Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where Should Pedro Start the Season?

This post addresses a simple question:  Should Pedro Alvarez start the season on the major league club, or in AAA? More to the point, is there even ONE argument in favor of him going north with the club and starting in Pittsburgh?

I don’t think so. I can’t think of a single argument to support the idea that he should start in Pittsburgh out of spring training.  Let’s look at the possible arguments, and respond to each of them:

1. He had major league success in the past. Yes, he had some success in 2010 and it was exhilarating.  But this argument ignores all of last year. How can one simply discard an entire year? In 2010, he was a new face and pitchers hadn’t yet adjusted. In 2011, they adjusted and the results for Pedro were disastrous – so much so that the front office very carefully took action in acquiring a credible “backup.”

2. He is our best option.  This argument had a LOT more credibility last year (Brandon Wood, anyone?), but none at all this time around. The acquisition of Casey McGeehee from the Brewers was, may I say, a brilliant move by our front office. They gave up only a decent relief pitcher (who for some reason always made me nervous when he took the mound, but that’s a different story) and acquired in return a man coming off a sub-par season no doubt, but only one year away from a 100 RBI season. Plus – and this is critical – the injuries he fought in 2011 are behind him.

Even McGeehee’s sub-par 2011, I should note, would have been far better than Pedro’s. Pedro had about half as many major league at bats so some projection is needed, but here are the 2011 stats:

McGeehee (546 AB): 13 HR, 67 RBI, .223 BA, .280 OBP, .346 Slugging, .626 OPS.

Alvarez (235 AB): 4 HR, 19 RBI, .191 BA, .272 OBP, .289 Slugging, .561 OPS.

Double Alvarez’s HR and RBI total, still not pretty. But you knew that.

We also have a youngster seeing increasing playing time at 3B – Matt Hague. Hague is having a strong spring – stronger than McGeehee’s, actually.  But my perspective isn’t based on 25-30 spring training at bats. It’s based on the view that Hague has had success at every level and while his defense may need some work, it’s hard for me to see the flaws in his offense. And it’s not like Pedro is a defensive wizard.

3. We need the potential power. True enough. But will staying in the majors be the best way for Pedro to develop that power, or will it come by working through his issues at the minor league level? I think we could get away with “nurturing” Pedro last year; but the team has made some significant investments for this season, and they can’t afford to let him work out his issues in Pittsburgh.

I remember Hurdle being very clear last year that the majors weren’t for teaching, they were for winning. Given the higher expectations for the club this year and the investments the front office has made, it’s time to do what’s right to help the team win – particularly with a tough April ahead.

It’s just spring training. True enough. But the argument that it’s “just spring training” has a lot more resonance when you’re talking about a proven, established vet than someone who has a LOT to prove. If a Lance Berkman, Hanley Ramirez, or even a Prince Fielder type has a lousy spring, it’s probably meaningless. If a guy is young, coming off a miserable season, and has something to prove nonetheless bats .140 over spring, it’s best to take notice, I would think.

He’s only got one option left and it should not be squandered. Well, that was the case last year too – with horrific results.  At some point, the FO has got to do what’s best for the team. As the team inches closer to legitimacy, things have to change in how it does business. The team can’t afford scholarships, and needs to base some decisions on winning NOW. This doesn’t mean mortgaging the future, but if it means sending Pedro down, especially when viable options are at hand, then so be it.  And if it means bringing Hague up with the major league club, well, ya gotta do what you have to do.  Even in this era of service time considerations and the like, sometimes rookies DO make the club out of spring training.

Now don’t get me wrong. I want Pedro to succeed – who doesn’t?  But I look at it long term. He was rushed to the majors – for understandable reasons – and he needs more seasoning. If additional time in the minors NOW can help protect the investment in Pedro for the long term, it’s a choice that has to be made.

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