December 19, 2011
Santa Comes Early for San Diego
Acquired RHP Mat Latos from the Padres for 1B-L Yonder Alonso, C-S Yasmani Grandal, RHP Edinson Volquez, and RHP Brad Boxberger. [12/17]
Two days ago, Anthony Witrado of Sporting News reported that Walt Jocketty warned the Reds’ employees that deals could be forthcoming. With rumors swirling about names like James Shields and Gio Gonzalez, Jocketty made a deal out of left field and proved to be a man of his word in acquiring Latos for a bundle of goods.
Latos, who turned 24 years old just eight days ago, is a veteran of more than 425 innings. Over those innings, his earned run average is 3.37, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.06, and his Wins Above Replacement Player tally is 6.8. Such a WARP score places him 39th highest among the 134 pitchers with 50 or more starts since 2009. Should you consider WARP per game started—a fair solution given the inherent start differential between the pitchers—Latos moves up to 29th.
Labeling any given pitcher an ace is a subjective science and falls back on some Hall of Fame voting debates. Does one favor a large ace family, or one that consists of a half-dozen pitchers at most? Can an ace truly be an ace without non-component measures—and what of those aces without the good component measures? Those are questions with answers best left to the individual. Just know that, in addition to Latos’s decent, not great WARP rank, he has the 53rd highest adjusted-earned run average—placing him with company such as Matt Garza and Edwin Jackson. Latos’s 3.06 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks 29th and looks better given the company ahead of him (Tim Lincecum and C.C. Sabathia) than directly behind him (Colby Lewis and Joe Blanton).
Those who enjoy a large ace family will include Latos; others will not. That is not to imply Latos cannot move himself up in the ranks, just that, for now, his performances do not indicate he is better than a top-30-to-35 starting pitcher. Further hurting Latos’s case is PETCO Park. Fair or unfair, there is a natural inclination to place more emphasis on a pitcher’s road numbers when he throws inside a cavernous home ballpark. Therefore, Latos’s 3.57 road earned run average and reduced strikeout-to-walk ratio are going to get play.
Even if Latos is merely a good pitcher and not an ace, this trade is a boost to the Reds. He is under control for the next four seasons with one cheap season remaining, having not yet reached arbitration. Should Johnny Cueto take a step back, you could argue that Latos is the Reds’ best starter already. And, given the cost, that makes it a smart move for a club looking to win now. Besides, Alonso and Grandal amounted to talented but extraneous parts in an organization with Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco at the top.
Jocketty has consummated a fair number of brazen deals in his days in St. Louis designed to push his Cardinal teams over the hump, from Mark McGwire to Scott Rolen to Jim Edmonds to Mark Mulder. Latos might not be the final puzzle piece separating the Reds from the World Series, but he puts them closer to the trophy than they were before the trade.
Acquired 1B-L Yonder Alonso, C-S Yasmani Grandal, RHP Edinson Volquez, and RHP Brad Boxberger from the Reds for RHP Mat Latos. [12/17]
Josh Byrnes’s first big trade as Padres’ general manager nets the club three former first-round picks and a former All-Star.
Let’s start with the All-Star first. In Volquez’s first season with the Reds, after being acquired for Josh Hamilton, he made the midsummer classic and finished with a fancy 17-6 record and 3.21 earned run average in 196 innings pitched. Three seasons later, Volquez managed to add just 221 innings to his Reds’ career and held a bloated 5.01 earned run average in those innings. Volquez still strikes batters out (about one per inning pitched), but obese walk and home run rates have gotten between him and success—as did Tommy John surgery and a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Volquez is still two seasons from free agency, and the Padres are hoping a move to PETCO will soothe his woes. The Reds had one of the league’s better defenses per park-adjusted defensive efficiency (PADE), yet the Padres were even better (1.98 versus 1.27). Even so, the Reds did turn groundballs into outs at a higher rate—a factoid that means the groundball-heavy Volquez will not magically see his batting average on balls in play regress thanks to improved defensive assistance. It looks like the Padres are making an upside play in hoping that Volquez can bounce back to his pre-surgery and pre-suspension form. If so, he could become a valuable commodity in the trade market.
When Volquez leaves a start, manager Bud Black could be handing the ball over to another piece of this trade in Boxberger. The Reds moved Boxberger to the bullpen in 2010 as a way to curb his innings and then left him there in 2011. Boxberger’s control issues, stemming from inconsistent mechanics, make him a better fit for the pen, as does his gaudy strikeout numbers that saw him reach 13.5 punch-outs per nine innings pitched in over 60 innings between Double- and Triple-A. Boxberger lacks the heat of a normal late-inning reliever with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, and his calling card as a starter was arsenal depth rather than arsenal quality.
Of the two positional players in the trade, Grandal is the better prospect. Kevin Goldstein ranked him as the 30th-best prospect in the majors at the midseason point—and for good reason. Grandal is a switch-hitting backstop who showed an advanced approach at the plate with contact and power skills across High- and Double-A this season. Should he continue to develop like expected, he could become a middle of the order bat. Given his position, that makes him a rarity. For now, expect Nick Hundley to be the Padres’ starting backstop and for Grandal to get a larger taste of life in Triple-A. It would not be too surprising if the budget-conscious Padres trade Hundley to make room for Grandal within the next 10-to-12 months.
Similarly, it would not be too surprising if the Padres trade a first baseman before long. Alonso, like Grandal, is a former top-12 pick from the University of Miami via Cuba. Despite the pedigree, Alonso lacks the prototypical power associated with first baseman. He relies instead on walks and line drives that result in doubles more so than home runs. Given that Alonso turns 25 early in the season, he should be the favorite to win an opening day starting job. Byrnes must decide what to do with the other two first base prospects in the system in Kyle Blanks who, like Alonso, masqueraded as an outfielder to get into the majors in light of a better first baseman, and the young Anthony Rizzo.
Rizzo is already the subject of speculation and could find himself on the move just a year after coming to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He accumulated 153 plate appearances for the Padres and posted a 523 OPS, leading some to wonder aloud if he was nothing more than Hee-Seop Choi redux. A 2011 line in Triple-A of .331/.404/.652 either supports or negates that accusation, depending on your perspective. Alternatively, the Padres could store Rizzo in the minors and decide what to do with their first base jam in the future.
If nothing else, the Padres’ farm system—which already featured nine four-star prospects—just added some additional talent. Things might not be pretty for the major league team in 2012, but San Diego could come to mean “loaded” in German from 2013 onward.