How Much is Yonder Alonso Really Worth?


Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Yonder Alonso‘s name appear in trade speculation all across baseball, including as a potential fit for the Cleveland Indians. I’m all for the idea of bringing Alonso to Progressive Field, and I’ve previously suggested that the Indians build a deal around Alonso and Josh Tomlin.

Such a deal would be a win for Cleveland (and Cincinnati too, in my opinion), but a package of Tomlin and perhaps Jason Donald would be less than what the Reds are hoping for. Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty is looking for a No. 2 starter in return for the rookie first baseman; defining pitchers in terms of Platonic ideals of rotation slots makes for an extremely subjective analysis, but Tomlin probably better fits the mold of a No. 3 starter.

Given the league-wide concern over Alonso’s poor defense it seems unlikely that any team will meet Jocketty’s demands. How firm he would be in trade negotiations remains to be seen—he Reds are under no obligation to trade Alonso, and if they don’t get an offer that’s to their liking they don’t have to make a deal. It’s not as though he has demanded a trade or Cincinnati is desperate to move his contract.

But forgetting about negotiations and the Reds’ leverage, how much would Alonso be worth to the Indians, or wherever else he might end up?

Bill James projects Alonso, who turns 25 in April, to hit .277/.345/.446 in 2012; he doesn’t provide defensive projections, but based on his reputation around the league it’s probably safe to assume that he’s a true liability in left field and one step above that at first base. Prorating James’ projections over 150 games and 600 plate appearances, our Simple WAR Calculator puts Alonso at 0.3 WAR at first and 0.2 WAR in left. For a young player you could do worse, but clearly Alonso will have his work cut out for him in living up to his hype.

Meanwhile, combining Alonso’s brief big-league stint last year with his minor-league equivalency numbers (as determined by Jeff Sackmann’s calculator) and using the same assumptions for his defense, Alonso comes in as an exactly replacement-level player for 2012. Throw in a half-win improvement as he continues to develop, and Alonso projects at 0.5 WAR—still not what you’d like to see from an everyday player.

Were Alonso to be a full-time DH you could add about another 0.5 WAR to either of these estimates (so bad is his defense that the gains from requisitioning his glove would outweigh the costs of moving him to the easiest spot in the lineup), but fewer than half of all MLB teams would even have that option, and a hitter who gives you 1.0 WAR as a full-time DH probably isn’t worth a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

Of course, Alonso is a top prospect and is only 25 so he could very well blow past these projections, and even if he doesn’t become a star next year he might become a household name in 2013 or 2014. I don’t think anyone would take issue with saying that he’ll at least be an average player (about 2.0 WAR per season) someday, and he has the ceiling of a multiyear All-Star, or perhaps even MVP candidate.

But even that doesn’t fully justify the price Jocketty is demanding. Alonso still has some time to develop before he enters his prime, but by a player’s age-25 season he’s usually pretty close to being the player he’s going to be for the rest of his career. He could break out and have a monster season that surpasses all reasonable projections, but he could also remain more at less at his current talent level for the rest of his career. Or worse, he could regress, like Cleveland’s own failed first base prospect Matt LaPorta.

In addition, there is the very real and often underappreciated significance of position and defense in assessing value. Chase Utley wouldn’t be on the fast track to Cooperstown if he were a clumsy-gloved first baseman, and Jose Reyes wouldn’t have gotten $106 million if he were a DH. Mighty though Alonso’s bat may be, his worth will always be dragged down by one-dimensionality, and his defense will only worsen as he ages. Think Paul Konerko, or David Ortiz and Ryan Howard over the last couple years—there’s no questioning their offensive abilities, but they’re nowhere close to being elite players because of their defensive limitations.

This isn’t to say that Alonso wouldn’t be an asset to a team that acquires him. At the very least, he’s a useful player with the upside of an All-Star. Looking specifically at the Indians, he’d be a definite upgrade in 2012—using James’ very optimistic projections, the Simple WAR Calculator has LaPorta at -0.6 WAR—and looking down the road at who would replace them I think Cleveland would be better off with Alonso than Tomlin. But it’s hard to envision a scenario in which another team would be willing to give up what the Reds’ are asking for Alonso.

If Jocketty is just posturing or trying to increase his own leverage in trade talks, that’s completely understandable—he’d definitely lose some negotiating power if he told the league he was open to lesser offers. But if the Reds front office and Cincinnati fans value Alonso like a future MVP and really wouldn’t consider a trade worthwhile unless it nets them an ace, they could end up missing out on a deal that would help their team.

Will Alonso be a star someday?

  • Yes (72%, 160 Votes)
  • No (28%, 62 Votes)

Total Voters: 222

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Tags: Yonder Alonso

  • JohnHeitz

    Tomlin is a decent pitcher but he would be a terrible fit for Cincinnati because he has a 0.67 GB/FB ratio and in GABP that means routine fly balls are suddenly home runs.

    As for Yonder, he is a great kid and I love watching him hit. I think James’ predictions are far below the offensive production he will provide but his defense is terrible. There is also another unreported contributing factor to his defense struggles and that is his slow feet. Word is he is dropping pounds this winter to give him a step or two that he desperately needs. Dusty Baker pinch ran 38 year old Miguel Cairo for Alonso twice last season. When a 25 year old needs a 38 year old to run for them it is a huge problem unless he hits 50 home runs a year.

    We are praying in Cincinnati that Yonder’s offseason workout regimen will provide the extra step he so desperately needs.

  • RockHunter45

    I don’t agree with this assessment of Alonso’s “perceived” defensive liability at 1B. The guy has had a 8.94 Rf rating and .993 fielding % at 1B during his minor league career. While an 8.94 Rf is not top 10 Major League material (which is around 9.65ish) its definitely above replacement value. Heck, Votto didn’t break 9.00 Rf at the ML level until this past season at 27. So there is no reason to think Alonso can’t be above average or better at 1B. While Yonder may never match Votto’s power numbers, the potential for him to be a .300 hitter with 20-25 HR is definitely feasible. So I think trying to take just one season of a Bill James projection to peg Alonso as a near zero value player greatly undervalues his overall potential.

  • sportsnut

    The Reds the last 2 Trade Deadline tried and failed to trade for Fausto Carmona these were the local rumors in Cincy & Cleveland as well as Mlb.com and Mlb radio on Sirius Radio.

    With the Indians lack of depth in the Right handed bat area and Center Field depth in AAA and AA that it would be best for the Indians Organization to let Carmona be available to the Reds if they are still interested expand the deal for the Reds to include several of there needed pieces for next season.

    Example The Reds needs

    Starter Carmona

    Closer Chris Perez

    SS Jason Donald

    Relief Specialist Tony Sipp ( who the Reds asked for and was thought to be the stumbling block at the Winter Meetings )

    For Cleveland Indians hugh Long Term Needs

    Yonder Alonso

    ( He could solve the problems at 1 st for many years to come BTW he is a + defender at 1st but horrid anywhere else )

    Yorman Rodriguez Centerfielder Sizemore replacement 4-5 tool prospect ETA 2014 also Right handed bat

    Todd Frazier – Outfielder who can also play 3rd and also 2nd he is a right handed bat with pop ETA 2011 he could be a Casey Blake type of a replacement and upgrade for Brantley.

    Maybe Antonetti could even squeeze the Reds for Homer Bailey or Travis Wood in the deal.

    I know how rare it is for this size of a deal is to get done but but the Contracts going to the Reds are not bad contracts so there should not be any need for monies going the Reds direction to be involved and if both GM’s really need to look at this this solves foth teams issues now and for the next 2 to 3 seasons for the Reds and the next 5 to 6 years for the money poor Cleveland Indians.

    Also Cleveland replaces the players dealt this way

    Rotation minus Carmona becomes

    Masterson

    Ubaldo

    Tomlin

    Lowe

    Gomes

    Closer Chris Perez is replaced by Pestano who has already proven to have the unhittable closer stuffl

    Tony Sipp is replaced by either Josh Judy or Nick Hagadone both has poven to be ready for prime-time

    Jason Donald would be replaced by Phelps or the Signing of Casey Blake or Lopez

    IMHO this would be a Hugh win win all the way around.

    As far as Tomlin the reason he is a non fit for the Reds is I think they are looking for someone with a real track record unlike Tomlin and their won Travis Wood and Homer Bailey who could all go through growing issues in their young careers. Where with Carmona who has had a issue with wins but still has had a high K rate and Ground ball rate at around 85 % this is probably the reason the Reds have tried to obtain Carmona the last 2 years.

  • WStevenWalls

    Alonso projects to be average at worst as a defensive 1st baseman, but yes, he’s a liability elsewhere. However, he has already dropped 18 pounds (and counting) in an effort to make him a better left fielder. We’ll see how that goes, I guess.

    Although the Reds are on the hunt for starting pitching, they have middle- and back-of-the-rotation starters out their ears (Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood). What they’re looking for is a #1 or #2 starter, and I just don’t think Tomlin is quite good enough to bring in a player the Reds see as a future star at first base.

    As for Alonso’s minor league numbers, you have to keep in mind that he had a broken hamate bone, which greatly depletes a player’s power numbers for over a year. When he has been healthy–especially when he hasn’t been in pitcher-friendly leagues like the Florida State League–he has put up much more impressive numbers. The Reds could wait for him to build his value up even more, but then they’d have to deal with more of the media asking about using him as a trading chip, and that’s a conversation I think they’re really trying to shy away from.