News has come out this week that the Cincinnati Reds are now fielding offers for prized first-base prospect Yonder Alonso, which means the 24-year-old Cuban native has something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. The former first round pick has been stuck in purgatory, otherwise known as Louisville Kentucky, playing for the Reds’ Triple-A farm club for the past two years while major league first baseman, Joey Votto, has staked his claim as one of the best hitters in baseball.
It’s a decision the Reds have been facing for the last several years. As a club, do they make the move to sign Votto, the 2010 NL MVP, to a monster long-term deal? Or do they go the cheaper route, trust their farm system, and let Alonso become an All-Star himself in Cincinnati. Their choice is now clear, and as a result they are asking for a king’s ransom for Alonso who has played in just 69 MLB games. According to some reports, the Reds, who look to get back into competition in 2012, are asking for either a No. 2 starting pitcher or a top-shelf closer in return for Alonso.
This got me thinking about how the Nationals are in almost a polar opposite situation to Cincinnati. Washington is currently stuck with Adam LaRoche at first base next year, a man slotted to make $8 million after hitting just .172/.288/.258 with three home runs in 47 games last season. Ideally the team would ship LaRoche to make room for other options, but his large contract and microscopic performance in 2011 make him an immovable object. As a result, breakout star Michael Morse and 2006 first round pick Chris Marrero are boxed out of playing the position due to a bad investment that the Nats have a responsibility to attempt to resuscitate.
So despite the divergent fortunes the two teams have at the first base position, Washington and Cincinnati both have a former first round pick who can’t play their natural position everyday in 2012. The Reds are looking to trade Alonso, and maybe, the Nationals should be looking to do the same with Marrero. While Alonso is easily considered the better prospect between the two, Marrero had a surprisingly comparable year in AAA, which may mean that his value could be at its peak.
Yonder Alonso 2011 AAA: 91 G, .296/.374/.486, 12 HR, 56 RBI, 24-years-old
Chris Marrero 2011 AAA: 127 G, .300/.375/.449, 14 HR, 69 RBI, 22-years-old
Let’s get one thing clear, I’m not saying Marrero is as good or as valuable a player as Yonder Alonso. I’m saying that considering his age and fortuitous 2011 season, like Alonso, this would be the best possible time to trade the Nats former top prospect. While some general managers are clamoring to get their hands on Alonso, most notably the Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Toronto Blue Jays, some GM’s might also be willing to take Marrero as a discounted consolation prize.
In terms of value, Marrero likely wont go any higher. He is still young enough, 22, that executives might be persuaded to believe that he will be able to develop more power over time. In terms of his ability to get on base and to hit for average, he has vastly improved over the past several years. It’s not impossible to believe that Mike Rizzo would be able to convince another general manager, while in search of a starting pitcher or center fielder, that the 22-year-old, if given the right opportunity, could grow into an above average first baseman.
Unfortunately, if the Nationals keep him in the system, I just don’t see him becoming that type of player for us. While he’s only 22, it doesn’t seem he has the type of raw-power scouts believed was there when he was taken as one of the top position players in 2006. That’s just my opinion. Simply put though, he’s one of the last remaining Jim Bowden draft picks still masquerading in our system as a legitimate prospect, and I think Washington would be wise to move him while some other teams still think they might be able to mold him into something usable. He very well someday could turn into a .280/.340/.440 type of hitter who strokes 15-20 homers each season, but at first base in the National League, that just doesn’t cut it for a team looking for a pennant.
Furthermore, the timing just isn’t right for Washington and Marrero. Unless LaRoche get’s hurt and there are no viable outfield options that would allow Morse to move back to first, Marrero will not see any reasonable amount of time in the majors in 2012. This means that he will be forced to have a repetitive Triple-A season next year. If he produces at the same level, which is the best he’s performed in the minors to date, than he will hold on to some of his value, but if he regresses, then it will be nearly impossible for Washington to move him at all moving forward.
If the Nats plan to continue to groom him, with the idea that at the age of 24 he would be the everyday starting first baseman for Washington in 2013, then they might be in for a let down. Marrero has been a slow developer, and if his 2011 performance in Washington is any indicator, it will take him at least a season to adapt fully to the Major Leagues. If you think about where Washington would like to be in terms of competition in 2013, does it make sense for them to have a young and struggling first baseman? Or would they rather sign a free-agent veteran or place Mike Morse there to insure everyday production at a premium position?
The longer the Nationals wait to move Marrero, the further down his value will likely go. He probably isn’t a strong enough of a commodity to reel in an full-time MLB starter on his own, but he certainly could be part of a package that could bring in a player who can help them win in 2012 and 2013.