Last week, I laid out the groundwork of the Rays' off-season playbook: acquire a first baseman, rebuild the bullpen, and shop Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and BJ Upton. It looks to be a busy off-season and one that will see a lot of turnover on the Rays, but also one that should be exciting to follow. Here on DRB, we've already discussed a couple of the Rays' options, like pursuing Magglio Ordonez or keeping Carlos Pena. I'd like to throw out one more name for consideration: Yonder Alonso.
For those of you unfamiliar with him, Alonso is a first base prospect that was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds with the seventh pick of the 2008 draft. He's 23 years old and has been consistently ranked as one of the Reds' top prospects over the last couple of years. He's been ranked as one of the 50 best hitting prospects in baseball, clocking in at number 30 in John Sickels' 2010 list, and he made his major league debut this September. He's a talented prospect that has seen his star diminish in recent seasons due to a lack of power; for example, he only hit 12 homeruns in 445 plate appearances in Triple-A this season.
Alonso is a player that fits the mold the Rays like. He has a good eye, walking in over 11% of his plate appearances in every stop in the minors except Triple-A (where we walked 8% of the time), and he doesn't strike out too outrageously (15-18% strikeout rate in the minors). Despite having below-average speed, he stole a handful of bases at a high success rate this season (nine steals, one caught stealing). He hits for a high average - around .300 normally - and can provide some decent gap power, hitting 31 doubles in Triple-A this season. Reliable defensive reports on him are tough to find, but he seems to rate as an average defender at first with a below average arm. All in all, he's a valuable player and could increase his stock even more if his homerun power continues developing.
But how would the Rays acquire Alonso? Trades can be tricky to navigate, but I'd suggest floating Matt Garza.
A couple weeks ago, PGP looked at Matt Garza's trade value and determined that he was worth $21M in value - or in other words, one of the 11-50 top hitting prospects in baseball. Alonso fits into that category, and the Reds also have a good reason to trade him. At the moment, Joey Votto is the Reds' first baseman and he isn't likely to go anywhere soon: he's still under team control for three more seasons and just had an incredible, MVP-caliber season. There's nowhere else for Alonso to play on the Reds, meaning his talent would be wasted as a bench player that can pinch-hit on occasion. The Reds would be much better off trying to trade Alonso and get some value back for him, improving their major-league team's weak spots.
Luckily for the Rays, the Reds have a definite hole to fill for next season in their pitching staff. Both Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are free agents this off-season and considering both of them had a 4.60 xFIP, the Reds would do well not to re-sign them. That leaves the Reds with three definite starters in their rotation next season: Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Travis Wood. Edison Volquez is also likely to make their rotation, although he's an injury risk, leaving one final spot open. Aroldis Chapman could always be moved back to the rotation to fill the final spot, but that depends what the Reds want to do with him; he's obviously more valuable as a starter, but he was very inconsistent when starting in the minors and had control issues.
Even if the Reds want Chapman to start, that's a very young rotation and lacks depth behind it in case of injury or ineffectiveness. The Reds will want to make another run towards the playoffs, and I feel like it would make sense for them to add a perceived ace to their rotation if possible. Matt Garza is much cheaper than both Harang and Arroyo, is under team control for two more seasons, and would likely improve by moving out of the AL East and into the NL Central. He'd allow the Reds to keep one of their weaker starters in the bullpen, either as a long man on reserve in case of an injury or as a bullpen ace like Chapman.
An Alonso-Garza trade would be a good match from a trade value perspective, and I also believe the needs line up on both sides of the equation. Acquiring Garza would provide a nice boost to the Reds' rotation, and Yonder would be a major-league ready prospect that could fill in immediately at first base for the Rays. Trades can be tough to complete and there are many variables in play that we don't know about, but I think that Yonder Alonso is one of the players the Rays should inquire about.