If the Pirates truly believe they have a chance to finally break their 19-year losing streak and contend in the NL Central this year, they owe it to themselves, every player on the team and their long-suffering fans to put their 25 best players on the opening-day roster.
At this point, that does not include third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
The 2011 season was disastrous for Alvarez, who batted .191 with four homers, 19 RBIs and 80 strikeouts in only 235 at-bats. He looked especially lost against lefties, hitting .158 with a whopping 20 strikeouts in just 38 at-bats.
Will Josh Harrison’s solid spring be enough for a roster spot with the Pirates? That’s one of the big questions in Florida for the Pittsburgh brass.
Hopes that Alvarez had figured some things out and regained his shattered confidence during the offseason have been dashed so far this spring. It's a small sample size of at-bats, sure, but he's hitting just .133 (4-for-30) with 13 strikeouts - fanning 43.3 percent of the time - although he does have two home runs.
The Bucs could have big problems if Alvarez, the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft, doesn't pan out over the long haul, and they soon will face a big decision concerning his immediate future.
Unless Alvarez tears it up in the final week of spring training, the Pirates will have no justification to keep him on the opening-day roster.
Not if they're more serious about winning than merely developing for the future.
The Bucs are closer now than they've been in a long time to ending their 19-year skid, longest in American sports history. They were tied for first place in the NL Central in July last year, and the division should be weaker this season with Albert Pujols (Cardinals) and Prince Fielder (Brewers) going elsewhere.
Can the Pirates actually finish above .500 after going 72-90 last season? It's doubtful - the view here is they're still at least a year away - but regardless of what outsiders think, the team itself has every reason to believe it can contend in the division based on what it showed the first four months of 2011.
Based on what Alvarez showed last year and so far this spring, he cannot help the big league club reach its full potential. So in that sense, the solution is simple: Send him to Triple-A to start the season and bring him back up if he starts hitting again.
Right now, the Pirates have better options than Alvarez in Josh Harrison and Matt Hague, two guys who have hit everywhere in their careers and who have crushed the ball this spring. Harrison is hitting .520 (13-for-25) with seven doubles, while Hague is hitting .424 with four homers and nine RBIs.
Harrison has experience playing third base and can be productive offensively even without much power. Hague has limited experience at third, but he could platoon with Garrett Jones at first and play the hot corner occasionally. Casey McGehee also can play first and third, so you have four guys there for the two positions, and at this point each is a better option than Alvarez.
Do either Harrison or Hague have a ceiling as high as Alvarez? No. But both have proven this spring that they deserve a roster spot, and it would be a travesty if either is cut so the Bucs can keep Alvarez.
No decision in baseball is cut and dried, and the one concerning Alvarez is no exception.
He already has proven he can handle Triple-A pitching, so there's an argument that says it would be a waste of time to send him back there. At this point, some contend, the Bucs just need to let him sink or swim in the big leagues, hoping he figures things out at some point and becomes the hitter they believe he can become.
But what is the ultimate goal here? Are the Pirates going to try to win games by having their best players at the big league level, or are they going to use that level as a Class AAAA minor league teaching stop and simply hope guys eventually figure things out?
If Alvarez, or any other player, can't get the job done in the major leagues, then he doesn't deserve to be there. Especially not when there are guys like Harrison and Hague who are capable, hungry to prove themselves and play the game with outward enthusiasm and passion - unlike Alvarez.
One other important note here: The Bucs' schedule early this season is brutal, starting with three games against the Phillies, followed by a nine-game road trip out west to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona. Series against the Cardinals, Rockies and Braves round out April.
There's a chance the Bucs could get buried during the opening month, even with their best players on the field. If they take a chance by keeping Alvarez and he struggles, it could make things even more difficult against some of the National League's toughest competition.
Then again, making Alvarez a platoon player or sending him back to the minor leagues could further damage his confidence. And at this point in his career, that could be the biggest thing he has going against him.
Alvarez, who's day to day nursing a sore knee, has another week of spring training to catch fire and build some confidence at the plate. Something as simple as a couple of 3-for-4 days with solid contact could do the trick and make the Pirates' decision much easier.
Unfortunately, given what we've seen from Alvarez since the beginning of last year, there's not much reason to believe the light switch will click on that quickly for him.
The Pirates desperately need Alvarez to live up to his potential, so it's understandable that they will give him every opportunity to do so. If he puts it all together at some point, we could be looking at a .300 hitter with 30-homer and 100-RBI capabilities.
Right now, however, he's just not a major league caliber hitter, and as long as that remains the case, he should not be in the big leagues.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.