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What will the Pirates do at first base next season?

Justin K. Aller

I thought the Pirates' likely decisions at first base this offseason were, if not obvious, then pretty close to it. So I was surprised by Rob Biertempfel's recent piece on the topic, which goes in some directions I hadn't considered.

"In our minds, Pedro's still a third baseman," Huntington said. "That's a decision we'll make in the offseason. We're going to work as hard as we can to get Pedro through the throwing challenge."

Which brings us back to a familiar question: Who's on first?

The potential pool of free agents this winter includes Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Michael Morse and Victor Martinez. Adam LaRoche, Adam Lind and Billy Butler have contract options for 2015.

I'd be shocked if Alvarez primarily played third base next year. I've been as big a Josh Harrison skeptic as anyone, but even I would be surprised if the Pirates didn't carve out a spot for him. Alvarez, meanwhile, was a disaster at third base this year, and even if he can fix his throwing issues, he's still posted negative UZRs in every season he's played in the big leagues (even in 2013, when any reasonable observer would say he fielded well). It would be fun to have Harrison playing a different position every day, but I'd rather have Harrison at third, where he won't be displacing Starling Marte or Gregory Polanco too much.

This offseason, then, the Pirates need to sort out what they'll do with Alvarez and Ike Davis. Unfortunately, they're both lefties, so the Pirates could non-tender Davis this season and gamble with Alvarez as part of a platoon with Gaby Sanchez (who didn't play well in 2014 but will still be relatively cheap this offseason at around $3 million - $3.5 million). Alvarez has two seasons with 30-plus home runs, and he can probably be an average or maybe slightly above average defensive first baseman.

Now let's look at the alternatives Biertempfel lists. Victor Martinez is really a DH at this point, and he'll be way out of the Pirates' likely price range -- it's impossible to see them doling out a four-year contract to a guy who's heading into his late 30s and who already doesn't have a place on the diamond. The Blue Jays are likely to pick up Adam Lind's option. As much as I liked Corey Hart last offseason, he was terrible this year. Michael Morse and Billy Butler are horrible defensively and don't fit the Pirates' M.O. at all. Michael Cuddyer can still hit, but he's old and defensively weak, and he missed much of this season due to injuries.

That leaves Adam LaRoche, who's still fairly good. He won't be cheap by the Pirates' standards, though, so I'm not sure it makes financial sense for the Pirates to pay the $10 million or so it might take to sign him when they can keep Gaby Sanchez much more cheaply and they aren't likely to non-tender Alvarez due to his upside.

It would be one thing if there were a Jose Abreu on this year's free agent market, but there isn't anyone close, unless the Pirates wanted to do something really funky like sign Hanley Ramirez or Nelson Cruz and move them to first, which they won't. There are also trades, but it's hard to see how they're going to significantly upgrade on Alvarez and Sanchez without giving up a lot.

It's possible the Pirates will tender Davis, hoping to find a trade partner for him. They could also keep him in spring training as depth. That way, if anyone gets hurt, Harrison can cover that player's position, with Alvarez moving to third and Davis to first. Since arbitration-year contracts frequently aren't guaranteed, the Pirates could then cut Davis if he weren't needed, only paying a fraction of his salary. Regardless, I would be surprised if Alvarez started at third base, and if the Pirates went into the 2015 season with both Alvarez and Davis on the active roster.