Pirates are banking on Alvarez at third base

Rob Biertempfel
| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011

DALLAS — General manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates are committed to keeping Pedro Alvarez as their starting third baseman, as long as Alvarez keeps his end of the bargain by staying in shape and producing on the field.

Management was not satisfied with Alvarez's conditioning last season, when he hit .191 in 74 games and battled a quadriceps injury. Huntington hoped Alvarez would make up for his lost at-bats by playing winter ball, but Alvarez chose to remain at home and work out on his own.

"We've been in contact with him and his trainer," Huntington said Monday. "We're fairly confident that he's doing what he needs to do. Our initial reports are he's in good shape and is ready to show everyone what he's capable of next year."

The Pirates made no moves yesterday, the first day of MLB's annual winter meetings. But Huntington is investigating third basemen who are available through either trade or free agency, such as Ian Stewart of the Rockies and free-agent utilityman Mark DeRosa.

Still, the most likely option has Alvarez, the second overall draft pick in 2008, starting at third base on Opening Day.

"We're committed to Pedro as long as he's doing what he needs to do," Huntington said. "But we need to have a contingency plan in place. We've got to give ourselves protection in case he doesn't do what he needs to do, both on and off the field.

"He's got the ability to be a great player. We've got to work hard to help him achieve that potential. At the same time, we've got a business to run and we've got to make sure we protect ourselves against the downside."

McLouth may return

A familiar face would return to the outfield at PNC Park this summer if the Pirates sign free agent Nate McLouth. Sources in both camps confirmed Monday there is mutual interest in a deal, though talks are still in the early stages.

McLouth, 30, was an All-Star for the Pirates in 2008, when he batted .276 and led the National League with 46 doubles. During 2009 spring training, he got a three-year, $15.75 million contract. But less than four months later, McLouth was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez.

Over the past two seasons, McLouth was often hurt — a sports hernia and a strained oblique limited him to 166 games in that span — and batted .210 with a .650 OPS. The Braves declined his $10.65 million contract option for 2012.

The Pirates are interested in McLouth as a fourth outfielder, and would likely offer a one-year deal laden with incentives. McLouth could provide valuable depth; corner outfielders Alex Presley (thumb) and Jose Tabata (leg) both missed significant time last season because of injuries.

"When Jose was healthy, he was very good ... (and) Alex showed some very interesting signs," Huntington said. "Is there an upgrade available via trade or free agency• If not, do we thicken (the bench) by going for a fourth outfielder who allows us some protection• We're exploring options on both fronts."

Cuban too pricey

The agent for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes reportedly has told clubs it will take a $60 million package to sign the speedy outfielder. Cespedes, a Cuban defector, is expected to soon be granted free agency. The Pirates have scouted Cespedes for years and buy into his hype, but team officials said that kind of price tag will be too high.

PR person honored

Jim Trdinich of the Pirates won the Robert O. Fishel Award, given to the top team public relations person in MLB. Trdinich has worked 27 years in baseball, including the past 23 years as a full-time member of the Pirates' front office. The Fishel Award was created in 1981. Trdinich is the first winner from the Pirates.

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