Could Indians Trade Josh Tomlin for Yonder Alonso?

Rumor has it that the Indians are in on Reds first baseman Yonder Alonso—and with good cause. Alonso wouldn’t just be a great building block for future teams: he’d be a significant upgrade at first base right away. Assuming the asking price isn’t too high, bringing him to Progressive Field should be one of Cleveland’s top offseason priorities.

But, as is usually the case with rumors like these, that’s not necessarily a safe assumption to make. Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown reported last week that Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty wanted either a No. 2 starter or a closer in any deal for Alonso. It’s not clear exactly what that would mean—there is no single Platonic ideal of what a No. 2 starter is (other than just the second guy in the rotation), and the Reds already refused to trade Alonso to Oakland for Andrew Bailey. But whatever the case, it’s clear that it would take an impact arm to bring Alonso to Cleveland.

Still, I think the Indians and Reds would match up quite well, and there’s one player the Tribe could give up who would make this deal work for both teams: Josh Tomlin.

Tomlin, 27, had a breakout 2011 campaign, going 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA (4.23 SIERA) in 165.1 innings for the Tribe. An absolute fiend at limiting free passes, he all MLB pitchers with a 1.1 BB/9 and 3.2-percent walk rate while finishing fourth in the league in K/BB ratio (4.2) and seventh in WHIP (1.08). FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference both put him at just under 2 WAR, while Baseball Prospectus had him at a very solid 2.5 WARP. An elbow injury in August ended his season, but there’s no concern that he won’t be fully recovered for 2012.

So why would the Indians deal him? I have nothing against Tomlin and I’d be sad to see him go—I’d love to keep watching him not walk opposing hitters in a Cleveland uniform for years. But the point of trading is to make one’s team better, and the Tribe would almost certainly win more games with Alonso than with Tomlin.

Let’s assume for simplicity’s sake that Tomlin and Alonso will be about equally good in 2012. (Tomlin could end up being a little better, but if one of them were to break out, it would almost certainly be Alonso. I think projecting them as equals is fair.)

If Tomlin is out of the picture, who replaces him? David Huff would be next in line for a rotation spot, and given the improvements he made last season there’s a decent chance he’d actually end up outperforming Tomlin. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Fausto Carmona, and Derek Lowe would remain. You’d still have Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister waiting in the wings in case of injury, plus Scott Barnes, Kelvin De La Cruz, Corey Kluber, and Danny Salazar already on the 40-man roster. Yes, the Indians would miss Tomlin, but they’d be able to replace his production pretty easily.

More importantly, whatever the Indians would lose from trading Tomlin, they’d more than make up for it by bringing in Alonso. Depending on which numbers you focus on, Alonso projects to be at least 2 WAR better than Matt LaPorta over a full season, though I’d feel confident predicting the difference would be more like three or four wins, and the disparity could realistically be even larger. (LaPorta doesn’t have a firm grip on a starting job for 2012, but until the Indians bring in someone else he’s the presumptive first baseman.)

This same benefit extends past next year; in fact, the deal looks even better for 2013 and beyond than it does for 2012. If LaPorta loses the starting job next year, it means he’ll probably never get it back, and there’s no obvious candidate to replace him at first base long-term. Meanwhile, there would be more candidates for Tomlin’s old rotation spot as future prospects develop and Carlos Carrasco returns from Tommy John surgery. Not to mention that, while Tomlin isn’t too old to continue to develop, Alonso has a much higher ceiling.

So why would the Reds pull the trigger? Well, we already know that they’re looking to trade Alonso, and Tomlin fits for what we know they want in return. I’d probably call Tomlin a No. 3 starter (as opposed to the No. 2 guy Jocketty desires), but would they really be able to do much better? According to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, most teams consider Alonso to be too “one-dimensional” to be worth trading a top-of-the-rotation arm. That only a club with pitching to spare and a hole at first base or DH could make a play for Alonso—he’s been trying to learn the outfield, but Rosenthal quotes a GM saying his glove is “terrible” there—significantly diminishes Jocketty’s negotiating power.

The Reds would benefit from this deal more than one would expect in a vacuum because they, too, would be dealing from strength to shore up a weakness. Since Joey Votto isn’t going anywhere (though if he were, it’d be worth the Indians’ while to at least inquire as to the asking price), Alonso’s only opening would be the outfield, where his poor defense would probably cancel out most of the good he’d do with his bat.

Alonso is a poor fit in Cincinnati, and he isn’t nearly as useful to his team as Tomlin would be in stabilizing the Reds’ rotation, which is Jocketty’s top priority. This proposal might help the Indians more than it would the Reds, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be mutually beneficial: with 28 other teams in the league, a win-win deal is a win-win deal even if the other side wins more.

It might take a little more than just Tomlin to bring Alonso to Cleveland—I could see the Tribe throwing in someone like Jason Donald, though Jocketty isn’t in a position to demand much more than that. Even if it wasn’t a straight-up trade, a deal centered around Tomlin and Alonso would bring both of Ohio’s MLB franchises closer to a championship.

Would this trade be good or bad for the Indians and Reds?

  • Good for Indians, bad for Reds (58%, 168 Votes)
  • Good for both (33%, 96 Votes)
  • Bad for Indians, good for Reds (7%, 19 Votes)
  • Bad for both (2%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 288

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Topics: Cincinnati Reds, Josh Tomlin, Yonder Alonso

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  • Goose88

    Josh Tomlin sounds like the fourth of fifth best starter on the Indians. Masterson, Jimenez, and possibly Carmona and Lowe are all capable of way better seasons than Tomlin who got lucky to win 12 games pitching in games where the Indians scored a ton of runs. The second half of the season Tomlin couldn’t buy a win, seriously if it was handed to him on a silver platter, he’d drop the whole dish to the floor. The guy is mediocre at best, a 3rd if your team is bad, a 4th or 5th if their decent. So you’re suggesting the Reds move the likely future face of Cleveland’s franchise if the deal were to happen, for a guy like Tomlin? Let’s just call that wishful thinking from a tribe’s fan. If Jocketty traded Alonso for Tomlin he’d be fired tomorrow, or at least should be! If the tribe want Alonso, they better be willing to give a quality #2 (LET”S HEAR THAT “Q” WORD ONE MORE TIME NOW, QUALITY #2 GUY) who are the quality #2s? I believe the conversation would have to start with the top of the rotation with guys like Masterson and Jimenez. Masterson had a good season, last year, a really good one, so much so that crazy tribe fans will try to argue he’s a quality #1. The truth is, however, he’s just not. He’s taken a while to develop, had some inconsistent moments last year, and has had a largely inconsistent career to this point. Go ahead and call that a quality #1 guy Cleveland fans, me, I’ll take Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, Jered Weaver, Roy Halliday, Chris Carpenter, Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, Tim Lincecum, even Derek Holland, and a number of other #1 pitchers before I’d take Masterson. Masterson might be the ace of the tribes staff, but I’m sorry he ain’t no Sabathia or Lee. A 12-10 record to go along with a 3.21 ERA is not an ace, it’s a really good #2. I believe this article started out questioning what a number 2 was, I’ll give you a hint… It’s Justin Masterson, and it sure as hell ain’t Josh Tomlin. It’s Ubaldo Jimenez who has followed nearly the same career path a Tomlin, young big prospect early on, but a career so far shrouded in inconsistency. A season where he looked like an unquestionable ace, followed by a season where he looked like a solid #3 at best. I’m sorry but if the Tribe want Alonso, let’s be serious, or a better word – realistic, the asking price will not be a Josh Tomlin.

  • Maysword

    I’d like to try some of whatever Goose88 is smoking. What do you think @tribe1045

  • Goose88

    Haha Maysword, another delusional Tribes fan. Guess what Tomlin is not a quality #2, and come on, your only intelligible argument is: “I’d like to try some of whatever Goose88 is smoking.” Well since you can’t refute any of the facts in my post like an educated baseball fan would (it’s okay your an Indians fan, if this ↑ story, and this ↓ post proves anything, it’s that Indian fans are not knowledgeable baseball fans.) P.S. I’d like to try some of the peyote being passed around Progressive Field. I think Randy Quaid (Johnny) said it best about Cleveland fans when he said: http://www.wavlist.com/movies/315/ml2-garbage.wav

  • tribe1045

    You’re right, Josh Tomlin is not a #2 starter. The point here is that Yonder Alonso is not a young stud capable of demanding a major-league #2 in a trade. Alonso is not going to Oakland straight-up for Gio Gonzalez, nor to Atlanta for Jair Jurrjens as John Fay suggests Jocketty is hoping. Most baseball writers (also known as fans with laptops) throw out ridiculous suggestions casually – Note that Fay also suggested Jocketty was likely interested in James Shields. No team is going to trade a major-league #2 for a guy with 117 career big-league ABs. Consider that Alonso is not even regarded as Cincinatti’s most attractive prospect

    You’re argument became unintelligible when you started rattling off names of guys you consider #1 starters like you were reading off a Cy Young Award ballot.You accuse people of not being educated baseball fans, yet you drew a parallel from Ubaldo Jimenez to Josh Tomlin as “young big prospects early on.” Jimenez was signed as a projectable 17 year-old out of the Dominican Republic. Tomlin was selected in the 19th round of the 2006 amateur draft and has always been considered a non-prospect.

    In exchange for Alonso, the Reds will probably prefer a young arm who projects as a #2 starter in the majors, rather than Tomlin, who right now profiles as a #4 or #5. This is fine with me, because if a left- handed first baseman with doubles power was the answer to the Indians’ problems, they should have kept Jordan Brown. One thing is for certain, though – the Reds are not going to get a major-league proven #2 starter for their #3 1B prospect that everybody knows they have no room for.

    PS. Yonder Alonso would not become the face of the Indians. Sizemore, Choo, Hafner, Cabrera, Santana and Kipnis all would still take precedent.

  • NathanielStoltz

    I think, on paper, this makes a lot of sense. Practically, though, I’d be shocked if it happened.

    The reason for that, and something you didn’t really touch on from what I could see, is the perceived reputations of the players. Alonso is a former top-10 pick who scouts love and who just tore the big leagues apart in his first extended trial. Tomlin is still perceived as a command guy who fits best at the back of a rotation, and just happened to have a decent year.

    Mind you, there’s a mountain of statistical evidence that shows those perceptions to be skewed. But that’s what they’re going to be until both players have been in the majors long enough to establish a consistent baseline of performance. Alonso’s value won’t drop until he either a) struggles or b) becomes a known commodity rather than a sexy young player. Tomlin’s value won’t increase until he proves he can have 2011-esque seasons every year, not just once.

    So, while it makes sense to do this deal on a statistical level, I think the Reds either a) can convince someone to pay more for Alonso than this, because his reputation is still higher than his actual value, or b) will settle for someone comparable to Tomlin in terms of value, but with a bigger “name” attached (some veteran with a track record of Tomlin-esque performances).

  • tribe1045

    This is a potential trade that only makes sense in that the Indians need a first baseman and the Reds need a pitcher. The Indians would be doing themselves a disservice to trade Tomlin away at the moment. With the injury to Carrasco, trading Tomlin would be handing a spot in the rotation to either David Huff or Jeanmar Gomez, both of whom are best- served as depth options for the moment.

    I don’t imagine Josh Tomlin having any trouble replicating or outperforming his 2011 season in the coming years because, statistically, his season was not overwhelming. On the other hand, I’m not sure Alonso is the “sexy young player” you’re speaking of.

    Alonso came up for a cup of coffee at the end of the season in a low- pressure environment and put up some good numbers, but he still struck out in nearly a quarter of his ABs. This season in AAA was Alonso’s second at the level. At 24, he put together a line of .296/.374/.486 with 12 HR and 56 RBI in 358 ABs – almost an exact replica of his 2010 season at the same level.

    In 2009, another fellow we all know as Matt LaPorta had his first season at AAA at the age of 24. In 338 ABs, he put together a .299/.388/.530 line with 17 HR and 60 RBI. In their time at the AAA level (LaPorta has played 20 G with AAA Columbus in the last two seasons,) LaPorta even has a better BB:K at .81 to Alonso’s .61. Plate discipline has been one of Alonso’s most-lauded assets.

    Alonso’s star has been falling for some time – ranked the #35 prospect in baseball before the 2009 season, that rank fell to #45 the following year and down to #73 prior to last season as he hasn’t transitioned into the player the Reds organization envisioned. The Reds already have Votto at first and no room for Alonso, so they’d love to make him somebody else’s problem.

    Personally, I believe Alonso will find decent success in the majors, but not as a perennial all-star. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds manage to receive a pitcher “better than” Tomlin on the trade market as I’ve seen many GMs make emotional decisions. However, I don’t believe this deal would be in the Indians’ best interest – nevermind that the Reds think Alonso could fetch much more.

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