Extension Candidate: Pedro Alvarez

USATSI_7848313In May 2013, Pedro Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, declared that he and his client would be "open" to the possibility of a long-term contract with the Pirates. Since then, and particularly since the Bucs inked Starling Marte to a long-term deal last month, the Pittsburgh media has chattered about the Pirates' chances of signing Alvarez.

That Boras was open to an Alvarez extension wasn't that surprising. Boras' antipathy to pre-free agent deals, or perhaps the impact of his antipathy to pre-free agent deals upon actual negotiations, is sometimes overstated — a number of Boras clients, including Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez, Carlos Pena, Elvis Andrus, Jered Weaver and Ryan Madson, have signed them. (Besides, Alvarez was hitting just .200/.257/.406 at the time of Boras' comments.)

Nonetheless, that Boras is Alvarez's agent is still an issue. Alvarez himself would probably have to be strongly in favor of a deal for Boras to sign off on it. The squabbles between Boras and the Pirates after the Bucs drafted Alvarez in 2008 might be anecdotal evidence that neither Boras nor Alvarez will cede much ground on an extension (although 2008 was also long enough ago that it might not matter). And Boras recently criticized "donut contracts" for pre-free agency players that feature options at the end. It probably would not be easy at all for the Pirates to work out a long-term deal for Alvarez.

Alvarez is set to make $4.25MM this year, his first year of arbitration eligibility, and to become eligible for free agency following the 2016 season. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat writer Travis Sawchik has frequently compared Alvarez's career to that of Chris Davis, and if Alvarez's age-27 season were to go as well as Davis' did, Alvarez would get enormous raises in his last two arbitration seasons — Davis, for example, got a raise from $3.3MM to $10.35MM after hitting 53 home runs last year. Still, a 50-homer season isn't likely for Alvarez, and arbitration salaries are broadly predictable, so let's guess that Alvarez will make about $22-25MM from 2014 through 2016 if the Pirates don't sign him long-term. (A $22MM-$25MM projection suggests he will still get fairly steep raises, given that power tends to be rewarded in arbitration.)

A long-term deal for Alvarez would likely start there. Where it would end up is another matter, and Freddie Freeman's enormous eight-year, $135MM contract with the Braves would be a very tough precedent for the Pirates to get around, given that both Freeman and Alvarez are both corner sluggers with between three and four years of service time. The Pirates might argue that Freeman is two-and-a-half years younger than Alvarez, and has a much better track record hitting for average. But even if we lop the last two years off Freeman's contract to address the age difference, we're left with six years and $91MM, which would be a lot for the Pirates to pay Alvarez, given that his next three seasons will be relatively cheap. Dropping that $91MM total somewhat to reflect Freeman's broader base of offensive skills would only help so much.

And even that might concede too much for Boras' taste. While Freeman is a better player than Alvarez, Boras might not see it that way, perhaps arguing that Alvarez's superior power ought to make him every bit as valuable to the Pirates as Freeman was for the Braves.

At this point, we're left with the question of just what a pre-free agency extension for Alvarez would be for. Alvarez is already 27, and the Pirates control him through his age-29 season. The only point in signing Alvarez long-term would be to control seasons beyond that, and Alvarez and Boras would surely want to be paid quite well to give up those seasons.

The problem is that it's not clear how valuable Alvarez will be in his thirties. His raw power is outstanding, on par with Davis', but only so much of Alvarez's raw power is usable, because of his struggles with strikeouts (he whiffed at least 180 times in both 2012 and 2013) and hitting for average. The track records of sluggers with serious strikeout issues are spotty — Mark Reynolds, for example, was productive while striking out prodigiously in his mid-twenties, but he hasn't had a truly strong offensive season since age 27. Ryan Howard's career and contract provide more cautionary tales. Alvarez's low averages (he's only hit above .244 once in his career) are already a concern. His plate appearances so far in 2014 have looked much better than in years past, so perhaps there's a faint possibility that Alvarez can master his strikeout issues. Unless he can prove himself over a longer time frame, however, it makes little sense to bet on that.

Then there are Alvarez's other skills. He's become an average third baseman and baserunner, but it's questionable whether he'll be able to maintain his current defensive and baserunning abilities as he heads into his thirties, given his bulky physique and lack of raw speed.

Given the likelihood that Alvarez won't age well, then, the Pirates' best course of action may simply be to enjoy the three years of him they have left. Signing a big, strikeout-prone slugger into his thirties doesn't make sense, even accounting for the slim possibility that he'll break out and become the next Chris Davis. Long-term contracts are calculated risks, and other things being equal, it's better to take the risk on a younger, more athletic player like Marte.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

48 Responses to Extension Candidate: Pedro Alvarez Leave a Reply

  1. johnsilver 1 year ago

    Dangerous candidate. Boras client, so would have to overpay and extremely low OBP as does not like to take a walk. Am not sure how long his career will last with his swing like that and not a knock on the guy.

    Pittsburgh is probably better off just riding out the remaining 3y.

    • LazerTown 1 year ago

      Yes. The guy is looking more and more like Mark Reynolds. The writer can make the argument that his career follows similar path Davis. Let him put that up, they shouldn’t be guaranteeing that much money to him, let him do that and let him leave.

    • Federal League 1 year ago

      His career walk rate is 9.2% so his willingness to walk isn’t the issue. He just doesn’t hit for a good average so his OBP ends up being low.

  2. Christopher Cobern 1 year ago

    He could become trade bait near the end of his current contract especially to AL teams as the DH but Alvarez would be hesitant to give up the glove.

    • Charlie Wilmoth 1 year ago

      He’s actually a totally decent third baseman, but I agree there’s a chance he won’t be in a couple years.

      • Nathan Boley 1 year ago

        Both his glove and his speed are underrated – for now. If he pulls a fly ball into that RF corner below the scoreboard he almost always goes for three. Don’t know how long that lasts, but he had several triples last season.

        • Hurdled Again 1 year ago

          I agree on the speed, but I am just baffled by how people accept his defense. Sure, he turns in occasional gems and makes simpler plays when possible, but almost anyone at the MLB level does that. To me, he is an absolute butcher. He somehow had vastly improved sabermetric fielding last year but that’s a fluke and not supported by running away with consecutive errors titles. And as a frequent attendee of PNC Park games, I can guarantee you his error totals have been deflated by at least 20% per season, and that’s a conservative adjustment. So if a 33-error player is average, then I know not who is below average in the field anymore.

          I agree that the logical choice is to either trade or ride him out. An extension would be a high-risk gamble without question. He is a two-tool player with average speed, an anemic contact rate and a horrendous glove. As a small market team, shed the sexy appeal of long balls for several affordable players whose contributions aren’t as flashy but more than make up for the WAR you would lose in Alvarez.

        • TheRealRyan 1 year ago

          While I agree that his speed isn’t terrible, it’s a stretch to use his 2 triples last year as evidence. His 3 triples over the last 2 years was surpassed by such burners as Mauer, Trumbo and Pierzynski, to name a few.

    • LazerTown 1 year ago

      Not sure why. His bat isn’t very good.

      • Ron Loreski 1 year ago

        Clearly you don’t watch him play. He is a difference maker in the middle of the lineup. He doesn’t get paid for OBP, he gets paid for power.

        • LazerTown 1 year ago

          He is a difference maker, when he makes contact. If he continues on his path, he should be able to still find a job for a few more years, but he won’t be highly in demand. Sure he can hit 30-35 hr in a year, but the other 650 PA in the season he is pretty useless. Part of baseball is moving players over, getting on base, etc. Hitting 1 hr every 20 PA doesn’t make up for that.

          • Metsfan93 1 year ago

            When you put it that way he seems like Adam Dunn who can play third base passably, or in other words an above average player but not a superstar. I’d say his skillet would warrant 3/45 on the open market right now, but probably not in three years when he hits the open market.

          • Ron Loreski 1 year ago

            Don’t forget he’s a Scott Boras client. Unless he puts up 20-25 HR over the next few seasons, he’ll get more than 3/45 on the open market.

          • Metsfan93 1 year ago

            Just like Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales were going to get good contracts. Like Bourn was aiming for 100 MM, or Lohse 75. Alvarez isn’t a superstar and non-superstar Boras clients aren’t doing phenomenal out there lately..

          • LazerTown 1 year ago

            There is always a limit to how much a team is willing to spend on a player. They don’t sign him because Boras tells him how important he is. I’m sure Pirates have some way that they value everyone.

          • LazerTown 1 year ago

            That’s just ludicrous, I don’t think Pittsburgh will value him any different because Boras is his agent. And if Drew’s market is like it is; then I think a QO would really tear his market apart, he is not an elite player atm. That doesn’t mean he can’t become one, but I can’t see the Pirates giving him anywhere near Freeman money.

          • Zak Arn 1 year ago

            It’s hard to call Adam Dunn above average. He’s consistent yes, but given enough opportunity a lot of guys could put up the same terrible slash and belt homers. What if Wily Mo Pena had been given 600+ PAs?

          • Federal League 1 year ago

            If you only look at Adam Dunn’s recent career, then sure. If you look at the majority of his career, however, it becomes clear that not only was Adam Dunn above average, he was in fact a star hitter. From 2001-2010 Adam Dunn hit .250/.381/.521 with five consecutive 40+ home run seasons and six consecutive 100 walk seasons [seven 100 walk seasons total in that time frame].

            And as unsightly as the batting average might be, over the last two seasons Adam Dunn has posted a 108 OPS+, so he is still above average hitter albeit not at his previous level.

          • Metsfan93 1 year ago

            I didn’t call Adam Dunn above average. I called an Adam Dunn who can play third base passably and runs the bases decently above average. And I’m also talking moreso the good-hitting version of Adam Dunn, not this recent artifact that is being run out there every day in Chicago. Although, even this version is an above average hitter.

    • AceRuby 1 year ago

      Totally agree with this I think he’s for sure a guy you should look at trading to an AL team in the future. It would probably benefit the Pirates long term also as they’d probably get some solid prospects for him.

    • connfyoozed . 1 year ago

      I don’t know the numbers, but I feel like most of Pedro’s errors are either with throwing accuracy or with sometimes misinterpreting a hop in a grounder towards him. He actually gets to a lot more balls than you would think someone his size would, and he has a (usually accurate) cannon for an arm. I do know that his defense is much, much better than it was a couple of years ago. He is never going to be a Gold Glover, but he is no longer a poor defender either.

  3. David Ayoob 1 year ago

    He can always be moved to first base if his mobility decreases.

    • Lee Foo Young 1 year ago

      and then become an overpaid, over weight first baseman like Ryan Howard?

      :) :) :)

  4. Rand_Paul_2016 1 year ago

    I could see Pedro signing with the Yankees in a few years. He could hit bombs at Yankee Stadium with the short right field porch. The Pirates aren’t going to overpay for his services and they really can’t risk a huge contract on a guy like Alvarez.

  5. hiflyer000 1 year ago

    If the Pirates are smart they’ll let him walk when he’s a FA and pick up the comp pick, and let someone else overpay for his decline.

    • AceRuby 1 year ago

      If they can trade him before hand that would be a likely scenario also.

    • Lee Foo Young 1 year ago

      Ace…Like you, I’d rather trade him for a passel of prospects. I saw what happened when we kept Bonds for that ’92 run That comp pick was worthless. I often wondered if we’d have not experienced 20 years of wandering had we dealt Big Head Barry.

      • indybucfan 1 year ago

        Actually Lee, we didn’t get a pick for Bonds because he wasn’t offered arbitration. Go figure!

    • Metsfan93 1 year ago

      I highly doubt they’d offer the comp pick, assuming it’s still the same system when KDro hits free agency after 2016. The average of the top 125 players in baseball salary-wise is going to skyrocket in the next few years as Ellsbury, Tulowitzki, Kershaw, Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Felix, Wright, and others start earning the high-salary years in their contracts and Mauer, Teixeira, Sabathia, Lee, Hamels, etc. still have ongoing deals. I’m almost certain there are already a significant number of players under contract for 20+ MM that season, since Tex/A-Rod/Sabathia’s deals won’t have run out yet and Tanaka, Tulowitzki, Pedroia, Lester, Scherzer, etc. will be getting raises. James Shields too. Holliday’s deal will be in its last year. 2016 might be the biggest overlap of the 2009/2010/2011~ mega deals the Yanks and Red Sox gave out, and the built-in raises for Werth, Trout, Tulo and other superstars.

  6. AmericanMovieFan 1 year ago

    I doubt the Pirates are even seriously entertaining an extension. They got very lucky when they locked up McCutchen for 6 years/$51.5MM. But that was a few years ago now. It’s a very different era for extensions already, even if you’re the Pirates. I’m guessing Alvarez is envisioning a minimum extension of 6 years/$84MM with a $20MM option or something in that neighborhood. Because any less than 4 years of F/A for Alvarez or any less than two F/A seasons for the Pirates wouldn’t be worth it.

    2015: $7MM w/$1MM signing bonus
    2016: $10MM
    2017: $13MM
    2018: $15MM
    2019: $17.5MM
    2020: $17.5MM
    2021: $20MM club option w/$3MM buyout

    Guaranteed: $84MM over 6 years…Potential Total: $101MM over 7 years

    Now, if I’m the Pirates, I offer him this deal:

    2015: $7MM w/$1MM signing bonus
    2016: $8MM
    2017: $12MM
    2018: $12MM
    2019: $15MM
    2020: $20MM club option w/$2.5MM buyout

    Guaranteed: $57.5MM over 5 years…Potential Total: $75MM over 6 years.

    What Boras is envisioning:

    2015: $10MM w/$5MM signing bonus
    2016: $15MM
    2017: $25MM
    2018: $25MM
    2019: $30MM w/ Player Opt Out Clause for 2020
    2020: $30MM
    2025: $35MM
    2026: $25MM

    Total: $200MM over 8 years w/ player opt out after 5 years/$105MM to secure another 9-figure guarantee before Alvarez starts really showing his age.

    • Metsfan93 1 year ago

      Holy overpays on that last offer. Even Scott Boras isn’t going to be marketing Alvarez as a player worthy of 35 MM in 2021, which is the year I assume you meant.

  7. CT 1 year ago

    Don’t see how Alvarez and Freeman can be compared. Alvarez hits homeruns and that’s about it. Freeman has showed less power so far, but has a much greater offensive skill set, than Alvarez. Freeman also finished 5th in MVP voting last year (should have been higher).

    • Dave Pierce 1 year ago

      All an agent needs to do is get into the same ballpark as another player to use it as a comp. It’s one of many comps presented from both sides.

    • Metsfan93 1 year ago

      Alvarez is sort of unique. I can’t think of many no-average, all-power, decent defensive third basemen besides maybe Mark Reynolds, who is a very bad person to have as a comp considering his disappearance from relevance.

  8. Dave Pierce 1 year ago

    17 comments at the time of me posting this to all basically write exactly what Charlie wrote.

  9. onemanrevival 1 year ago

    Anything over $50 million for six years is an insult to the Pirates and to McCutchen. I’d rather spend $100 to extend Cutch further than give Pedro insane money for just homers.

  10. I love baseball’s increased emphasis on extensions to young talent, but there are plenty of players who you should go year to year with. Alvarez appears to be one of them.

    The choice to not extend him doesn’t have huge ramifications. If he picks up, they’re not likely to be slapped with a big arbitration raise. And if he does, well then they still have a good player on their team.

  11. ElGaupo77 1 year ago

    The Pirates have 3 CFs that could start a All Star game with another really good prospect in A- (Austin Meadows) and another in SS (Michael de la Cruz). The people that waffle at paying Pedro more than Cutch don’t understand the position scarify involved.

  12. Marc Duhaime 1 year ago

    I feel he is more of a sell high candidate, keep the farm system strong to keep reloading the major league team. Pirates need to operate like the Rays.

    • domaug 1 year ago

      why would they trade the best HR hitter they’ve had in a long time?

      • Metsfan93 1 year ago

        Because his three remaining years of control take him through the likely remainder of his peak, his player type (high K, high HR) has declined rapidly in recent memory (Dunn, Howard, Reynolds, Uggla, even Granderson to an extent) where they’re merely useful players rather than superstars…. he’s extremely low AVG to the point he still isn’t a reliable 3+ win player in his prime.
        Also, Brian Giles was just as good a HR hitter and Jason Bay wasn’t far off, either. Andrew McCutchen has also gotten into the 30s recently, too.
        Regardless, he’s a Boras client with past history of chasing maximum money. He’d want superstar money in FA years based off his power, and it isn’t worth it. Only way I do this as Pittsburgh is if it’s four years, starting next year, worth 48 MM (18 for arb, 15, 15 for two moderately pre-decline FA years)…. but I doubt Alvarez would want to be a FA after age 32 since he’s currently primed to hit FA at age 30 with pre-decline great power.

      • Marc Duhaime 1 year ago

        Somebody will over pay for those hr #s, get a strong pitching prospect, positional prospect a fringy/toolsy project type prospect and a low cost replacement and you more than make up for his value and keep the team strong.

  13. Zak Arn 1 year ago

    Zero chance he gets anything close to Freeman money. I agree he’s more Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn or Carlos Pena than Freeman.

  14. Jimmy Seskey 1 year ago

    hes destined for the Yanks

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