There is no question about Pedro Alvarez’s long-term role in Pittsburgh — he basically has none with Josh Bell waiting in the wings in Altoona. Alvarez is only under team control through the 2016 season, and Bell could be in the majors by the middle of next season.
But the Pirates might not be able to wait that long. Alvarez is currently hitting for a .230/.298/.419 line in 295 plate appearances with the Pirates. His transition to first base has been poor, providing no defensive value. He’s striking out a career low 24.4% of the time, and his walks are decent at 8.5%, but his power has also dropped from his best years in 2012-13, going from the .240 ISO range to .189.
In short, Alvarez is hitting for power, but not enough power to justify the lack of numbers everywhere else, and that means his bat isn’t justifying the poor defense at first. He currently has a -0.4 WAR at first base, meaning the Pirates could upgrade over him right now with a replacement level player.
To top that all off, Alvarez is making $5.75 M in arbitration, and is eligible for one more year. He’s almost certainly due a raise, since the arbitration process considers a player’s entire career and heavily favors home runs. It’s no wonder why he won his arbitration hearing this year, after coming off a replacement level season last year at third base.
For this reason, I wouldn’t expect Alvarez to be around in 2016. It would be foolish to pay a guy $6 M or more for replacement level production, and that’s what you can expect out of Alvarez going forward.
But forget about 2016. What about the current season? Clint Hurdle said yesterday that they have no changes planned for Alvarez, noting that there currently isn’t a Plan B. That’s true to a certain extent. The best internal option right now is Travis Ishikawa, who is replacement level at best, and doesn’t offer much of an upgrade over Alvarez. Sure, the Pirates would be paying much less money for Ishikawa, but they’ve already committed to paying Alvarez for this season, so his 2015 cost is sunk and shouldn’t be a factor in the decision.
There are no options in Triple-A, and Josh Bell just isn’t ready for the majors yet, as he is further behind Alvarez in his transition to first base, and is working on his swing from the right side. So that means there really isn’t a Plan B at first base in the system. But what about outside of the system?
Someone like Adam Lind would make a lot of sense for the Pirates. They haven’t been connected to him, and there’s no word that they’re even looking at trading for a first baseman. But Lind is a guy who is under team control through the 2016 season, with an $8 M option next year. He’s been worth at least 1.5 WAR in each of the last three seasons, and is currently putting up a 2.1 WAR with the Brewers.
Lind represents the type of player who would be the perfect bridge to Josh Bell — under team control through the 2016 season, more productive than what the Pirates have right now, and very affordable to the Pirates. This type of player (it doesn’t have to be Lind, but I haven’t seen many other examples on the market) would not only upgrade over Alvarez this year, but wouldn’t be blocking Bell in the future.
Prior to the season, Lind was traded to Milwaukee for Marco Estrada, who is a fourth or fifth starter that had one year of control remaining, and averaged a 2.5 WAR in 2012-13. That’s not a big price, but Lind didn’t command much at the time. Looking at his trade value, and basing it off a 1.5 WAR, he would have been worth $2.9 M in value. Estrada would have been worth anywhere between $2.3 M and $5.3 M as a 1-1.5 WAR pitcher.
Lind’s performance this year, plus the natural inflation of prices at the trade deadline, probably means he’s going to carry more value. Let’s say he’s worth 1.5 WAR the final two months of the season, and then a 2.0 WAR in 2016. That would give him an $11 M trade value. And considering he was worth $2.9 M pre-season, and received upwards of $5.3 M in trade value (an 82% increase on his value), then he could be worth as much as $20 M in trade value this year.
Overall, this would cost the Pirates at least one top prospect, and maybe more. My guess is that it would be similar to the package they sent away when they traded for Wandy Rodriguez a few years ago. They’d be dealing some good prospects if they wanted to get a deal done, but no one they’d really miss, especially since they’ve got some trade chips that they could deal. And when you consider that first base is one of the few positions of need at the Major League level this year, then it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to deal away the trade chips they do have, in order to fill one of their few needs for the rest of 2015, and for 2016 until Bell arrives.