The Orioles are still a few years away from completing their organizational rebuild and re-establishing themselves as American League contenders. As such, no one on their current major league roster is considered “untouchable.”
Andrew Cashner has already been dealt to the Red Sox. He is expected to be followed out the proverbial door by Mychal Givens and possibly Jonathan Villar while Trey Mancini is viewed as a less likely trade candidate this summer.
Apparently, we can now add Hanser Alberto to the list of names that could be on the move prior to Wednesday’s deadline. Over the weekend, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted out speculation that NL teams could be interested in the infielder’s ability to hit left-handed pitching. However, he stopped short of mentioning any potential suitors.
Baltimore’s Hanser Alberto is possibly the most under-the-radar trade candidate in baseball. He leads *all* qualifying @MLB hitters with a .404 average against LHP. He’d have value in the NL playoffs, given the left-handed pitching expected there. @MLBNetwork @Orioles— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 28, 2019
From Kubatko’s post:
A utility player won’t bring back an elite prospect in a trade, but the Orioles could decide that the return is worth it. There’s selling high and then there’s selling through the roof. Alberto’s value may never reach this level again.
That’s probably true. Alberto is 26 years old, has three years of team control remaining and is in the midst of what amounts to a breakout season. His .313 batting average ranks fourth in the AL, and he has demonstrated an ability to play passable defense at both second and third base. There is certainly value to be found there. How much value is up for debate.
Nick Cicere put together a thorough article just last month that examined Alberto’s logic-defying season. Not much has changed since then. His 83.3 average exit velocity and 18.9% hard hit rate are both still near the bottom of the league. Similarly, his 95 wRC+, .315 wOBA, 2.4% walk rate and .740 OPS won’t excite any teams looking for an offensive upgrade on the infield.
Alberto’s ability to hit left-handed pitching has been impressive this season. He has a .404/.413/.529 slash line against southpaws in 136 at-bats. But those are numbers that feel unsustainable, especially when you consider that his BABIP against lefties is .448 over the same time span. Pair that with his minuscule hard hit rate and you have a player likely due for a course correction.
How much do major league teams value a player with the ability to crush left-handed pitching anyway? Danny Valencia owns a career .312/.370/.494 slash line against lefties over more than 1000 at-bats. And yet the Orioles were unable to find a trade partner for him last season, and the 34-year-old remains unemployed this year. Valencia made just $1.2 million in 2018, so it’s unlikely that it is a result of exceedingly high salary demands, but rather that teams want players to have more than just one valuable trait. Alberto is a better player than Valencia overall, but you get the point.
The reason these advanced metrics are mentioned is not to minimize what has been a solid season for Alberto. He has gone from the waiver wire to an everyday major league player that is putting up fine numbers in a matter of months. That’s impressive and deserves recognition.
But it’s important to understand that other teams can read between the lines with this performance. They can see that Alberto is racking up hits, but that only 18% of them have gone for extra bases. They can see that adding some plate disciple to his game could cause that .331 on base percentage of his to skyrocket, but they also understand that his 57.5% swing rate and overall aggressiveness is what has allowed him to achieve his current level of production. Tinkering with anything too much could prove counter-productive.
It’s also possible that teams don’t view Alberto’s contract situation has much of a benefit. Yes, he has three years of team control, but the infielder is out of options and will be due for a modest raise this offseason as he goes through arbitration for the first time. There’s not much flexibility there.
Additionally, it’s unlikely that teams view Alberto as an everyday player in a playoff race. Instead, he could be a nice fit as a bench piece or platoon option against tough lefties. It’s not uncommon for bench pieces to change from season to season while the starters on a contending team remain relatively intact. So while the added years of team control feel like a positive on the surface, they may actually contribute very little to Alberto’s overall trade value.
This all brings us to the conversation about what the Orioles could actual acquire in exchange for Alberto, a solid role player who excels against lefties but has some damning peripheral numbers.
It’s tough to say. The market for hitters has been slow to develop. Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce have both been dealt, but those two players aren’t exactly comparable to Alberto.
Perhaps the best reference so far is the trade of Eric Sogard to the Rays on Sunday. Sogard is an infielder that has spent most of his time at second base with the Blue Jays this season. He owns a .300/.363/.477 batting line in 73 games, has walked 9% of the time and struck out 14.6% of the time while playing sub-par defense (-5 DRS). Sogard will be a free agent at the end of this year. Again, not a perfect comparison, but it’s all we have to work with for now.
The expected return for Sogard will be two players to be named later. Those two players could end up being stalwarts, but more than likely they will be a pair of less heralded youngsters who may or may not contribute at the big league level one day. If the Orioles were to get a similar return for Alberto, should they make the move?
Orioles general manager Mike Elias has stated time and time again that he wants to strengthen the low minors. It’s consistent with his goal of building a pipeline of talent rather than plugging holes at the big leagues. If the O’s do decide to deal Alberto, there is little doubt that they could land a teenage prospect or two that could find a spot in Aberdeen and might be able to fight their way up the professional ladder.
But Alberto’s ability to play major league quality defense at two (maybe more) positions while handling his business at the plate just might provide more value long term to the organization than the low level prospects he would garner in a trade.
Elias has proven that he will do what is in the best interest of the future of the Orioles. The club’s improved farm system is proof of that. If a deal involving Alberto would contribute to that mission, he will surely pull the trigger. But the likelihood of that happening before this summer’s deadline appears remote.