It has been a tough season so far for the Pirates. The pitching has been stellar and with just a slight bump in the production from the offense, this team could conceivably be a couple games over .500. But the offense has been putrid. Not only are four players who have been seeing regular playing time not hitting their weight, but three of them aren’t even hitting the weight of my petite 5’5″ wife.
The first logical step in this mess is to send Pedro Alvarez down to the minors. Which would hurt his confidence more: flailing in the majors and striking out with great frequency? Or being sent to the minors to get some at bats against a slightly lesser quality of pitcher? I don’t pretend to know what thoughts lurk in his mind. So, all I can do is present my case for sending him down.
First let’s look at Aramis Ramirez back in 2000. As a 21-year-old, he was the Pirates starting 3B on Opening Day, after having spent part of the previous two seasons with the Big Club. After going 10-60 (but only ten whiffs) and notching a .167/.219/.250 line, the Pirates shipped him to AAA Nashville. He hit better than .350 in 44 games on the farm. He came back up in mid-June and hit .284/.316/.448 the rest of the way. He was sidelined with a shoulder injury in late August and was replaced at third by an agglomeration of John Wehner, Enrique Wilson, Keith Osik and Mike Benjamin.
A different case is Ron Gant. Dirt Bike Ronnie finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting as the Braves 2B in 1988. But in 1989 they asked him to move to third. It was awful. Through 60 games Gant had just 35 hits in 204 at bats. His line was .172/.233/.309. He also had 16 errors. To help him get straightened out at the plate and to teach him to play the outfield, the Braves demoted him all the way to class A Sumter. It worked. Gant crushed the ball for Sumter for two weeks before being brought up to AAA Richmond. After a little more than two months in Richmond, he came back to Atlanta.
Both these players went on to make multiple All-Star teams and hit more than 300 homers in their careers. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could find a case where a guy got sent down and was ruined. But as I stated before, I’m not sure which is potentially going to do more damage – epic failure at the Major League level or a demotion to the minors.
Finally, here’s the case of a pitcher who faced a similar devotion. In another country back in 2000, the Blue Jays shipped out Roy Halladay after he appeared in eight games (seven starts) and put up an ERA near 12.00. Halladay broke camp as Toronto’s #2 starter behind David Wells. Two years later, Halladay made the first of his eight All-Star appearances.
The GMs involved in these moves? For the Pirates it was Cam Bonifay. Bobby Cox was the GM of the Braves in the late 1980s before moving down to guide the team from the field. In Toronto it was Gord Ash.
My vote, as if it counts, is to send Pedro down. Have McGehee play third and see how the next six weeks play out.