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Rays Free Agent Target: Pedro Alvarez

Former Pittsburgh slugger brings offense, but weak defense and inability to hit lefties limit his role

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Rays finished higher than 23rd in runs or RBI’s the show Breaking Bad was still airing on AMC and Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” was the Billboard number one. Needless to say, the Rays could surely benefit from better run production.

The free agent signing of Wilson Ramos, who was arguably 2016’s top offensive catcher, was a step in the right direction, but there’s still a great deal of work to be done this offseason. As D Rays’ Bay writer JT Morgan wrote just the other day, Tampa Bay needs to find a platoon partner for Corey Dickerson. Additionally, the Rays sorely need an upgrade at DH over Nick Franklin or whoever else rotates into that spot.

One of the more intriguing options still available at DH and hopefully in the Rays price range is former Pittsburgh Pirate Pedro Alvarez. Since being selected number two overall in the 2008 draft, one thing has been undeniable; the man has prodigious power (check out this shot hit out of PNC Park that landed in a boat on the Allegheny River).

Like most prospects, he had his share of troubles adjusting to major league pitching, but eventually became a staple in the Pirates’ lineup. In 2012 and 2013, he posted back to back 30 home run years, which included a 100 RBI season in 2013. If it weren’t for his defense, which became legendarily bad even after a move to first base, he’d probably still be with Pittsburgh.

No doubt realizing that his defensive abilities made him a perfect DH, Alvarez signed a one year free agent contract with the Orioles in 2016. In just 376 plate appearances, he hit 22 homers, with a 117 wRC+ and a career best .349 wOBA. Given that he has only once posted a wRC+ below 110 over a full season, there’s reason to believe he’d be a good bet to continue that level of production. The catch is that Pedro is worse against lefties than Dickerson as evidenced by his abysmal career 68 wRC+ against them. So while he could serve as DH for the Rays, he would duplicate, rather than compliment, Dickerson’s offensive skill set.

As long as bigger names remain unsigned there is still uncertainty about the market for Alvarez. In 2016 Alvarez signed a one year, $5.75 million deal, and that seems like a good starting point for a possible 2017 contract, unless a team missing out on Encarnacion or Napoli drives up the price. Alvarez’s agent, Scott Boras, has reportedly been selling the notion of Pedro as an outfielder to up his value, but his sub -27 UZR/150 the past three seasons means clubs are unlikely to buy that argument. He’d probably jump at a long-term offer, but the market seems to be trending more towards a one or two year deal.

That’s good news for Tampa Bay, as the Rays would surely not want to commit long-term to a player whose skills are limited. But Alvarez would be a good bet to add offensive pop to the line-up, at least against right-handed pitching.