly being a good “scooper” difficult to really know, how do you know who is even good at that skill? How do you evaluate or quantify that skill? For example, how do LaRoche, Davis, G Sanchez, Travis Ishakawa or Pedro Alvarez fairly compare in digging the ball out of the dirt, what is their relative ranking in doing that, how do you quantify that ranking, and how can you be confident in that ranking? Beyond all the foregoing, why is it assumed that Alvarez would not quickly become above average at digging a throw out of the dirt? He has already demonstrated the ability to dig batted balls out of the dirt better than most corner infielders. Why not go with a player who has more range than Ike or Adam, who has a demonstrated record of fielding well without errors (fielding as distinguished from throwing errors), and who has the ability to be as good as or better than those two in digging balls out of the dirt?

                • “Not only is the runs effect of supposedly being a good “scooper”
                  difficult to really know, how do you know who is even good at that

                  You spend less time with your nose in the numbers and more time watching the game.

                  Bad “scoopers” allow potential runs to get on base. They also help increase a batters on base percentage. With good “scoopers” that batter runs back to the dugout because he is out.

                  I don’t think 235lb Pedro can get down into a split to field a low throw too many times. At least he won’t have to catch something thrown by himself.

  • I understand Pedro Alvarez is still battling his foot injury. Does anyone know the details of his injury status? Is he going to be able to play winter ball which I believe I recall hearing was the original plan for him?

    • Joe Sweetnich
      November 7, 2014 7:38 am

      He’s never played winter ball even when the Pirates wanted him to a few years ago, so he’s not going to do it now.

  • I voted other. I am for none of the above. I still feel Walker should be moved to firstbase. This would reduce his injuries and remove the platoon need at first. I like platoons, but it seems very expensive at firstbase plus there aren’t very many lefty starters in the division. Where will Walker play when Hansen is ready? Will they change his position or trade him? I am guessing they will not trade him. Leave Harrison at third and sign a vet to fill in at second until Hansen is ready.

    • Agree. This would save the $$$ necessary to acquire a more proven starting pitcher. Get a UT like Bonifacio to man 2nd until Hansen comes up.

      • Problem is the market at 2B is so crappy that there is no quality option behind Bonifacio and his price could be driven up accordingly. Zobrist got his option picked up, leaving the best option being Weeks behind Bonifacio. Asdrubal Cabrera is there, but someone will get him for SS and im sure he will prefer SS. Market for a 2Bmen seems pretty flimsy to be opening a hole there this year.

        • I agree with the move of Walker to first.
          MLBTR mentioned that the Angels may make Howie Kendrick available. He’d slide right into second base for a year until Hansen is ready.
          Or, sign Chase Headley as a FA for third base and move Harrison to second.

          • I dont see Headley as realistic since NY is interested in bringing him back and there is no way A-Rod is going to come back and be a useable 3Bmen. I dont want to start going after bidding for Headley when we need 2 SP (if Liriano walks) and a C (if Martin walks). If Martin and Liriano both dont walk, we have between 80-90 million in payroll while still needing a cheap SP. Cant see adding Headley and being able to fill out the roster well at all. Like the idea, rather skeptical of the financial realities of that.

    • You take a silver slugger at 2nd and he becomes a below average hitting 1B. How does that make sense? Additionally you replace him with a likely inferior bat. Lets take the excess money we will have by not signing Martin and spend it on a good 1B

      • A silver slugger who plays terrible defense at 2B. His bat would be okay (albeit less than impressive) at 1B, and his defensive limitations would hurt less. The Bucs could play Josh Harrison at 2B. There are several free agent 3Bmen at the moment, none of whom should be prohibitively expensive. Chase Headley should cost around $15m per year for 4 years. As a defensive standout with a decent bat, Headley should be worth that money.

      • .276 BA .335OBP .482 SLG .817 OPS 27HR 116 RBI 591 AB
        .271 BA .342OBP .467 SLG .809 OPS 23 HR 76 RBI 512 AB
        Top line is for the Silver Slugger in the NL, Adrian Gonzalez. Bottom line is for Neil Walker. We all agree Neil is prone to injury and plays a demanding position. His numbers almost equal that of Gonzalez who plays a less demanding position. Imagine how Neil’s numbers would be without the wear and tear of playing second. Most of us agree that moving Pedro to first will improve his hitting due to playing an easier position, so the same should be considered with Walker. The numbers above even fortify that his bat would be enough to play first.

  • Okay,

    Assuming that the Pirates don’t need to make a major trade to acquire a catcher (if Russell Martin leaves) or starting pitching (if both Liriano and Volquez leave), I think Alvarez / Gabby Sanchez is your best best for the simple reason that Alvarez gives you more options if there are struggles in other places.

    Neil Walker gets hurt (as he is prone to do) – Move Harrison to second, Alavarez to third
    Gregory Polanco / Travis Snyder struggle – Play Harrison in right, Alvarez to third

    Sure, Alvarez isn’t ideal at 3B, but it beats what the Pirates currently have as a backup third baseman (nothing). Presumably, Clint Barmes is gone, and if Martin is gone, who backs up Harrison at 3rd if not Alvarez?

    • The team does tend to like having flexibility with the roster that allows them to adjust without adding a player from FA/AAA. If they think Pedro can play passable defense at 3rd in an emergency situation im sure they will see value in that.

    • How does Pedro give you solutions to problems ? He was the problem at 3rd. And there’s nothing to suggest he’s an answer to the problem at 1st. LeRoche isn’t a certain answer. There’s no such thing. But LaRoche at 1st combined with getting rid of Ike, Gaby and Pedro pays for itself. In the article showing Adam’s “inconsistent” production by WAR, it should be mentioned that his low number was still better than the Pirates 1st basemen last year. And getting rid of all 3 is payroll neutral.

      • For it to be payroll neutral (including roster adjustments) the Pirates would have to get LaRoche for $8-$9 million. Dumping three players for one leaves you with two open roster slots at a league minimum of at least $0.5 million each. Laroche is 35 years old and last year got $12 million. Davis, Alvarez, and Sanchez received a combined $10.1 million last year.

        And Laroche’s splits aren’t that great either – last year he hit .204 AVE, .620 OPS against lefties and .280 AVE, .891 OPS against righties (though his career numbers are better), so I don’t see him as your every day first baseman based upon his production from last year.

        Finally, remember the the list of infielders that Pirates tried when they had injury troubles:

        Michael Martinez
        Brett Morel
        Jayson Nix

        Having an infielder that can play multiple positions pays for itself in the long run.

        This may all become a mute point if Hanson is ready next season. Walker moves to first, Hanson at second, Mercer at short, Harrison at third. Davis and Sanchez are dumped. Alvarez is traded or becomes bench depth.

        • Gaby, Ike and Pedro combined are projected to make about $12 million this year. the most common figure thrown around about LaRoche is $10 million. They just picked up a utility INF that can play everywhere. I liked the idea of moving Walker to 1st. But his time here is probably limited as well. For a team in the Pirates position, that being a contending team that needs to get better, it’s not the time for experiments. It’s time to put the best team you can out there. This year that means getting a FA/trade 1st baseman, a #2 starter, a reclaim project and a catcher. And an end to the platoon stuff that just hasn’t worked out. Wishing and hoping should have been left behind now. Get the best players to address the problems instead of HOPING you have someone around that can fix them.

    • I actually see Pedro as the answer at 1B financially and talent wise. With Harrison showing he can handle 3b, we solidify 2 spots, that were not positives starting 2014. No to Laroche. Walker has earned his spot at 2B. There will be no major trade for a catcher, if Martin is “allowed” to leave. Then why not trade (not major trade) for the Cubs Wellington Castillo. About the same offense, needs to improve his defense, but that could come with experience, at a much lower price. This gives Diaz and Mcguire another good year in the minors. Sanchez or Snider can back up. We then use the saving on pitching, though I don’t see anything major occurring there, unless we somehow get Masterson to sign on. If there ever was a guy Searage could turn into a Doc Holliday look a like this is him.

      • Besides power, what talent does he have ? No one knows if he can play first. And he can’t/wouldn’t go to winter ball to figure it out. Whether he couldn’t because of his foot injury is irrelevant. The fact is that if you go with him your going with an unknown that you KNOW doesn’t have an accurate arm and very little experience playing the position. I understand that people love his power. But you have to be able to do more than that in the NL. Right now he can’t. His best position is one the Pirates don’t have, a DH. Trade him to a team that does and get a little in return.

        • To be fair, basically anyone over 6 foot tall and with a few months practice can play passable 1B. It isnt super easy, but learning to play 1B is not tough for a player able to play 3B. Pedro’s question marks come on offense, not ability to play a passable 1B.