Today is the non-tender deadline at which point the Pirates need to make a decision to offer contracts to all unsigned players. That includes any player with 0-3 years of service time, and more notably, any arbitration eligible players. In previous years, the official roster announcements have come close to midnight, so we could be in for a long wait. Here are the players who are eligible for arbitration, along with their projected salaries.
Neil Walker – $10,700,000
Mark Melancon – $10,000,000
Pedro Alvarez – $8,100,000
Tony Watson – $4,600,000
Jeff Locke – $3,500,000
Francisco Cervelli – $2,500,000
Jared Hughes – $2,200,000
Jordy Mercer – $1,800,000
Chris Stewart – $1,600,000
Everyone on that list looks like a guarantee to get tendered a contract, with one notable exception: Pedro Alvarez. There has been no secret that the Pirates are looking to move him, and that would make sense. He was replacement level last year, and spending that much for such little production doesn’t make sense, especially when the Pirates have to shed some salary to make room for upgrades.
The Pirates have a decision to make this off-season with Alvarez, and it seems the decision is pretty much made that they will move on without him. The question is whether they will non-tender him tomorrow, or hold onto him and try to trade him. I think it’s more likely that they keep him and trade him, but I don’t see them getting much in return, so it probably won’t make a big difference in the long run.
Let’s pretend for a second that they still have a choice to make between keeping Alvarez or getting rid of Alvarez in some way. Technically they do still have that choice, but again, it seems like the choice has been made.
If they get rid of Alvarez, it might hurt the offense. He had one of his best offensive seasons last year, and no one else on the team can bring the type of power that he can bring, although that is somewhat offset by the strikeouts and lack of average. But the value he brings offensively is negated by his defensive struggles at first base.
The Pirates rely heavily on defense, specifically their infield defense. Their 50.4% groundball rate last year ranked first in all of baseball. The two pitchers they’ve been connected to this off-season are both heavy groundball pitchers. That’s not a coincidence, as that is the type of pitcher they target, leading to the overall results. Alvarez was horrible defensively last year, and that could hurt the entire pitching staff next year, along with any reclamation project they bring in.
If Alvarez goes, the Pirates probably won’t be able to replicate his offense with another addition. However, they could make up for the loss in value by upgrading the defense, which would help every single pitcher, and would especially help the groundball heavy guys.
Then there’s the scenario if Alvarez sticks around. He’s in his final year before free agency, which provides two benefits. The first benefit is that keeping him around doesn’t hurt them in the long-term. They’re going to need to clear some payroll to add upgrades, but chances are they’ll at least trade Mark Melancon, and possibly Neil Walker (although Walker is a guy I’d keep). If they did keep Alvarez, that would be less payroll space available, but also one less spot to fill.
You also have the “contract year” theory, with the hope that Alvarez would have a career year as he prepares to hit the open market. I could buy in to this theory on the offensive side of things. We saw a good year from Alvarez in 2015, and I think with the chance of a big contract looming, we could see the same or better in 2016. The problem is that his defense is so bad that I don’t think the “contract year” theory would solve it. And given that offense still gets noticed far more than defense, I think he’d get paid with good offense and poor defense, especially from an AL team looking for a designated hitter.
The one redeeming quality here is that the Pirates could try to get compensation if Alvarez has a big year on offense. They could give him a qualifying offer, and the odds of him accepting would be very low if the offense was good enough. That value would be better than anything they could get via trade this off-season, but it comes at the risk of Alvarez having a bad year, or just another replacement level year, which wouldn’t get any compensation.
There’s not really a clear-cut answer for how to handle the Alvarez situation. I think Michael Morse is an interesting replacement option, but it would still be smart to add another option, specifically someone who can handle the left-handed side of a platoon while Morse proves himself in a smaller role at first. They added Jake Goebbert last week, but he seems like depth to replace Andrew Lambo.
Alvarez could be that complement to Morse, with the Pirates banking on the contract year. But they’d also be choosing offense over defense, which might not help the team overall.
At any rate, I’d be surprised if Alvarez was non-tendered today. I don’t think tendering him an offer will get them a better trade return. I could see the argument that another team wouldn’t trade for him until after the tender deadline, but I don’t think the offer would be great either way. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they kept him around for one final year and banked on the contract year. But I think that it’s more important for the overall team success if they upgraded the defense at the position, even if it came with a downgrade on offense.
**Pirates Reportedly Interested in Justin Masterson. Another possible reclamation project who fits the Pirates’ traditional approach.
**Open Discussion Thread: On the Eve of the Non-Tender Deadline. There have been requests for an off-topic area to post comments. A message board isn’t an option here, so I tried this out today. I might post another one tomorrow, giving a place to talk about any topic while we wait for news. Feel free to give your feedback on the thread, and whether you’d like to see it as a regular thing.