Cincinnati has a long tradition of National League baseball, but the Yonder Alonso situation must make Reds fans wish for the designated hitter rule. Reds manager Dusty Baker and GM Walt Jocketty both spoke about Alonso's future at the team's spring camp in Arizona today, and MLB.com's Mark Sheldon sums up the situation within a larger piece about Alonso's development.
The basic problem is that Alonso, the top prospect in Cincinnati's system, is blocked at his natural first base position by the Reds' best player, Joey Votto. As John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer points out, Alonso will be out of options after the 2011 season since he signed a major league contract for five years and worth $4.55MM after being taken seventh overall in the 2008 June Amateur Draft.
At one point it seemed as if Votto, who has some experience playing in left, would move back to the outfield when Alonso was ready for the majors. But as Fay notes, Votto "doesn’t want to move and he’s worked hard at first base." Fangraphs lists Votto as having an above-average 3.8 UZR/150 rating at first base, though it's taken from a sample size of just 291 games.
As Sheldon and Fay both report, Alonso has been worked out this spring as a corner outfielder and at third base, where he would presumably serve as the heir apparent to Scott Rolen if all things worked out perfectly for the Reds. There has even been some talk of trying out Alonso at catcher.
Provided that Alonso doesn't sink to Incaviglia-esque depths in left or right field, he should be able to handle life away from first. But if the position switch doesn't take or, even worse, affects Alonso's bat, then the Reds have a real issue on their hands. Alonso's name popped up in the Rolen trade talks with Toronto last summer, and there would be no shortage of teams that would be interested in acquiring the young slugger if he were put on the market.
The other alternative, albeit the more unlikely one, is that Votto would be traded. Votto is eligible for arbitration after 2010 and is under team control through 2013; combine that with his proven major league production and the Reds could net a gold mine of players and prospects in a deal. But, Votto's big league track record is exactly the reason why it's far more probable that Cincinnati would hold onto him and move Alonso if it came to a choice between the two.