AS BASEBALL’S winter meetings continue in San Diego, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will have his annual media session at 6 p.m. today. One of the questions Hurdle will be sure to field deals with who will play first base, with both incumbents Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez jettisoned. It’s a question that will have its seventh different answer since 2009, as the Bucs have started a different player every year: Adam LaRoche (2009), Jeff Clement (2010), Lyle Overbay (2011), Garrett Jones (2012), Sanchez (2013) and Travis Ishikowa (2014). The most obvious answer for 2015 is former third baseman Pedro Alvarez, whose lead-leading errant throws last year more often landed in the glove of the guy in the third row than in the mitt of the Davis or Sanchez. The Bucs would love to dump Alvarez, but at this point, nobody will give the Bucs anything close to what they could have gotten for him a year ago, when the All-Star tied for the league lead in home runs (36) and knocked in 100 runs. After a season in which seemed like he threw in 100 runs, Alvarez will still get an arbitration raise from $4.25 million to $5.5 million, according to MLB Rumors, which usually comes closest on projected arbitration paychecks. With Alvarez having two more years before he can become a free agent, the best-case scenario would be for him to have an outstanding 2015, allowing the Bucs to trade him at the July deadline or even after the season for a much higher return for a player whom the Bucs have already paid $8.6 million, with a projected total of $14.1 million after this year. With Josh Harrison forcing the Bucs to play him — finally settling in at third base — the rest of the starting positions are set: Starling Marte, newlywed Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco in the outfield, newcomer Francisco Cervelli behind the plate, and Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker up the middle in the infield. By process of elimination, Alvarez winds up at first. “I was OK with [the move],” Alvarez said. “I'll do anything I can, everything I can, to help as much as I can. That's my job. That's everyone's job here. When the opportunity came up, it was a no-brainer. It just shows they want me, and if that's how I can help, that's what I'm going to do.” Despite initially spitting out the PR department’s script, it was also obvious that Alvarez got a different script from his agent, Scott Boras, who has told Alvarez that he will get more free-agent money as a third baseman than a first baseman. “[Alvarez] has made it very clear that his long-term desire is to remain at third base,” Bucs general manager Neal Huntington said. “But he's also very willing to do what is best for the club.” MLB.com writer Tom Singer says that Hurdle has tried to impress upon Alvarez that he can be an equally impact player at first as he was at third. Huntington told reporters on Monday that Alvarez is fully recovered and has started his normal off-season conditioning program at his Nashville home. Yet Alvarez nixed any idea of playing winter ball to get the at-bats he missed after his late-August, season-ending foot injury. It’s not the first time. After batting .191 average with four homers and 19 RBIs in 74 games in 2011, the Bucs wanted Alvarez to play winter ball, but he did not, a decision Hurdle clearly didn’t like. “Every player has to take ownership of his own career and decide what's best, and what's best is not always what's the most comfortable,” Hurdle said. “[Alvarez] needs to get the games and the at-bats in to play the game, all of it—field, defense, run the bases, hit, the routine. He did miss six weeks of baseball.” Just as he did this year. Yet as of now, Pedro’s on first. But for how long? Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.

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