Bob Smizik: When’s the right time to trade Alvarez?



The future of Pedro Alvarez is often a subject in Pittsburgh sports discussions. And understandably so. Alvarez will be a free agent after the 2016 season. Since he is represented by agent Scott Boras, whose clients usually opt for free agency, the belief is the Pirates will trade him before that day comes.

• If Alvarez’s career takes off, there’s no way the Pirates can afford him.

• If it does not, there’s no way they'll want him at the salary he’ll still command.

ESPN.com insider Jim Bowden, a former general manager of two MLB franchises, has a suggestion about Alvarez that will air tomorrow on the Bob Pompeani Show on The Fan. Bowden told Pompeani, in a segment that will air at 11:40 a.m., the Pirates should trade Alvarez after this season.

Makes sense to me.

Alvarez homered in the second inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers last night and that means he could be on the threshold of one of his famous tears. Going into the game, he had nine home runs and 27 RBIs, numbers that look OK but paled when his .382 slugging percentage, .689 OPS and .203 batting average with runners in scoring position were brought into the discussion.

Alvarez has cut down on his strikeout, increased his walks and is struggling less against left-handed pitching, which are all positive signs. But his average against right-handed pitching is down and, although it’s early in his career, it looks like he’s going to be more Rob Deer than Willie Stargell.

At any rate, it’s not if the Pirates should trade Alvarez, but when.

Bowden’s belief that the best time to trade him is this offseason makes sense primarily because Alvarez is more attractive to trade partners with two full years of control remaining. The downside is, unless Alvarez picks up his production, the Pirates will not be selling when he is at or close to optimum value.

No matter. Alvarez is not only a third baseman but could be converted to a first baseman and he can also be a designated hitter in the American League. There is a market for him at three positions. He is, deservedly, coming under increasing criticism for his scattershot arm from third base. But he is nimble for a big man and could make an above-average first baseman if a team wants to move him.

His attraction as a designated hitter is obvious. His nine homers and 27 RBIs would place him third among American League designated hitters, trailing only David Ortiz and Victor Martinez.

Look at some of the players masquerading as DHs in the American League:

• Alfonso Soriano, Yankees, 175 at bats, six homers, 19 RBIs, .681 OPS

• Corey Hart, Mariners, 139 at bats, five home runs 17 RBIs and .647 OPS

• Alberto Callaspo, Athletics, 157 at bats, three homers, 17 RBIs, .670 OPS

• Billy Butler, Royals, 187 at bats, one homer, 20 RBIs, .593 OPS.

• Ryan Raburn, Indians, 120 at bats, one homer, 12 RBIs. .565 OPS.

• Raul Ibanez, Angels, 126 at bats, three homers, 20 RBIs, .540 OPS.

Alvarez’s numbers: 191 at bats, nine home runs, 27 RBIs, .689 OPS.

As this season progresses and the Pirates’ warts loom larger, trading Alvarez is not just a matter of getting out from under his contract. The Pirates might have one of the best farm systems in baseball, but they look like they’re going to need some additional help next year.

Any deal involving Alvarez will almost have to include a MLB-ready third baseman in the package. The Pirates could also use middle infield prospects and an MLB-ready pitcher for next season.

That’s not to suggest Alvarez can bring all of that in quality. Much will depend on how he finishes this season.

The advantage to trading after this season, as opposed to the trade deadline, is that the Pirates would have almost every MLB team as a possible trade partner. If they wait until the 2015 deadline, not only will Alvarez have somewhat less value because of less control time, but the Pirates prospective partners would be significantly reduced because, of course, only contenders would be interested.

The 2015-16 offseason is a possibility, but in a trade like this, dealing earlier makes more sense.


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