This past week we heard from Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports that the Cincinnati Reds were shopping first baseman Yonder Alonso for pitching, looking for a starter and a closer. That last part definitely piqued the interest of Pittsburgh Pirates fans, especially those who would like to see the team capitalize on the high price being paid for closers by trading Joel Hanrahan. Making an assumption solely on the rumor suggests that a Hanrahan for Alonso swap would be beneficial to both teams. Considering some of the other things we’ve heard about Alonso, I’m not so sure that swap is realistic.
First of all, we’ve heard rumors that the Oakland Athletics asked for Alonso in exchange for Andrew Bailey, and that the Reds turned down the deal. Bailey is a closer, has three years of control to Hanrahan’s two, and has good results when healthy, although health has been an issue in the past year. Even if you say that Bailey and Hanrahan have the same value – and I think Bailey is higher due to the fact that he’s healthy now and has an extra year of control – the Reds thought Alonso was too much for Bailey, making it unlikely that they’d go for Hanrahan.
There’s also the issue of trading within the division. The Reds are dealing six years of Alonso. How likely would it be that they’d deal him within the division, knowing that they’d not only have to face him more often, but that they’d be helping one of their rivals fill a long term need?
These are two very important questions to consider. Personally I couldn’t see the Reds dealing Alonso in the division, and even if they were willing to make that move, they’ve already made it clear that they prefer a starter to a closer. I’d deal Hanrahan for Alonso in a heart beat if the Reds were willing to move him for a reliever and were willing to deal within the division.
Ignoring those two questions, let’s take a look at what Alonso is worth. He doesn’t have enough of a sample size in the majors to do a WAR-based projection, so we’re going to have to treat him like a prospect. Prior to the 2011 season, Alonso wasn’t exactly a can’t miss prospect. He rated 73rd on Baseball America’s top 100. He didn’t rank on the Baseball Prospectus top 101. He came in 65th on Keith Law’s list. He wasn’t on the mid-season top 50 for Baseball America or Law.
Alonso hit for a .330/.398/.545 line in 88 at-bats in the majors this year. That might drive his value up to a top 50 prospect, but then again, it probably won’t due to the small sample size. Alonso’s career numbers in the minors feature a .293/.370/.466 line. He has a .296/.364/.478 line in his career at AAA. I’d find it unlikely that he’d go from a low-to-mid .800 OPS hitter in the minors to a .943 OPS hitter at the highest level. So I think you could put Alonso in the 51-75 group, where he was last year. That comes with a prospect value of $14.2 M.
That doesn’t seem like what the Reds have Alonso valued at, and their value is the most important factor here, since they probably aren’t going to sell him at a significantly lower price than what they have him at. I’d put Alonso’s value closer to a top 26-50 prospect, which is $23.4 M, if I had to guess what the Reds had him at.
I looked at Hanrahan’s trade value two weeks ago and had him at $20.8 M. You could make an argument that Hanrahan for Alonso is a fair swap, although that brings us back to the rumor that the Reds turned down a Bailey for Alonso deal (and I have Bailey at $25.4 M).
MLBTR speculated that the Reds would consider starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez or Trevor Cahill as worthy returns for Alonso. The Reds have starting pitching as the top priority, although I don’t think Alonso is worth a Gonzalez or Cahill type pitcher, unless the Reds were adding prospects to the deal. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com doesn’t see the Reds moving Alonso for anything less than a top end starter.
The Pirates don’t have much starting pitching to trade, and definitely don’t have a guy in the majors like Gio Gonzalez or a top end starter. Their best assets would probably be Charlie Morton or James McDonald. Morton had a 2.4 WAR in 2011, and has three years of arbitration remaining. At a 2.4 WAR I’d put his trade value at $24.3 M, which is in line with a top 26-50 prospect. I’d put McDonald at $23.6 M based on his 1.8 WAR from 2011 over the next four years.
Morton and McDonald don’t have the same value as Gonzalez, and they’re not top end starters, but Alonso isn’t worth a guy like Gonzalez or a top end starter. I like each pitcher, but I’d probably deal either one for Alonso. I’d take Alonso’s bat every day over Morton or McDonald once every five days, especially when you consider the potential for pitchers to get injured. Again, I don’t see the Reds trading six years of Alonso inside the NL Central, but this is a “what if” scenario, focused on looking at Alonso’s value.
This is probably a case where the Reds are over-valuing their player. I like Alonso, but his numbers suggest he’s not an impact player. He was never regarded as an impact player based on all of the pre-season and mid-season rankings. The big allure to Alonso is his power potential, with the chance of him hitting around 25 homers a year with a strong average. I see him as an Adam LaRoche type player, and this is coming from someone who liked Adam LaRoche. I think Alonso will be a good hitter, but probably someone you want batting sixth in a strong lineup, rather than batting fourth in a weak lineup. If Alonso came here, I think a lot of people would be disappointed, even with his best performance, just because I don’t think he’s a guy who could carry the offense.
I would deal for Alonso, because the Pirates don’t have a player internally who can do what he can do at first base, at least for the next two years. But I’m not sure I’d make him my top priority. I think Carlos Pena or Derrek Lee could make a bigger impact to the lineup, allowing the Pirates to hold on to a guy like Hanrahan for a different deal. This once again assumes that the Reds would even consider a deal to the Pirates, which might make this whole topic a moot point.