The FO inherited Jose Bautista at third base, and dumped him unceremoniously in 2008, sending him to Toronto for long-gone C Robinzon Diaz and clearing a spot for Andy LaRoche. They also drafted Pedro Alvarez that same season, so the hot corner looked to be in good shape for years down the road.
Well, funny thing about that. La Roche is working on a .226 career BA and looking for work after a gig in Oakland while Pedro is coming off a season that he and the Pirate Nation would like to forget. There was great anticipation for his coming-out party after a hot September in 2010 when he put up a .306/6/27 batting line, but reality set in this year when the April pitchers reclaimed the hill.
The big third basemen hit .191 with 4 homers and 80 K's in 235 at-bats. He tore the cover off the ball at Indy, but there are a long list of folk who crush AAA pitching but can't hit a major league slider. In early May, he was showing some small signs of coming out of his slump before injuring his quad. By the time he came back in late July, he was lost at the dish.
It's said that the FO wanted El Toro to play winter ball, but he declined. Let's hope he spends the off season in the gym. The Pirates retooled their training staff, and we suspect Pedro - and the teamwide sprain and strain epidemic - had a lot to do with that. Maybe a more specific PT regimen will benefit him and the whole squad. And the team could really use what he brings to the table.
The truth is that right now, Pedro is the lone egg in the Bucs' third base basket. Brandon Wood can field the position, but his .220 average won't help the attack untrack though he does have some pop. Josh Harrison can hit the ball (.272) but has no power to speak of and a questionable mitt. Chase d'Arnaud saw time at the hot corner too, but profiles strictly as a middle infielder.
In the minors, Altoona's Jeremy Farrell, 24, has hit the ball OK, with a career .271 BA, but has neither corner power nor very much leather. A better chance at playing the hot corner belongs to Indy's Jordy Mercer, a shortstop who's played 75 games at third in the minors, although not in 2011. Mercer has some pop in his bat and probably profiles the best at third base among the Bucco minor league prospects now.
The third base FA class is really weak. There's no one who has Pedro's upside, except for A-Ram, on the market. Some hot stove talk involves switching The Pittsburgh Kid to third. While technically viable (Neil Walker was a dandy glove at the hot corner), after two seasons in the show, it looks like his bat profiles well for a middle infielder but it's not very special for an everyday corner infielder. Second base looks like Walker's home.
We once thought sending Pedro to first ASAP was a no brainer, and it may be someday if he regains his stroke. But now the cupboard is bare, and his fielding, while pedestrian, isn't blood curdling, and so there's no compelling reason to add to his challenges by moving him across the diamond.
The Pirates are between a rock and a hard place right now, playing the waiting game. There's no point in looking for a third baseman until Pedro takes himself out of the running, and a bad sophomore season hardly does that. There is no guarantee that Pedro will even start the year in Pittsburgh, but there is no doubt that the position is his to lose, at least in 2012. The hot corner may require a little baby-sitting while Alvarez looks for his missing mojo, but the two go together now.