As Pedro Alvarez tried on his new home white Orioles uniform for the first time before a crowd of cameras and reporters Thursday afternoon, manager Buck Showalter patted his new slugger on the back and quietly told him, “You clean up good.”
Gone was Alvarez’s trademark beard, replaced with a clean-shaven face in order to adhere to the Orioles’ facial-hair policy.
In the back of the room, about a dozen of his new teammates stood in a show of solidarity. An hour earlier, Alvarez wanted to immerse himself with his teammates right away, joining them for rounds of batting practice before the Orioles’ Grapefruit League contest against the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium.
He had waited long enough to get back on the field. Alvarez went unsigned all offseason after being nontendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates in December. So when he officially signed a one-year, $5.75 million contract with the Orioles — giving the team six hitters who have hit at least 30 homers in a season — he wanted to get right to work.
“Patience is the key,” Alvarez said, donning a No. 29 home Orioles jersey. “Obviously it was something different, but you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I just took it day by day and tried to prepare as best as possible for when the time came. I’ve got some good people in my corner who have been through the ringer before, but yeah, patience was the key. Just take it one step at a time.”
The Orioles’ pursuit of the 29-year-old Alvarez dated to November, when the club tried to work out a trade with the Pirates before the nontender deadline. They couldn’t complete a deal, but when Alvarez wasn’t offered a contract by the Pirates and became a free agent, the Orioles remained interested. With the return of first baseman Chris Davis uncertain at that time, the Orioles were in desperate need of a left-handed power bat.
Alvarez always seemed to be a good fit for the Orioles, even after the club went on an unprecedented spending spree this offseason, highlighted by the team’s club-record, seven-year, $161 million commitment to Davis.
“My thought process was, my path could take me anywhere,” Alvarez said. “There were 29 other ballclubs out there that I could have ended up on. … Who wouldn’t want to come and potentially be in a lineup with the guys that are here already? You know the staff that’s here [is] very respected. [It is] just a well-rounded organization. It’s got a lot of pros to being here, and obviously those are things that played into the decision.”
With the addition of Alvarez, the Orioles have committed to spend about $242 million in free agency since the end of last season.
From the moment Pittsburgh made Alvarez the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 out of Vanderbilt, big things were expected from him. He was the franchise’s first pick under current general manager Neal Huntington. Even though Alvarez averaged 28 homers over the past four seasons — he also led the National League in homers once and in strikeouts once — his playing time waned because of his struggles against left-handed pitching and his below-average fielding, which made him a liability for an NL team.
He was projected to make about $8 million this year in his final year of arbitration eligibility, so the Pirates decided he wasn’t worth that, opting to nontender him.
But with the Orioles, the pressure is off Alvarez. He is just one of several big mashers that give the Orioles batting order the potential to become one of baseball’s most prolific ever.
“Keep in mind this guy was the second pick in the country and if he doesn’t hit 60 home runs, there was something wrong,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “And all of a sudden, he’s over here with a bunch of [other power] guys and nobody cares what he came into. There’s a nice window of opportunity for this guy. … There’s nothing wrong with the scenery he left. He’s a good fit for us.”
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette is eager to see how Alvarez’s opposite-field power plays at Camden Yards compared to the cavernous right-center-field alley of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
“I believe Pedro will be comfortable in Baltimore when he hits one out to left-center field that would have been caught in Pittsburgh,” said Duquette, referring to the 389-foot left-center power alley in Pittsburgh. “That’s when he’ll feel at home at Camden Yards. He’s got the power to hit a lot of balls to left field. The park is a lot more hitter-friendly than the park, the home park he’s been playing at. So I think it’s a good fit for everybody and we are looking forward to having him on the club.”
Alvarez slots as the Orioles’ starting designated hitter against right-handed pitching, but Showalter said he doesn’t want to close the door on Alvarez playing the field.
“I don’t believe in setting limitations about him being a DH against right-handed pitching,” Showalter said. “It’s much more than that. I think you’re going to be — some people don’t realize this is an athletic guy who’s got potential to give us a lot of options around the field, and continue to keep him in that. He’s just not going to be a pure DH. He’s shown the ability to damage against left-handed pitching, too.”
Alvarez owns a career .794 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) against right-handed pitching, but he’s also a career .203/.270/.332 hitter against lefties.
“We did a lot of looking at it, about how it fit and what we’re trying to do here,” Showalter said. “We think there’s some versatility there that can help us and provide a lot of what-ifs in different places if we get bumps along the way. I don’t put any limitations on it. I don’t really go into it with any preconceived ideas. I know he’s going to give us ability to do a lot of different things and make everybody else better, like he talks about.”
Alvarez signed 15 days after the Orioles' first full-squad workout, so he tried to get into the flow right away Thursday, taking pregame batting practice before the club’s Grapefruit League game against the Yankees. He then did some infield work at first base with infield coach Bobby Dickerson and utility man Ryan Flaherty, Alvarez’s close friend and former college teammate at Vanderbilt.
“Obviously everyone that plays this game has that competitive edge and just wants to be out there,” Alvarez said. “This is new for me. I’ve never done this before, so we are taking the approach we need to take, which is smart but aggressive at the same time. I’m working with everyone to get up to speed.”
Showalter said that he’d like to get Alvarez into a Grapefruit League game quickly, but he likely won’t be in the lineup before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers.
“Today, he was like in there [and I was asking], ‘What are you thinking? What have you been doing? Where are we at?' [He said], ‘I’m ready, let’s go.’ … I don’t care how much work you’ve been doing, and obviously he’s been doing a lot from seeing him in the reports we were getting, you still go through a period in the spring where I feel like I haven’t done anything. … It won’t be [Friday]. It won’t be the next day unless he’s a really good salesman.”