Third base remains Alvarez's to lose

Third base remains Alvarez's to lose

DALLAS -- Speaking on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, general manager Neal Huntington reaffirmed that the Pirates intend to open the season with Pedro Alvarez as their starting third baseman. That decision, however, has not precluded the organization from continuing to consider contingency plans in case Alvarez endures a repeat of his 2011 season.

"We're committed to Pedro as long as he's committed to doing what he needs to do," Huntington said. "The reality is that he has the ability to be a great player. We have to work hard to help him achieve that ceiling and achieve that potential. But at the same time, we have a business to run and we have to protect ourselves against the downside."

The Pirates have maintained close contact with Alvarez in an effort to monitor his offseason strength-and-conditioning work. Huntington described Alvarez's conditioning plan as "structured," and the Pirates have also kept in touch with Alvarez's personal trainer. Alvarez's work has not -- and likely will not -- include any stint in winter ball.

"He's worked hard this offseason in the strength-and-conditioning program," Huntington said. "Our initial reports are he is in good shape and ready to come in and show everyone what he is capable of next year. We're fairly confident that he is doing what he needs to be doing right now."

The Pirates' contingency plan could center around internal pieces, or involve the Pirates making an addition before next season. Internally, Chase d'Arnaud and Josh Harrison would be the most obvious candidates to take Alvarez's playing time if he stumbles.

Alvarez is coming off a season in which he hit just .191 with four homers in 74 games. He also spent time on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury and was twice demoted to Triple-A.