dt_common_streams_StreamServerpedroFor most of the 2014 season the talk surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates has been about Gregory Polanco. When is he going to get the call up? Why hasn’t he been here all season? When he is called up, is he going to rescue the Buccos season and help them contend for another wild card spot or possibly the division? I have news for you, that is not the biggest problem facing the team this season. Staring the organization and its fans directly in the face is the end of Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker as Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pedro Alarez is under contract for until the 2017 season. This current season is his first arbitration eligible season which saw his base salary jump from $700,000 in 2013 to $4,250,000 in 2014. Yes, that is a large jump in salary in one season butt with baseball contracts as they are in today’s day and age $4,250,000 is not a lot of money compared to his peers throughout the league. Of the 30 starting third baseman at the major league level Pedro is the 13th highest paid at the position.
Some may say he is worth it based on his power numbers alone. Over the last two seasons he knocked 30 and 36 home runs respectively. The 36 dingers he smacked last season were good enough to tie for the lead the National League. However the holes in his game are just as impressive. Aside from leading the league in home runs last year he also was first in strikeouts (186) and errors (27) to go with a very pedestrian .233 batting average and .296 on base percentage. This season he is not faring much better. He is hitting .227 with only 10 home runs. His 51 strikeouts only rank him 23rd in the National League but his 12 errors to date are the second most in all of baseball.
Are his 66 combined home runs in 2012 and 2013 enough to extend him long term and keep him a Pirate for the years to come? They still say “chicks dig the long ball”. His agent, Scott Boras, has never been known to let his clients settle for anything but the most money possible. Boras likes to have his clients test the open market and get top market value for their talents. As anyone who follows the Buccos knows, Bob Nutting, Neal Huntington and the Pirates have never been known to spend money. Take A.J. Burnett as an example. They offered him $12 million knowing $14 could have been enough to keep him in in a Pirates uniform. Now he is pitching on the other side of Pennsylvania.
All arrows are pointing to Alvarez lining up at third base for another team sooner rather than later. Rumors have been swirling around since the offseason that he possibly could be traded as soon as the end of July at the trade deadline if the Pirates are not in contention. I don’t see that happening. The main reason is because of the second wild card team being added in MLB. As of today, even sitting 3 games below .500, the Pirates are only 2.5 games out of the final wild card spot. Even with his poor play in the field, poor batting average and high rate of strikeouts he is set to receive another raise in the offseason when he goes in front of an arbitrator. That’s something the organization may not want to see. He is from New York and would love to play for either the Yankees or the Mets. Both organizations are not shy about signing players to big contracts. The Yankees would be a better fit at this point because they have David Wright, one of the best players in all of baseball, at third. However in the American League Alvarez could either play third or DH, which is more likely of a scenario given his fielding woes.
Neil Walker is also someone who may be closing in on the end of his tenure as a Bucco. Since making his major league debut as a late season call up in 2009, he has been one of the best fielding second baseman in all of baseball. Through 578 career games he has only committed 30 errors, good for a .989 fielding percentage. This season he is tied for third in all of baseball amongst second baseman with a .996 fielding percentage. Not too bad for a guy who never played the position until 2007. Many people forget he played his entire life as a catcher and was drafted as one in 2004.
At the plate he has had his ups and downs. Being a switch hitter, he has fared much better against right handed pitching than he has against lefties over his career. This season has been no exception, hitting .283 against righties and .263 versus lefties. A career .274 hitter, he is batting .279 this season. On average he has knocked better than 13 homers per season throughout his career. This season he is leading all second baseman with 10 dingers to go with his 62 hits. He is becoming what the organization hoped he would when drafted him with the eleventh overall selection in 2004.
Walker would love to stay in Pittsburgh. He was born and raised here and went to Pine-Richland High School. The problem with keeping Walker a Pirate lies with the organization. Neal Huntington was not the General Manager of the team when Walker was drafted. He is not seen as their guy. Right or wrong, loyalty in sports seems to be shown more towards players and team personal brought in by current ownership and management teams. Money though may be the main obstacle standing in the way of a long term deal getting done. As a player Neil seems to be coming into his own this season. He is playing All Star caliber baseball at a time when needs to the most.
Whether Pedro Alvarez or Neil Walker are around in the coming years or not, they both have left their footprints on their teammates, organization, and city. Just as it has been and will be with the Pirates money will be the determining factor in the decision to trade Alvarez and Walker in the coming months. We have seen great talent leave in such a manor over the past 20 or so years only to watch them flourish in a different uniform. The likes of Barry Bonds, Doug Drabek, Jason Schmidt, Aramis Ramirez, Jose Bautista and A.J Burnett to name a few have all left for more money and greener pastures. Whatever happens in the coming months, let’s hope the Pirates do the right things for the franchise and its loyal fans who endured two decades of losing baseball before 2013. If Alvarez, Walker or both get traded it will be for financial reasons and nothing else. It will show their fans they are not as serious about winning as they would like them to believe. It would be another “black eye” they cannot afford to have after their 2013 success. I have faith both players will continue to progress and have long and productive careers. As far as the Pirates are concerned, I have faith they will do what is right for them financially. The problem is that is not a recipe for winning. It’s a recipe for another 5-year plan that will leave their great fans and city shaking their heads in disbelief. If they open their wallets, the future looks bright. If they don’t, it looks like we may be staring at a sub .500 baseball team for years to come. Sounds sickeningly all too familiar, doesn’t it?

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