Pittsburgh Pirates: The future of Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez throwing up the Zoltan sign (Photo Courtesy of USA TODAY)

Pedro Alvarez throwing up the Zoltan sign (Photo Courtesy of USA TODAY)

The Pittsburgh Pirates avoided arbitration with Pedro Alvarez signing him to a 1-year deal worth $4.25 million dollars, a hefty raise over his 2013 $700,000 earnings.

After hitting a career-high 36 home runs, Alvarez has rightfully earned his raise. Pittsburgh controls the sluggers rights through 2016, but after that he becomes a free agent.

The question looming for the Pirates is whether they should sign Alvarez to a contract extension or risk losing Alvarez to free agency down the road?

Big time agent Scott Boras represents the Pirates’ third baseman. In case you don’t know, Boras is the owner and founder of the Boras Corporation, a sports agency specializing in representing professional baseball players. He is the man responsible for many of the record-breaking contracts that plague Major League Baseball today. Some of his clients include Prince Fielder, Alex Rodriguez and Stephen Strasburg.

Boras was the man who got Rodriguez his $275 million, 10-year deal with the Yankees, the deal that New York probably wishes they could scratch.

Obviously, this could prove to be costly for Pittsburgh in the long run. If they try and reach a deal with Alvarez during the season or down the road in a year or two, it could cost the organization big bucks

One thing the Pirates need to consider is the power-hitting Alvarez is known for being a streaky hitter in his young major league career. One week he may drill four balls into the Allegheny and the next he couldn’t hit a basketball. The 26-year-old  batted .233 last season, striking out 186 times.

Now, Alvarez has come through for the team at big times, including Pittsburgh’s first playoff run in over 20 years. His sacrifice fly added insurance against the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game and his monstrous homer in Game 1 of the NLDS was the only offense Pittsburgh saw. He was a catalyst the entire series against the Cardinals.

Alvarez batted .300 with three home runs and seven RBIs last post season, proving he can come up big at crucial times. He also made some great plays in the field.

Alvarez had a break out season in 2013, winning the Silver Slugger Award, making an appearance in the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby and being a league leader in home runs.

Despite those accolades, the former Vanderbilt star also committed 27 fielding errors. At times Alvarez made outstanding plays in the field but later he would botch a routine groundball. Alvarez’s
error total may have been higher if his strong arm didn’t make up for his bobbles.

Another problem with the left-handed hitting Alvarez is that he can be shut down by lefties. He has a .180/252/.286 slash, including only three homers last season. That compares to .249/.310/.532 with 33 homers against right-handed pitching last season. Can he improve those numbers or would he make a better platoon player?

That leaves the Pirates in a difficult situation when it comes to signing the slugger to a long-term deal. Do they take the gamble on Alvarez panning out to be a star or do they let him walk away like other players in the past?

That is something Pirates GM Neal Huntington and President Frank Coonley must decide within the next season or two. If the Pirates wait around till Alvarez is a free-agent, they may lose him to a big market team such as the Yankees.

Coonley did tell 93.7 The Fan, a Pittsburgh sports talk station, earlier this week that some day the Pirates will sign a $100 million contract but the time and the player remain unknown. Now that may have been a gimmick to give the fans what they want to hear or it could be the truth.

Alvarez isn’t likely to be the $100 million player unless he becomes that complete player in 2014 or 2015, but the Pirates saw how much one season increased his value and it may be worth it to try and lock him up now before that value sky rockets even higher.

However, waiting till after the 2014 season may not hurt the club either. That wait-and-see approach has paid off in the past.

Either way, its a gamble Pittsburgh needs to consider to avoid losing Alvarez. As of right now there is nothing stellar waiting in the system and “El Torro” has shown promise