Pedro Alvarez flexing his muscle for Pirates

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Pedro Alvarez quietly tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs this year.

He quietly became the first Pirate in seven years to drive in 100 runs.

He quietly made the All-Star team for the first time.

He even pretty quietly went 4-for-8 with two homers as the Pirates beat the Reds last weekend to clinch home field in the wild card game.

Now Alvarez is going to start getting some more attention. After homering for the Pirates’ only run in Thursday’s Game 1 loss, he homered again and doubled Friday as Pittsburgh evened up the NLDS with a 7-1 victory over St. Louis.

It’s not so say that Alvarez is a star. He hit just .233 this year after slumping in the second half. His OBP, never a strong suit, tumbled from .317 in 2012 to .296 this year. The Pirates had him batting cleanup in the middle of the season, but he was dropped back down to the sixth spot following the Justin Morneau acquisition.

The problem is that Alvarez is just dreadful against left-handers. He hit .180 with three homers in 133 at-bats against them this year, compared to .249 with 33 homers against right-handers. His lifetime average versus southpaws is .200.

Alvarez is also limited at third base. Many figured he would have already made the move to first base by now. His defensive numbers, though, have gotten better since he entered the league, and no position switch seems likely to come in the near future, even though the Pirates will have first base open this winter.

Next year will be Alvarez’s age-27 season. If he doesn’t break through with a .260, 40-homer campaign then, it may never happen. Next year also figures to be his last season as a relatively cheap player; he’s arbitration eligible for the first time and likely to make somewhere around $4 million-$5 million. He’s a definite asset as is, but given his inconsistency and the possibility of more league-leading strikeout totals, he could be a risky long-term proposition. One imagines Alvarez’s showing this month will play in to whether he gets a nice multiyear contract offer from the Pirates this winter.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.