Everything is sunshine and rainbows the day that a player is signed. The Orioles addition of Pedro Alvarez was no exception. From every angle came a barrage of positive thinking: From Dan Duquette, that the Orioles were able to sign Alvarez; from Buck Showalter, seeming pleased to be able to put another power hitter in the lineup; and from Alvarez himself, getting to join a lineup that is chock full of sluggers already.
It's enough to make the resolve waver for even a dedicated pessimist like myself. I know better than to believe that there's something magical or special in the fact that a number of his new teammates came to Alvarez's introductory press conference, and yet, when I read that Alvarez went on the radio and said he was touched by the gesture, I wanted to give that little Showalter smile and say, "I like our guys."
Never mind that earlier this week I was on this very website proclaiming that, for the Orioles to have signed Alvarez, owner Peter Angelos must have just had $7 million sitting in his pocket looking for an excuse to spend it because Alvarez doesn't seem to add much to the roster.
Not only does he not add much, but his presence, by virtue of his likely being limited to designated hitter, seems like it will force the O's into using a less than ideal defensive alignment if they want to maximize their capabilities on offense. Those things are still true. None of the objective facts of his career to date are any different than they were last week, when Alvarez dangled out there on the free agent market for any team to sign, same as he had been doing since November.
So why does it feel any different? Maybe one reason, at least for me, is that the Alvarez who showed up in front of the media in Sarasota did not match the idea of Alvarez that existed in my head. Having read about Alvarez's tenure in Pittsburgh, I had imagined some surly and stubborn guy. Behind the bearded visage in pictures of him looked to be someone going through the motions with grim determination.
That's not who sat down in front of the cameras in Sarasota yesterday. Alvarez sounded like a guy who was happy to be there. Clean-shaven, in accordance with the O's policy, what was once a dour countenance looked joyful.
You could almost talk yourself into believing maybe he just needed a change of scenery from Pittsburgh, where he'd fallen out of favor - and why not be happy to show up on the team with his old Vanderbilt roommate Ryan Flaherty, drafted 40 picks after Alvarez all the way back in 2008, now reunited on the same team eight years later? A player being "happy to be here" is completely meaningless, until it's not. As that old Yogi Berra-ism goes, ninety percent of the game is half-mental.
More than one veteran Orioles player has spoken of their recent success and the way that they feel closer to one another because they were like the misfits and outcasts from other teams. More were traded here or signed off the scrap heap than anything else.
Alvarez, at a $5.75 million guaranteed price tag, wasn't exactly a bargain basement find along the lines of Miguel Gonzalez, nor was he a waiver wire grab like Darren O'Day. He is an outcast, though, cast away as a non-tender by the team that once drafted him #2 overall because his projected salary of $8 million was more than they wanted to pay him. He joins a tribe that knows that feeling. He is one of them.
Getting non-tendered is a heck of a snub, especially for a guy who had just posted the best full season OPS (.787) of his career to date. Not only was he snubbed by the Pirates who didn't want him back, he was also snubbed by every other team in the big leagues.
If every team, or many teams, believes that a player is going to perform well on a one-year contract, he's not going to be jobless until March 10, as Alvarez was. For that matter, if Alvarez was the O's first choice, or second or third choice, he would have been wearing orange and black long before the start of spring training.
Believing even when you know better
The rational part of my brain is fully aware of that reality at all times. Acting like it's a good idea because of a bunch of ephemeral stuff about feelings and clubhouse chemistry is nonsense. When Orioles broadcaster Jim Hunter came on MASN before Alvarez's press conference yesterday and proclaimed that he "has had a tremendous career up to this point," that's nonsense too.
If you've had a tremendous career and you're not hurt, you don't get non-tendered over $8 million! This fact is inescapable. If Alvarez was that good, the Pirates would have kept him, even with some defensive liabilities. Or some other team would have signed him long before now.
If Alvarez "always seemed to be a good fit for the Orioles," as Sun beat writer Eduardo Encina wrote yesterday, he wouldn't have had Orioles teammates at his introductory press conference because the signing would have happened in Baltimore in the middle of winter.
Where's the fun in giving in to that reality, though? This is spring training, for crying out loud, where, even if the Orioles are thus far winless, all things are possible. The successful Orioles teams of the past two even years managed to win almost in defiance of any kind of rational expectation or analysis. None of the opinion-generating barnacles who cling to the hull of baseball saw that coming, either time. A whole lot of castaways made winners out of themselves.
No one has any idea whether they're going to do that again. They might not. But now it's March and March is more fun when you're believing. With the Orioles now on a streak of four straight non-losing seasons, no one who believes in them is a fool any more. We are removed from the days having to talk ourselves into teams with Vladimir Guerrero the cleanup hitter and Kevin Gregg the closer.
There are negatives to Alvarez. There's no denying that. He'll strike out a lot while hitting for a low average. He should probably never play in the field and almost certainly should never hit against a left-handed pitcher. Part of what fueled his career-best OPS last year was being hidden from lefties almost entirely, with only 65 PA last season.
There will also be a whole lot of dingers. Thanks to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he may even hit more than he's ever hit before. Being in a loaded Orioles lineup where he's the fourth- or fifth-biggest power threat instead of the second-biggest surely won't hurt either. The baggage of being a disappointing high first round pick will not follow him here. No one cares. The Orioles didn't draft him.
The signing could end horribly. But for now, it's more fun to believe it won't, so with the most Baltimore of accents, an excited proclamation:
Welcome to dee Oreos, El Toro!