The big news in the baseball world today comes out of two of the quieter baseball markets in the country. The San Diego Padres, coming off a last place finish and mired in a rebuilding process, sent top pitcher Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for two impact players and two highly touted prospects.
The Reds paid dearly for the young, well-refined Latos who, at 24 years old, was already the ace of the Padres rotation.
Cincinnati sent right handed pitcher Edinson Volquez, first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal and right-hander Brad Boxberger. Volquez won 17 games in 2008, but has faced endless challenges ever since emerging as a power arm.
Alonso, a highly touted first baseman with good power numbers in the minors never quite found his groove after being blocked by Joey Votto and plopped in left field by manager Dusty Baker. The two prospects, Boxberger and Grandal, are both 23 years old and the Reds 2009 and 2010 1st round draft picks respectively.
Boxberger is a hard throwing starting pitcher with good upside, projecting to be a middle of the rotation guy with smooth mechanics. Grandal, a switch-hitting and athletic University of Miami graduate, has impressed thus far in the minors, averaging just about .300 at all levels he has played at.
However, with Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco blocking his path to the majors, there was little he could do to even get playing time at Triple-A.
So who got the better deal in this major trade? Do the Reds make out like a bandit, stealing a Cy Young pitcher for unproven prospects and failed projects? Could Reds GM Walt Jocketty be writing his own script to how to overcome both the NL Central winning Milwaukee Brewers and defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals?
Latos will provide the Reds with a one-two punch alongside homegrown ace Johnny Cueto. The fact that Latos is so young also helps in his contract status, as he is under the Reds control for the next four seasons at a fraction of the rate he would command on the free agent market.
Latos has the power arm that can silence bats in the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark, but how significantly his numbers will rise switching from the ultimate pitchers paradise in Petco Park to the banks of the Ohio River are yet to be seen.
With Latos walking into a respectable rotation that also includes Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Bronson Arroyo, the Reds will have a deep and talented rotation coming into 2012. They have needed all the depth they can get in years past, as Arroyo has fought numerous ailments and last season Cueto began the season on the disabled list.
Latos is coming off of a down year, going 9-14. He had no run support but failed to have the same dominance on the mound as in 2010; his ERA rose by a half run to 3.47. Latos has just not been around long enough for Jocketty to be making this big of an investment in him.
There is no evidence that Latos will not regress even further this upcoming year, as even more hitters figure him out.
Coupled with a transition to perhaps the most hitter-friendly confines in the National League, this could backfire on the Reds in a serious way. Although the Reds have plenty of offensive depth to trade away Alonso and Grandal, those are two potential All-Stars at their respective positions and will help the Padres become contenders again in the usually weak NL Western division.
The sheer amount that the Reds are giving up for Latos makes the Padres instant winners in this deal. Looking into the future, the Padres should be able to mold their team for the next decade around these four new acquisitions.
Perhaps Walt Jocketty might be seen as a genius for making this jaw-dropping move, but this could be the beginning of his demise and the beginning of the rise of the Padres. I believe the Padres will be looking back next season and laughing about how they stole numerous All-Stars, Silver Sluggers and quality pitchers away from the Reds squad who still could not get over the hump.
Yonder Alonso will be a force in the middle of the lineup for many years. The Padres had a very weak lineup last season, and Alonzo will come into batting cleanup immediately. Jesus Guzman, the Padres 2010 first basemen, was mediocre at best and might have to either reposition himself or find himself on the bench.
With Cameron Maybin providing a spark at the top of the lineup, hopefully Alonso and Grandal will have runners to knock in. Grandal is an extremely athletic catcher that has speed, agility and good power to all fields. Although not the highest projectable catcher in the minors, his impressive offensive numbers speak for themselves.
He had 80 RBIs and 15 home runs in his first professional season.
Boxberger will probably begin the year at Triple-A Portland for a little more seasoning before debuting at the end of 2012 or perhaps even 2013. Volquez will be thrust into the rotation in a last ditch effort to save his once bright future.
If Volquez fails to produce at a high quality, the Padres rotation will be severely damaged as they have already lost starter Aaron Harang to the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
With the departure of Latos, Tim Stauffer and Cory Luebke will battle for top spot in the rotation. Up and coming Anthony Bass and Dustin Moseley will round out the Padres rotation, which was fairly strong in comparison to how disappointing the rest of the squad was in 2011.
This huge pickup for the Padres makes them instantly better and more exciting to follow as we move into 2012 and begin to start to see a clearer picture of what teams will look like next season.
One thing is certain: if the new Padres can perform well quickly after adjusting to life in spacious Petco Park, it will not matter how well Mat Latos does because the Padres will have an entire foundation of producers.
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