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Could Pedro Alvarez be the Orioles free agent most likely to return?

For all the talk about the Orioles attempting to retain Mark Trumbo, it might be Pedro Alvarez who is the free agent most likely to return to the club.

Alvarez's contributions to last year's club can easily be overlooked, especially following his late signing in spring training and his struggles at the plate early in the season. But Alvarez hit 22 homers with 49 RBIs and a .249/.322/.504 hitting line in 376 plate appearances while almost exclusively serving as a left-handed hitting designated hitter against right-handed pitching.

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Take away Alvarez's first 12 games in April – he appeared to be hindered early after signing late and took some adjustment to a new league and being a DH for the first time in his career – and Alvarez posted a respectable .267/.329/.550 line for the season.

Because the Orioles want to get better defensively – particularly in the corner outfield spots – and want to have a more multidimensional roster, the level of their interest in bringing back Alvarez hinges on his ability to play the field. That really wasn't expected of Alvarez last season, even though he made six starts at third base for Manny Machado and made four errors in nine chances.

Alvarez's agent, Scott Boras, said earlier this month at the Winter Meetings that Alvarez is experimenting with playing the outfield in an attempt to show he can be more than a designated hitter.

The interesting part of that is the notion of Alvarez trying to convert to the outfield – he's only played third and first in the majors -- began last year with the Orioles. The team tinkered with the idea of giving Alvarez some innings in the outfield in spring training, but there really weren't any available. Hyun Soo Kim needed to play to make the adjustment from Korea and the club wanted to get a good look at Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard. Alvarez did see time defensively at first and third base during spring training.

But even late in the season, the Orioles pondered giving Alvarez an opportunity in right field, but ultimately decided against it because he had never played there. Instead, once the club acquired veteran Michael Bourn late in the season, they started moving Mark Trumbo from right field into the DH spot on a more regular basis in an attempt to improve defensively. But that move took at bats away from Alvarez down the stretch.

It's obviously a big 'if' to think that Alvarez can re-invent himself as an outfielder, especially since he's struggled defensively elsewhere. Boras wants to raise his client's stock. And the Orioles need to invest in players who can contribute in the field this offseason.

If the Orioles do re-sign Trumbo, Alvarez likely isn't a fit, and retaining Alvarez might also affect whether the club can carry first baseman Trey Mancini, who the team has projected as a right-handed designated hitter. Sure, the two could platoon at DH, but it leaves the Orioles bench with a player who can't really help defensively on a nightly basis. Add in the team's two Rule 5 picks this year – outfielders Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander – and the Orioles' bench picture gets even more muddled.

Having said that, Alvarez would seem to have the arm strength to handle the outfield. Whether he can develop the range is the bigger question. But in his one season with the Orioles, Alvarez showed the desire to get better, often taking grounders at third base with infield coach Bobby Dickerson well before batting practice. And there's no doubt that the Orioles recognized Alvarez's value as a power hitter, veteran presence and teammate. They also have taken notice that Alvarez handled lefties better than he has in the past, hitting .243 last season against left-handers (albeit in a small sample size) compared to his career .205 mark.

Alvarez has been linked to a few clubs this offseason, including the Boston Red Sox, with whom he could slot nicely as a successor to the retired David Ortiz as a DH. But it's more likely that most teams will take a wait-and-see approach with the slugger to see how the outfield experiment is going.

And there's no question the Orioles will be paying close attention to Alvarez's market, and the longer he remains a free agent, the most likely a reunion seems possible.

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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