Bob Smizik: The Pedro/J-Hay dilemma

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The Pirates have made it clear they are not ready to give up on Pedro Alvarez as a third basemen despite the massive throwing issues he’s had this season at that position. Alvarez has made it clear he is reluctant to fully give up on third base, although he has amicably made the move to first base this month.

There’s a reason for this reluctance. Alvarez has more value to the Pirates, both as a player and a trade chip, as a third baseman. His bat plays better as a third baseman than it does as a first baseman. For his part, Alvarez can make more money playing third and has played there all of his professional life. It’s understandable that both parties would prefer he remain a third baseman.

But Josh Harrison is taking the conventional wisdom on this subject and tossing it out the window. No one expected this kind of season from Harrison, who had two hits in the Pirates’ 3-1 win over St. Louis yesterday. It never even entered into the thinking of anyone that Harrison could wrest the third base job from Alvarez. But he has -- beyond doubt.

Harrison has hit better, fielded better and hit for power better than anyone had a right to expect. Whether this phenomenon is a one-year thing or a major career shift is unknown. But the Pirates cannot dismiss Harrison. They are not so awash in talent that, as has been suggested, they can say he better serves the team as a super-sub.

Questions:

• How do you tell the player who is fifth in the league in batting, ninth in slugging and 13th in OPS that he’s not good enough to play regularly?

• How do you tell the player who leads all National League third basemen in average, slugging and OPS that someone else on the team is more qualified to play the position?

Answers: You don’t.

The Pirates of 2015 are better served with Harrison as third and Alvarez at first and that time frame is all that should be in the discussion. After that, there’s a good chance Alvarez, who’s eligible for free agency after the 2016 season, won’t be around.

Putting Alvarez on first base solves two or three problems. One: It opens up third for Harrison; Two and three: It enables the Pirates to non-tender Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez, neither of whom plays big in the team’s future. Those two are making a combined $5.8 million this year. They’d probably make between $7 million and $8 million next year. That’s money that can be better used elsewhere.

The Pirates will have to make a decision on the future of Alvarez in the offseason. If he’s going to be their third baseman, that means they bring back, at least, Davis, who despite hitting crucial home runs in the past two games has a full body of work that's been disappointing.

Andrew Lambo, who lost the starting first base job in spring training with a terrible performance, has been repeatedly disrespected by the Pirates this season, as his strong season at Class AAA has been continually overlooked at promotion time. He’s hardly the answer.

There’s another reason why the Pirates will want Harrison to be a regular. He’s going to be paid like a regular.

As recently as May 2, when he had 22 at bats, a .208 batting average and a .615 OPS, there was about a 50-50 chance Harrison would be non-tendered by the Pirates for 2015, his first year of arbitration eligibility. But based on his play since May 2, Harrison could earn as much as $3 million in arbitration. It is rare for the Pirates to pay a reserve that kind of money.

For all the right reasons, and some of the wrong ones, Alvarez at first and Harrison at third makes near-perfect sense for the 2015 Pirates.


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