Pirates buying? Alvarez call-up is a litmus test

Pedro Alvarez scores last night in his first game back with the Pirates. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Before Monday’s game in Atlanta, the Pittsburgh Pirates summoned third baseman Pedro Alvarez from triple-A Indianapolis, ending his 18-day, minor-league venture that began when upper management decided he needed to “get back on track.” Consider this move to be the litmus test for whether GM Neal Huntington goes out an makes a move before this weekend’s trading deadline.

Alvarez has been the wildcard in the Pirates quest to determine of they need to acquire a bat at the deadline. The team needs power, and Alvarez can provide it — if he starts to hit more like he did in September last year (.311/.363/.573, 5HR, 26RBI) and less like he did in the first month and a half this year (.211/.289/.305, 2HR, 10RBI). People around the Pirates acknowledge that if he can find the power that made him the #2 overall pick in 2008, the team won’t have much of a need to go out and acquire a player such as Hunter Pence, Carlos Beltran or Josh Willingham. The team will know by the end of the week if a major move is necessary to try and steal this division.

The trade deadline couldn’t come at a better time when looking at the Pirates schedule. They started their run against the NL East on Monday with a 3-1 win over the Braves, but the schedule only gets worse. Between today and Saturday, the team will go up against Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. If anyone can find a tougher gauntlet of starting pitching in one week, I challenge them to do so. The only way to find out if you can hang with the best is to play with them, and that’s exactly what the Pirates, and specifically Alvarez, will get to do this week.

Alvarez played respectfully in his first game back, going 1-3 with a run and a walk, though he did commit an error that was likely just nerves due to playing his first game in the bigs in over two months. But playing respectfully isn’t what this team needs; this team needs the production he was supposed to provide when the season started out. A moon shot home run would have been spectacular, or driving in a couple runs (he went 0-2 with runners in scoring position). Over the rest of the week we’ll find out for sure if Alvarez really has re-acclimated himself to baseball down in the minors. And if he hasn’t? It’s going to be a fun weekend of playing wait-and-see with the team’s upper management.

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