CHICAGO, IL - JULY 26: Wilson Betemit #20 of the Detroit Tigers drives in the winning run in the 8th inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on July 26, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Tigers defeated the White Sox 5-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Here were the Pirates at third base last year.
That's remarkably consistent, and not in a good way. Harrison actually managed to be .9 wins above replacement for the season, thanks in part to what UZR believes was a good glove. I wasn't particularly convinced by his fielding, so it will be interesting to see what happens next year, if he manages to get enough at bats for the sample size to be relevant. Wood was narrowly above replacement level. Alvarez was well below it.
This cannot stand.
Wood may not be back next year. I doubt the Pirates will take him to arbitration, although I could see them bringing him back as a non-roster invitee. The other three will return in 2011, but the Pirates will probably want to add someone else as well. The problem the Pirates face with regard to improving the third-base situation is that they can't yet act like Alvarez has flamed out completely. He's still important to the future of the franchise, so the Pirates need to keep the door open for him. It's like if your girlfriend disappoints you and you take a break from the relationship, but you still love her. You might have a fling, but you probably shouldn't enter into a long-term, committed relationship with someone else unless you're thoroughly convinced that it's over. (That's not a great relationship metaphor, but what can I say? I'm a Rick Pitino fan.)
That takes the Pirates out of the running for someone like Aramis Ramirez. Not that they would ever be in the running for Ramirez, who's way out of their league, but since some Pirates fans still haven't accepted that free agents of Ramirez's caliber simply won't come to Pittsburgh without serious changes to the Pirates' reputation, I thought I'd make clear that there are also other reasons why it's pointless to fantasize about bringing him back. Alvarez makes a return just about impossible, even if it weren't already. And yeah, the Pirates could clear the way for a decent third baseman by moving Alvarez to first, where they have another (smaller) hole, but if that were going to happen, we probably would have heard about it already.
Here's the rest of the free agent market.
That's a lot of yuck right there. Many of these guys aren't even worth considering. Encarnacion isn't a terrible option, but he hit a little bit last year and the Jays have a reasonable 2012 option on him. Dobbs is only about half a notch better than a replacement-level player and he shouldn't be getting nearly as many at-bats as he got this year, and he's also left-handed, meaning he couldn't save Alvarez against lefties. Blake might be a reasonable flier if the Pirates are convinced he can be healthy next season, but at 38, he's a risk. Also, if he's healthy, I can see some team overpaying for him.
Betemit hits pretty well but fields poorly. He can probably be had reasonably cheaply, however, and the Pirates should be able to lure him with the promise of a reasonable amount of playing time. He's a good match for the Pirates, in that he could expect to play a lot, but the Bucs would have no problem reducing his role if Alvarez started to hit. There's also the possibility that the Pirates could make a trade, of course. But my guess is that the Pirates will add a third baseman this winter, and if I have to guess who that will be, my guess would be Betemit.