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.



Minor Moves: Brendan Harris, Blake Forsythe

Here are today's minor moves from around baseball.

  • The Dodgers have released infielder Brendan Harris, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish tweets. Harris made 117 plate appearances for the Angels in 2013, posting a line of .206/.252/.355. It had been his first appearance to the Majors since 2010. Previously, he had played for the Cubs, Expos/Nationals, Reds, Rays, and Twins.
  • The Mets have announced that they've traded catcher Blake Forsythe to the Athletics for future considerations. Forsythe, 24, hit .192/.271/.362 for Double-A Binghamton in 2013. He was a third-round pick in the 2010 draft out of the University of Tennessee.



Blue Jays Designate Jeremy Jeffress For Assignment

April 13: The Blue Jays were not able to trade Jeffress, and have placed him on waivers, Shi Davidi of SportsNet.ca tweets.

April 4: The Blue Jays announced that they have designated reliever Jeremy Jeffress for assignment, tweets Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. In a corresponding move, the team recalled righty Marcus Walden to take his roster spot, the club announced.

Jeffress, 26, gave up three hits and a run tonight in what could have been his last appearance for Toronto. He has seen MLB time in five seasons, but has never logged more than 15 1/3 innings in any one season. Jeffress has yet to harness his big arm, as his career 6.7 BB/9 tally in the bigs would indicate. He did put up outstanding results last year, as he put up a 0.87 ERA in 10 1/3 big league frames (10.5 K/9 against 4.4 BB/9) and a 1.39 mark in his 32 1/3 minor league innings (8.4 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9).






MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR this past week:



Quick Hits: Rodon, Soriano, Abreu, Brewers

In an Insider-only piece for ESPN.com, Keith Law blasted the North Carolina State coaching staff's decision to let Carlos Rodon throw 134 pitches in a start on Friday night. Rodon is expected to be one of the top picks in June's amateur draft, yet Law felt the southpaw's promising future was being risked by a coaching staff desperate to reach the NCAA tournament.

Here's some news from around the Majors...

  • If Alfonso Soriano doesn't retire at season's end, he'd like to play through 2016, preferably as a member of the Yankees, ESPN's Buster Olney reports (Insider-only link). If he has a tough season this year, however, Soriano will retire. The veteran outfielder is in last year of his contract and has previously discussed retiring after 2014, as Soriano's health will also factor into his decision.
  • Bobby Abreu is hitting .500 in Triple-A and is "the best hitter Las Vegas has got by far," a talent evaluator tells Mike Puma of the New York Post. Since Abreu can opt out of his minor league deal on April 30, the Mets will have to make a decision soon, and they could free up a roster spot by moving one of Ike Davis or Lucas Duda.
  • The Brewers have a dozen players making the Major League minimum salary (or slightly above), and this influx of cheap, young talent helps the smaller-market club afford the six $10MM+ salaries on the payroll, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes.
  • Scheduling and tougher PED testing/penalities are two factors for increased injuries this season, according to the New York Post's Joel Sherman.  Travel during both the regular season and Spring Training has become more arduous at a time when players' bodies might not be recovering as quickly due to a lack of performance enhancers.
  • Baseball America's Matt Eddy recaps the week's minor league transactions. 

Edward Creech contributed to this post.



Boras: Drew/Morales "Damaged" By Comments In ESPN Story

Scott Boras, the agent for unsigned free agents Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, claims his clients have been "damaged" by comments from the anonymous executives quoted in a recent ESPN story, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Boras' remarks come two days after the MLBPA requested the Commissioner's Office to investigate those comments made to ESPN's Buster Olney, which appeared in a column he penned Wednesday.

"It's a clear violation of the CBA," Boras told Heyman. "As many as five executives continue to use ESPN as a conduit to violate the collective bargaining agreement. Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew were damaged by these comments.

Boras also warns, "The integrity of the game is challenged when players of this stature have yet to have a negotiation due to the system," adding there needs to be a "remedy" for the pair, which could take the form of monetary damages or relief from a future qualifying offer. Boras points out not only does the CBA disallow negative comments from MLB team officials, which could depress player markets, but also provides for the possibility of monetary damages in such circumstances. Boras says the issue is about the "conduct" of the executives, not the timing suggesting a grievance procedure needs to be implemented where all concerned parties are placed under oath.

MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred disagrees with Boras' assertion the market for Drew and Morales has been damaged by the comments. "It is ludicrous, absurd, that one [Internet] report somehow alters the market for players who have been out there for months," Manfred told Heyman.



NL West Notes: Francoeur, D'Backs, Sandoval, Hedges

Rookies are usually the easiest targets for clubhouse pranks, yet veteran Jeff Francoeur was the victim of a month-long running gag from his teammates on the Padres' Triple-A affiliate.  Padres farmhand Cody Decker created a short YouTube video chronicling the prank, and it's definitely good for a few chuckles.  Here's some news from around the majors...

  • The Diamondbacks' slow start has made them "candidates for early change" in the view of executives from around the league, ESPN's Buster Olney tweets.  Manager Kirk Gibson and GM Kevin Towers both signed extensions in February that kept both men from being lame ducks in 2014, though there was speculation that this was a make-or-break year for the two men following consecutive .500 seasons for the Snakes.
  • Pablo Sandoval is off to a slow start in his contract year, and given how much speculation has already swirled about Sandoval's contract talks with the Giants, manager Bruce Bochy hopes that his third baseman is keeping his focus.  "He's the only one who can answer that I guess, if it's on his mind," Bochy tells MLB.com's Alex Espinoza.  "The one thing you don't want Pablo to do is to get away from playing the game the way he normally plays it -- with a lot of passion and enthusiasm. Thinking about the contract, it can be a distraction. He assured me it's not."
  • Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges continued to impress scouts during Spring Training, Tom Krasovic writes for Baseball America.  While the catcher still has a bit of work to do with the bat, a scout tells Krasovic that “Hedges probably could have caught in the big leagues two years ago. He is so advanced from a receiving and throwing standpoint. He was a treat to watch. Barring injury, he is going to be a big leaguer for a long time."  Hedges is one of the game's consensus top prospects (ranked 24th by MLB.com, 27th by Baseball America and 33rd by ESPN's Keith Law in their preseason lists) and he'll start the season at Double-A.



AL Central Notes: Benoit, Chisenhall, Fuld

It was on this day in 2009 that Mark Fidrych died at age 54 as the result of a freak truck repair accident.  Fidrych burst onto the scene as a Tigers rookie in 1976, posting a 2.34 ERA over 250 1/3 innings, starting the All-Star Game for the American League and capturing the AL Rookie Of The Year Award in the process.  His pitching aside, "The Bird" was even better known for his unique personality and quirky mound habits (such as talking to the ball or personally smoothing out cleat marks on the mound), as well as appearing on perhaps the greatest cover in Sports Illustrated history.  Though Fidrych's career was short, baseball fans will never forget one of the game's great characters.  The MLBTR staff extends our condolences to Fidrych's family and friends on this anniversary of his passing.

Here's the latest from around the AL Central...

  • Joaquin Benoit and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski both had nothing but good things to say about the veteran reliever's tenure in Motown, but the Tigers didn't make Benoit a contract offer last winter.  Dombrowski tells John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press that “When it came down to it, we had Joe Nathan over Joaquin as a closer, and that’s the direction we decided to pursue.  We kept a pulse of his free-agent situation all winter long. But it just looked like he was going to (cost) a little more than we wanted to pay for a set-up guy."  Benoit ended up signing a two-year, $15.5MM deal with the Padres.
  • Lonnie Chisenhall is hitting well but could be the victim of a roster crunch, so a reader asked Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer (as part of a mailbag piece) if the Indians could possibly deal the third baseman.  Hoynes believes it's generally too early for teams to be exploring the trade market, barring an injury, and Chisenhall is still an unproven commodity at the Major League level.  Since Chisenhall is 25 years old and only a couple of years removed from being regarded as the Tribe's top prospect, I'd think Cleveland would need a big return to consider moving Chisenhall, even though Carlos Santana has seemingly taken over at third base.
  • Sam Fuld could be an interesting pickup for the Twins, 1500ESPN.com's Derek Wetmore opines, as he would add depth to a Minnesota team that is thin on outfield options.  The Athletics designated Fuld for assignment yesterday.



AL East Notes: Red Sox, Lester, Hanrahan, Rays

The possibility exists that at some point this season, the Red Sox could field a lineup, along with a good chunk of their rotation and bullpen, that is comprised almost exclusively of players and pitchers who have played only for Boston, writes Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.  Thanks to the club's emphasis on homegrown talent, injuries/days off for David Ortiz, A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross, and Mike Napoli could make this idea a reality sometime this summer.  Here's more out of the AL East..

  • Two winters ago, the Red Sox were able to find success by overpaying free agents on an average annual basis while avoiding long-term deals, but they're mistaken if they think they can do the same with Jon Lester, writes Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com.  Boston reportedly offered the standout pitcher a four-year, $70MM contract extension before the start of the season.
  • Rob Bradford of WEEI.com agrees that the Red Sox are making a mistake in their handling of the contract talks with Lester, as the southpaw has no real reason to take such a relatively below-market extension.  Such a deal would also likely not sit well with the MLBPA, which Lester recognizes.  "I don't want to be the guy where you sign a deal and then a guy like [Felix Doubront] comes up and says (sarcastically), 'Thanks Jon for helping me out.' That's the tough part," Lester said.  "You've got to balance what makes you happy and still have to take into account where the Players' Association is, you have to take into account the market and what's fair, and then you do what makes you happyIf you're a little bit below market value and it makes you happy, who cares? If you're astronomically below market value, then that's where you need to look at it."
  • Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe believes that the Yankees are the best bet to sign free agent reliever Joel Hanrahan.  The former Pirates closer is set to audition for teams on Thursday in Tampa, Florida.  The Mets, Angels, Rangers, Rockies, Royals, Athletics, Red Sox, and Rays are also said to be among the teams with interest in the 32-year-old.
  • Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times looks at the Rays and their ability to keep their young players under team control.  Of course, those type of deals aren't offered to all good young players, and not all accept it, not wanting to trade off larger future earnings for security.  Right-hander Alex Cobb and outfielders Desmond Jennings and Wil Myers are among the young notables who don't have long-term pacts.



Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Yankees, Buehrle, D'Backs

On this date in 2008, construction workers at the new Yankee Stadium site dug up a Red Sox jersey buried in concrete. The tattered David Ortiz jersey, which was later auctioned off to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, was buried by a Bronx construction worker, a Red Sox fan, who had hoped to put a hex on the Bombers.  Here's this week's look around the baseball blogosphere..

If you have a suggestion for this feature, Zach can be reached at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.  




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