In somewhat of an afterthought late Monday night, Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown reported, at the very bottom of his article on Joe Nathan, that the Reds are shopping blocked hitting prospect Yonder Alonso for a closer or a No. 2 starter, mentioning that GM Walt Jocketty has spoken to the Blue Jays, among other teams.
That raises the question of whether or not the Jays have the No.2 starter that the Reds are apparently asking for, since they obviously don’t have a closer to offer.
However, with Adam Lind‘s contract guaranteed through 2013, Edwin Encarnacion in line to be the Jays’ full-time DH next season, and an eerily similar player in David Cooper waiting close by in Triple-A, do the Jays even need to consider trading for Alonso, let alone consider giving up something like a No. 2 starter to acquire him?
Touted as one of the most professional hitters of the 2008 draft class, Alonso boasted impressive power numbers in his three years with the Miami Hurricanes, one of the nation’s top-ranked college squads during his time there. In addition to his power numbers, Alonso demonstrated his strong ability to hit for average and complemented that with superior plate discipline. Given how polished he was and the general consensus on his high ceiling, it was no surprise that he inked a $4.55 million Major League contract with a $2 million bonus after being drafted by the Reds with the 7th-overall pick.
Over three years later, Alonso has certainly produced and lived up to his potential, but not in every single area that the Reds were probably hoping for. He has come exactly as advertised from a batting average standpoint, as he climbed his way up to Triple-A in just his second full minor league campaign and boasts a .293 career average in 313 minor league games. That knack for getting good contact on the ball transferred to the big league level as well when, after hitting .207 in a brief 22-game stint with the Reds last year, Alonso went 29-for-88 (.330) with four doubles and five home runs in 47 games for the Reds this past season.
From a plate discipline perspective, Alonso has also done more than just hold his own. After managing 172 walks to 103 strikeouts in his three college seasons, Alonso has logged a very good 148 walks to 203 strikeouts in 1340 minor league plate appearances. Like his contact ability, Alonso showed his keen eye at the big league level with 21 strikeouts to 10 walks in 98 plate appearances this past season.
Despite hitting 52 home runs in college, however, Alonso’s power at the professional level still remains to be seen, as he has hit 36 home runs in 1179 minor league at-bats and 15 in his only full minor league season in 2010. He would have likely surpassed that this season, though, as he had 12 in 91 games with Triple-A Louisville before his call-up to Cincinnati.
The other issue with Alonso has been his position, and not just because the Reds have Joey Votto blocking first base at the big league level. Sensing a potential conflict, the Reds started to get Alonso acclimated to left field in the minors in 2010 before sticking him there almost full-time this past season in Triple-A. The problem, though, is that his defense is adequate at best at first base, and even less so in the outfield given his average arm strength and below-average speed. The Reds, however, knew most of this when they drafted him, and knew that it would be his bat that would carry him to the Majors.
Does all of this sound familiar?
In that same 2008 draft, just 10 spots after the 21-year-old Alonso, another highly-touted 21-year-old hitter was selected, this time from the opposite side of the country in California. A transfer from Cal State Fullerton, this homegrown talent blossomed as a Cal Golden Bear, managing at least a .359 average, 14 doubles, 12 home runs, and a 1.077 OPS in both of his seasons there. Like Alonso, this left-handed hitter possessed a polished, patient approach with the ability to hit for average as well as power to all fields. However, much like Alonso again, this player’s bat was going to be what would take him to The Show, as his defense and speed were below average and his future was either at first base or as a DH.
This player signed quickly and was promoted twice in his draft year, making it all the way up to Hi-A. Although he didn’t exactly impress from both power and contact standpoints (10 home runs and a .258 average at Double-A in 2009), he did manage to swat 32 doubles and log 92 strikeouts to 59 walks in 128 games in his first full minor league season. Repeating the level as a 23-year-old in 2010, this player continued to struggle with his average but still hit 30 two-baggers while doubling his home run output from the year before to 20. On top of that, he improved his already-respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio with 74 strikeouts to 52 free passes in 132 games.
Then, playing almost the entire season at Triple-A in 2011, this player finished with a league-leading .364 average, .439 on-base percentage, and 51 doubles in 120 games.
Who is this mystery player? That would be David Cooper, selected by the Jays with the 17th-overall pick in 2008.
Even if you discount Cooper’s impressive .364/.439/.535 line this past season because he played in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, it’s still a notable accomplishment and greater than what Alonso recorded in his 91 games with Louisville in the International League. Cooper’s mere nine home runs were well below what a first baseman should typically hit, but his gap power partly justified that low total given his 51 doubles.
The biggest factor that gets overlooked with Cooper, though, is his eye at the plate. He struck out a career-low 43 times this past season– 17 less than Alonso in 136 additional plate appearances –while drawing a career-high 67 walks. His strong showing with Triple-A Las Vegas earned him another call-up to the Jays where, after hitting just .121 in a 13-game stint in May, he hit .289 with a .851 OPS in 14 September games.
By no means is this an effort to say that Cooper is just as highly-regarded or as good of a prospect as Alonso, but rather that it seems Cooper has somewhat boosted his stock. The similarities between the two, however, in statistics, makeup, and minor league progression, not to mention less relevant characteristics like age, draft year, handedness, and position, among others, make you wonder if the Blue Jays would even need to explore a trade involving Alonso with Cooper still in the fold. Even if Cooper was traded over the offseason, though, it would seem strange to unload him in one deal only to acquire Alonso in another, likely for a much higher price.
But, for argument’s sake, assuming the Jays are honestly exploring a trade for Alonso, what exactly would that price be?
Brown mentions a No. 2 starter in his article, so it’s implied that the Reds are seeking MLB-proven pitching in return for Alonso and not pitching prospects. Brandon Morrow is currently the Jays’ No. 2 starter, and outside of perhaps Henderson Alvarez, any starter below him like Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch, or Dustin McGowan would not be enough to entice the Reds in a trade. However, it’s safe to say that there’s no way Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is trading either Morrow or Alvarez unless he’s absolutely blown away.
Morrow, 27, is entering his third full season in the rotation, and teams around the league probably don’t think of him as a No. 2 starter when he first comes to mind. That being said, the right-hander looks to be primed for a big year in 2012, even though that’s what was said heading into the 2011 campaign. In addition to maintaining his electric strikeout rate while increasing his innings total in 2011, Morrow lowered both his hits and walks per nine innings for the third consecutive season. While he continued to overpower left-handed hitters, he’ll have to work on his approach to right-handers and cutting down his home runs. He finished 16th in the AL this past season with a 3.64 FIP, identical to A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez and lower than guys like Jon Lester, Derek Holland, Ervin Santana, and Mark Buehrle — all of whom had lower ERAs than Morrow.
Personally, trading a starting pitcher from their rotation, likely Morrow, for Alonso doesn’t make sense for the Jays, especially given the fact the Jays already have their hands full with a left-handed Lind under club control for two more seasons and a left-handed Cooper close behind him on the depth chart at first base.
Rather than make a move for Alonso prior to the 2012 campaign, there’s still a chance that he could be available at the end of the season, as every GM in the Majors knows about the Reds’ logjam at first base involving him and Votto. At that point, the Jays would not only better understand what path to take with Lind, but also what the future holds for Cooper. Plus, Encarnacion’s stint as a full-time DH will have concluded, so, if need be, the DH spot would be open in the event a move needed to be made to accommodate a new addition from a trade.