Both Pedro Alvarez (via agent Scott Boras) and the Pirates have expressed interest in exploring an extension for the 26-year-old third baseman, reports Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The team expects Alvarez to become arbitration eligible after this season, which would void a $700k team option for 2014 but leave him under team control through the 2016 season.
Boras said that the Alvarez camp was "open to the idea" of discussing a long-term deal over the coming offseason. Of course, he gave no indication that such a contract would come at a discount. Boras noted that Alvarez's "combination of 20 to 30 [home run] power and quality defense at third base" was a valuable commodity, and predicted that "his best years are yet to come." Alvarez smacked 30 home runs last year for the Pirates in his first full season as a regular, and posted a .244/.317/.467 slash line. He has continued to hit the long ball this year, though he has struggled to get on base (.200/.257/.406). As the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, Alvarez already netted one substantial payday when he signed a four-year, $6.355MM deal (and had his 2013 option exercised at $700k).
From the perspective of the Pirates, team president Frank Coonelly also expressed a willingness to talk, saying: "Open minds often lead to common ground and, ultimately, to agreement. We also have an open mind on these issues and will continue to evaluate seriously the merits of a long-term agreement with Pedro, just like we do with all of our young players." He did note that the team's philosophy required that free agent years be included in any such deal: "We are proponents of multiyear deals for our core players. For us, buying out free-agent years is very important. To do otherwise doesn't make much sense."
While there is much for Alvarez to prove before he earns an extension, Pittsburgh's expressed interest makes it worth a look ahead to see what Alvarez could potentially garner if he has a strong end to his 2013 season. MLBTR's Extension Tracker reveals three recent extensions for power-hitting, young third-basemen on the cusp of arbitration eligibility. Before the 2012 season, the Giants agreed to a deal with then-25-year-old third baseman Pablo Sandoval that bought out his three arbitration-eligible seasons but did not include any free agent years. The three-year deal was worth a total of $17.15MM plus incentives. Likewise, Mark Reynolds signed a three-year, $14.5MM deal with the Diamondbacks that bought out his first two arbitration years (along with one pre-arb season) and included a $11MM option on his final year of arbitration eligibility. (The Orioles did not exercise that option and declined to afford Reynolds arbitration by not tendering him a contract, making him a free agent.) The Nationals locked up Ryan Zimmerman for five years and $45MM just weeks into the 2009 season, after previously agreeing to avoid arbitration in his first season of eligibility. Effectively, the deal covered three arbitration years and two free agent seasons.
Certainly, Alvarez has not demonstrated the level of performance of Sandoval, Reynolds, and Zimmerman at the time their deals were signed. (Sandoval was coming off of a .315/.357/.552 slash with 23 home runs. Reynolds had just posted a .260/.349/.543 line with 44 homers and 24 steals. Zimmerman was just 24 and had already put up three seasons of stellar defense and strong power/on-base numbers, though he was coming off of an injury-shortened 2008.) And the Sandoval and Reynolds models seem to be non-starters if the Pirates insist on buying free agent years. Nevertheless, they could provide something of a guide for the value of Alvarez's arbitration seasons, as his big power totals and consistent playing time figure to play well in that setting.
While Zimmerman's deal is somewhat outdated at this point, it would presumably set an upper bound on what Alvarez could look for in a five-year pact. Looking outside of third baggers, the four-year, $30MM deal that the Royals gave to Billy Butler before the 2011 season could be a target for Alvarez. Kansas City also picked up a $12.5MM team option for another year. That contract covered three arbitration seasons and one year of free agency. While Butler was undoubtedly a more accomplished hitter, his DH status limited his value. (For reference, Butler was worth 1.9 fWAR in 2009 and 2.6 fWAR in 2010. Manning third, Alvarez logged 2.3 fWAR last year.)
Of course, this set of comparable players is relatively heady territory for a player with Alvarez's somewhat spotty track record. His slow start at the plate this year has been accompanied by eight errors and a .938 fielding percentage, though advanced fielding metrics peg him as above average thus far. And the Pirates have handed out only one deal to a player (Andrew McCutchen) with between two and five years of service time since their 2009 deal with Nate McLouth.