Reds Trade for Mat Latos

Because I’m sure everyone wants to hear my thoughts on this, I thought I’d draft a short post outlining how I feel about the recent trade between the Reds and Padres.  The Reds, this afternoon parted with much of their valuable farm system in order to acquire Mat Latos, a 24 year old starting pitcher from San Diego.  To get Latos, the Reds gave up 1B Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal, RP Brad Boxberger, and SP Edinson Volquez.  It’s a lot, and I’m sure the Reds were hesitant to pull the trigger, but I think it was what they needed.

I’ve read a lot of reactions to the trade, some good and some bad.  In general, people seem to think the Reds have given up too much.  Volquez has had his troubles last year, but the other three guys are all 1st round picks.  Grandal is one of the best 5 catching prospects in the minor leagues.  Alonso hit well in the minor leagues and showed some really ability in a short 90 or so at bat stint at the end of last year.  The problem with both of these guys is that they are blocked by better players, Mesoraco and Votto.

Votto needs no real explanation as he’s already won an MVP and had another top 10 finish in 2011.  Alonso has shown real potential, but he was no good in his attempts in LF and it just didn’t make sense to hold on to such a valuable trade chip.  Everyone in the universe knew the Reds were trying to trade him.  Mesoraco is maybe the best catching prospect in baseball (with respect to Yankees’ Jesus Montero) and thus Grandal was expendable.  I’ve seen talent evaluators, specifically ESPNs Keith Law not that he’s going to be a star.  He can hit for power and catches a pretty good game.  Grandal could be a stud too, and he’s a switch hitter, but he hasn’t been the system as long and just isn’t ready to step into the starting spot like Meso is.

Boxberger is actually the guy that I wanted to step in for the Reds and close this year.  Now that the Reds were able to jettison CoCo Cordero’s contract they need someone to close and I thought Boxberger seemed the most logical choice.  Many people thought he couldn’t because he’s a rookie, but that’s just bull.  Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year was a closer (Kimbrel) and 2010’s AL ROY was a closer, too, Neftali Feliz.  Anyway, it didn’t appear the Reds were willing to do this, so they may as well have used him for the trade.  Edinson Volquez has lost his enamor with myself and most other Reds fans, so I’m glad the Padres were willing to take him, frankly.

So this is a lot to give up, right?  Yes, but I think the risk is worthy for a few reasons.  One, the Reds didn’t do anything to hurt themselves for 2011.  Alonso was likely going to be in LF and while the guy can rake, his defense was likely to limit the value of his contributions.  Personally, I think if Chris Heisey is given a chance to start full time he can provide the same, maybe slightly less, value than what Alonso would offer.  The Reds had no interest in Boxberger as a closer and while he may have been effective in middle relief, he should be fairly easy to replace.  Grandal, as mentioned wouldn’t see daylight in the bigs and Volquez just couldn’t be relied upon to do anything good.

The other reason I believe this to be a worthy risk is that the Reds have, basically, a two year window to try and push for a championship while they have Votto at first base.  Votto has not ruled out signing a long term extension with the Reds, but you have to think the Reds won’t be able to afford him.  Pujols just got in excess of 25 million a year over 10 years and when Votto hits free agency he’ll be a younger, almost as good version of  El Hombre.  Prince Fielder is also looking for an 8+ year contract north of 200 million, which sets the bar pretty high.  It just doesn’t look good and maybe the Reds realize it.  They have probably the best hitter in the National League for two more years; they have to make them count.

This is all without really having examined what the Reds have gotten in return.  I can’t get into the detail nearly as well as what others have, so feel free to go read Dave Cameron’s take on the trade; it’s really good analysis.  The bottom line is that Latos has shown over the last two years to be the kind of pitcher that can sustain success regardless of ballpark.  He throws strikes, showing a strong K/BB ratio, hits as high on the gun as 97, is equally effective to against righties and lefties, and most importantly, is under team control for the next 4 years, not even being arbitration eligible until after the 2012 season.

There are question marks around Latos.  He may be a bit crazy.  He’s been noted as being immature (what 24 year old isn’t?) and I believe he initially fell in the amateur draft because of his attitude.  But I also think that he could turn it around and with the strong clubhouse guys like Arroyo, Votto, and Rolen he may be just fine.  There is also concern that he started 2011 on the DL with shoulder bursitis, which is never good for a pitcher.  One concern that I don’t buy into, however, is that he was a product of Petco Park and its questionable how he’ll do in a small park like GABP.  His home/road splits are very similar and with his high strike out rates and ability to throw 4 quality pitches should allow him to be just as effective (maybe slightly less) as when he was in San Diego.

Ultimately, time will be the judge of this trade; nobody knows if Latos can continue, although as noted, the underlying stats, it appears he can.  And nobody knows if the prospects sent over there will amount to anything.  The Reds clearly feel they need to go for it now and Walt Jocketty has said he’s still trying to make other moves.  One underrated part of this trade is that it opens up about 3 million dollars for this year, so improvements can still be made.  Let’s also not forget that with Pujols out of the division, Fielder likely to go elsewhere, the NL Central is wide open.  This could be the perfect storm for the Reds to swoop in and really do some damage.

Also, Jim Bowden hates the deal for the Reds, so it’s probably the best deal ever.

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