Yonder Alonso Rumors

Rosenthal On Votto, Epstein, Sabathia, Beinfest

 Let's take a look at this week's edition of Full Count from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports..

  • The Reds aren't going to shop Joey Votto but they'll at least listen to trade inquiries this winter.  Cincinnati could come back with Votto for one more year at $9.5MM and play Yonder Alonso in left field but Votto's salary rises to $17MM in 2013 and Alonso's best position is first base.  Reds owner Bob Castellini won't want to trade Votto, just as he didn't want to deal veterans at the deadline.  However, the Reds would be looking at much more value for Votto at two years away from free agency rather than one year away.
  • The Red Sox will likely avoid a historic collapse but if they don't, all bets are off.  Manager Terry Francona is technically unsigned for next season as they hold options on him for the next two seasons.  Meanwhile, GM Theo Epstein might want to leave for the Cubs regardless, if the Cubs give him more power in baseball operations.  The question still remains whether BoSox owner John Henry would allow him to talk with one year left on his contract.
  • It would be interesting to see how the Yankees react if, as expected, C.C. Sabathia opts out of his contract.  The Bombers have had contentious negotiations with key players in years past, but Sabathia is different.  The hurler is only 31-years-old and coming off of three outstanding years in New York.  If the talks to turn ugly, he'll certainly have other options.
  • Marlins GM Larry Beinfest has let it be known that he would like a chance at the Cubs position.  Rival executives say that Beinfest is unhappy with the recent reassignment of Jim Fleming the increasing involvement of owner Jeffrey Loria.  The Cubs' level of interest in Beinfest is currently unknown.

Machado, Alonso & Valencia Hire Dan Lozano

Not long after landing Nick Swisher, agent Dan Lozano has added Manny Machado, Yonder Alonso, and Danny Valencia to his list of clients according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick and Keith Law (all Twitter links). Machado and Alonso were named the 14th and 73rd best prospects in the game, respectively, by Baseball America just yesterday. Law notes that all three players than Miami roots.

Machado, 18, was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft. In his brief professional debut last summer (39 plate appearances), he hit .306/.359/.472 with a homer and as many walks (three) as strikeouts. In the 2011 edition of their Prospect Handbook, Baseball America said Machado "has the look of a perennial all-star" with a chance to "become a .300 hitter with 20 homers a season as he matures." Machado was previously being represented by Scott Boras.

Alonso, 24 in April, was the Reds' first round pick in 2008, seventh overall. He made his Major League debut last September, hitting just .207/.207/.276 with ten strikeouts and no walks in 29 plate appearances. Alonso is a .298/.368/.458 career hitters in the minors, and he told Crasnick that he left Legacy Sports "about a month ago." His salaries are controlled through 2012 thanks to the five-year, $4.55MM big league contract he signed out of the draft.

As a first baseman in the Reds' system, Alonso is stuck behind NL MVP Joey Votto, which is why the club has had him try third base and left field in the past. So far neither position has stuck, and Alonso could wind up trade bait.

Valencia, 26, emerged as the Twins third baseman last season, hitting .311/.351/.448 with seven homers in 322 plate appearances. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.


NL Central Notes: La Russa, Pujols, Pence, Brewers

Let's look at some notes from the NL Central as we remember the legendary Harry Caray, who passed away on this day in 1998.

  • The close relationship between Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols may be the Cardinals' "secret weapon" for keeping Pujols in St. Louis, writes SI.com's Jon Heyman.  Of course, La Russa's own contract is only guaranteed through this season, and he could very well decide his future with the club before Pujols has to this winter.  A St. Louis Post-Dispatch roundtable looks at how the futures of the Cardinals manager and slugger are intertwined.
  • The Cubs "should move heaven and earth" to acquire Pujols if he hits the free agent market, says ESPN's Michael Wilbon.  The potential pros of signing a franchise player outweigh, in Wilbon's opinion, the record-setting costs a Pujols contract could entail: "Please don't bother me with what might happen when Pujols reaches 40 or 41 years of age and whether he'll be overpaid by then….when the alternative is stealing away your hated rival's best-ever player and putting him into your lineup in the prime of his life."
  • Hunter Pence's arbitration case took place this morning, and MLB.com's Brian McTaggart talks to Astros GM Ed Wade about the process.  The arbitration panel is expected to have a decision ready by Saturday.  Pence is the last remaining arb-eligible player without a contract, as MLBTR's ArbTracker indicates. 
  • The Brewers have signed pre-arb players Zach Braddock, Chris Dickerson, Brandon Kintzler and Jonathan Lucroy to contracts, tweets Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Reds prospect Yonder Alonso is continuing his outfield training this spring, and talks to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon about how learning a different position is key to his future in Cincinnati.  Alonso's natural position, first base, is of course blocked by NL MVP Joey Votto.
  • "There is still a good chance" the Astros will trade Jeff Keppinger once the veteran infielder proves he's healthy after offseason foot surgery, says ESPN.com's Jason A. Churchill.  Houston shopped Keppinger during the Winter Meetings, with the Yankees showing some interest, but negotiations didn't pan out.


Odds & Ends: Stairs, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Nats

Links on a very rainy evening in the Bronx..


Cliff Lee Rumors: Monday

Yesterday Cliff Lee had another dominant outing and the Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals and Phillies had scouts in Detroit to watch it. We'll keep track of all the day's Cliff Lee rumors right here, so check back later in the day to see if we have moved this post back to the top of the page with updates.

  • The Twins aren't close to a deal for Lee, a team source tells LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune (via Twitter).
  • The Twins have offered outfielder Aaron Hicks and catcher Wilson Ramos for Lee, a major league source told Jeff Fletcher of AOL Fanhouse (via Twitter).
  • There are "interesting discussions" and "possibilities" for a Lee-to-Minnesota deal, tweets Jon Heyman of SI.
  • The Reds have talked to the Mariners about Lee, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.  While tampering rules prevent GM Walt Jocketty from commenting on Lee in particular, Fay believes that his words infer that the 2008 AL Cy Young winner would be a player of interest.

    “I will say this: We’re looking at any way we can to improve the club,” said the GM. “To improve the club, it would have to be a pretty significant player to do that. We have a lot of good things going. We don’t want to disrupt that.”

    Fay writes that it will take more than Yonder Alonso, a trade candidate mentioned by ESPN's Buster Olney over the weekend, to land Lee.  Edinson Volquez's performance upon his return will also have an impact on the Reds' interest in making a deal.

  • The Rangers, Twins, Yankees and Mets are among the teams having the most active conversations with the Mariners about Lee, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. The Dodgers have also discussed the left-hander with the Mariners.
  • The Tigers, Phillies and Cardinals have been scouting Lee, but those teams are not pursuing him as aggressively.
  • Some of Morosi's sources believe the Mariners would rather obtain hitters than pitchers, while others don't believe position matters to GM Jack Zduriencik. There is consensus that the Mariners prefer prospects who are close to contributing in the major leagues.

Cliff Lee Rumors: Saturday

With as many as 12-15 teams teams potentially showing interesting in Cliff Lee, ESPN's Buster Olney says that the Mariners still want "big bat potential" in any deal for the lefty ace (Twitter link). He lists two candidates: Justin Smoak of the Rangers, and Yonder Alonso of the Reds. Alonso is blocked in Cincinnati by Joey Votto

As the Rangers showed with the Bengie Molina deal, they are unable (or unwilling) to take on payroll, instead choosing to give up a higher caliber prospect. Other big bat prospects that could be moved in a trade: Jesus Montero of the Yankees, Fernando Martinez of the Mets, and Domonic Brown of the Phillies. Whether or not those teams are willing to surrender those players in a trade for a 2008 AL Cy Young award winner is another story altogether.


Odds & Ends: Indians, Dunn, Cardona, Giants

Let's check out some links on a beautiful evening in New Jersey..

  • Indians manager Manny Acta says that he's still focused on developing the team's young talent, writes Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer.
  • Adam Dunn says that signing another two-year deal wouldn't be his preference, though he's not opposed to it, writes Bill Ladson of MLB.com.
  • Other clubs are upset over Toronto's reported agreement with Adonis Cardona, writes Jeremy Sandler of the National Post.
  • Even more from Baggarly, as he tells us not to expect the Giants to sign Jermaine Dye or call up Buster Posey in the coming days.
  • Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News (via Twitter) doesn't think the Giants would benefit from bringing back Ryan Garko.
  • Former Royals manager Trey Hillman said that the team had a lengthy players-only meeting prior to being swept by the Rangers, tweets Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports.
  • Giants manager Bruce Bochy, GM Brian Sabean, and hitting coach Hensley Meulens are "talking over options"  following a 1-hit loss to San Diego, writes Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News (via Twitter).
  • The Reds have promoted Yonder Alonso to Triple-A Louisville, tweets Ben Badler of Baseball America.  Baseball America's 2010 Prospect Handbook rated Alonso ahead of Mike Leake in Cincinnati's farm system but behind Todd Frazier.
  • MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez writes that Major League Baseball is hoping to clean up the sport in Venezuela.

Top Trade Chips: NL Central

Let's continue our series looking at each team's top trade chips with the NL Central…

  • Astros: Teams can ask for Hunter Pence, but it's just not happening. 26-year-old catcher J.R. Towles and his five years of team control could be shopped with top prospect Jason Castro coming up behind him. If Houston falls way out of it, Roy Oswalt could be made available, but it would be a massive PR hit. He's owed $31MM through 2011 with a $16MM option ($2MM buyout) for 2012, and would have to approve any trade. Dealing him would signify the start of a full rebuilding effort. 
  • Brewers: Yovani Gallardo was never going to be moved in the first place, but his new contract extension all but guarantees it. Manny Parra seems to have fallen out of favor, but a lefty who can dial it up to the mid-90's will always have value on the trade market. He still has three years of arbitration eligibility ahead of him. 
  • Cardinals: The Cards dealt away most of their top prospects for Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa last year, so there's not much left to move. Triple-A catcher Bryan Anderson and Double-A outfielder Daryl Jones could be used in a trade since the big league team is pretty well set at those positions. Jones is more highly regarded of the two. Colby Rasmus is untouchable, obviously.
  • Cubs: Josh Vitters, the third overall pick in 2007, watched his name pop up in trade rumors involving Jake Peavy last year. If Chicago is willing to eat some of the $26.5MM left on his contract, there would be interest in Kosuke Fukudome.
  • Pirates: Neal Huntington has completely turned over the team's roster since taking over in September 2007, dealing away every notable veteran player. He did, however, build up a nice inventory of veteran relievers this offseason. Octavio Dotel, D.J. Carrasco, Brendan Donnelly, and Javier Lopez could all be used as trade fodder this summer.
  • Reds: Cincinnati is clearly a team on the rise, but one young player they could make available is the blocked Yonder Alonso. The power hitting first baseman masquerading as a left fielder in Double-A has all six years of team control left, and is the best trade chip in the division.

Blocked Prospects: Yonder Alonso

The Reds have successful drafted and developed their first baseman of the future, and it's not 2008 first round pick Yonder Alonso. Joey Votto, a second round pick back in 2002, has emerged as one of the game's best young hitters, posting the fourth highest OPS (.981) in baseball last year. Tim mentioned Votto as a young player with a chance to receive a contract extension, and went so far as to find some comparables.

Baseball America ranked Alonso the 45th best prospect in the game, while ESPN's Keith Law had him 76th. Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein left him off his Top 101 Prospects List entirely. In their 2010 Handbook, Baseball America rated Alonso the team's second best prospect (though that was before the Aroldis Chapman signing) and wrote that he is "the purest hitter in the system and has above-average power." Though he missed a big chunk of the 2009 season with a hamate injury, Alonso hit .292/.374/.464 across three levels.

As the 7th overall pick in 2008, Alonso received a Major League contract that put him on the 40-man roster immediately and will pay him $4.55MM through 2012. The clock is ticking on Alonso's three option years, which will expire after the 2011 season, however it's worth noting that he'll qualify for the rare fourth option because his original three will be used before his fifth pro season. Regardless, Cincinnati is in a bit of a pickle because they have a highly touted first base prospect ready to start the season in Double-A, and a 26-year-old franchise player at the same position.

Rumors swirled last year that the Reds would try Alonso behind the plate, but he doesn't have the body for it and it's a position that takes quite some time to learn. MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reports that Alonso will play left field this year, which is exactly what the Padres did with Kyle Blanks when he approached the big leagues blocked by Adrian Gonzalez. If the experiment in left doesn't go as planned, Alonso will be a prime piece of trade bait.

When it comes to comparable prospects being traded, the first name that comes to mind is Matt LaPorta. The Brewers selected him in the first round despite having Prince Fielder in the big leagues, but used him to headline a package for CC Sabathia, who helped them get to the playoffs. If the Reds contend this year or next, Alonso could be the guy to get them the piece needed to put them over the top. For now, he'll try out left field and continue to develop at Double-A.


Discussion: Yonder Alonso

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.