The Cincinnati Reds needed a strong fresh face in the starting rotation and they made their commitment to Mat Latos Saturday when they traded four players for the young San Diego Padre right-hander. That’s a leap of faith that will either leave Reds general manager Walt Jocketty looking like a genius or a fool. There’s a lot riding on Latos’ shoulders.
Surrendering sometimes slugger Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and pitchers Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez is a major price to pay for Latos, who at 24 is still being evaluated mostly on potential rather than his performance, even if he did go 9-14 with a 3.47 earned run average in 194 1/3 innings last season. Latos could be hot stuff for Cincinnati, the magic man to propel the Reds back into the playoffs, or he might go 9-14 all over again.
Jocketty is operating on the assumption that Lato’s won-loss record was not an accurate reflection of his effectiveness, but more a reflection of him being a Padre. Right-handed batters hit just .204 against Latos in 2011 and he was deemed to have recorded 20 quality starts. At his tender age Latos has already spent three years in the majors. His lifetime mark is 27-29, with a 14-10 record in 2o10 his most notable. His career ERA is 3.37. Presumably, with a hard-hitting lineup behind him–which the Reds possess–he could be a big winner.
Starting pitching was the Reds’ main weakness last summer, but injuries played a big part in that. This trade indicates that Cincinnati gave up on Volquez, who not so very long ago figured to contend as ace of the staff. The Dominican right-hander is only 28, but he has been in the majors since he was 21. In 2008, after coming over from Texas, Volquez went 17-6 for the Reds with a 3.21 ERA. But he has not won more than five games in a season since. He has been Mr. Disabled List instead.
Although Volquez finished just 5-7 with a 5.71 ERA in 2011, a healthy version matching his old self could haunt the Reds. Clearly, the Reds concluded that the 2008 season was a fluke, not a trend. They have paid heavily for Volquez’s truncated seasons since and made the decision to cut ties, even if he does return to top form.
Boxberger posted a 2.03 ERA, split between AA and AAA, so he could find his way to the majors. Grandal’s only showing was in Class A, so it’s too soon to get a reading on whether or not he will pan out. Alonso is only 24 and in limited Reds action he did hit .330 last year. However, his best position is first base and he is not going to budge Joey Votto out of that job. That made him expendable, but of those traded away by the Reds there seems to be a bigger chance that the change of scenery will most benefit Alonso. He has good power and with more opportunity he may blossom into a contributing regular.
If Volquez stagnates the way he has for three seasons, if Grandal stalls in the minors, and if Boxberger either never makes the majors or ends up as a periodically used setup man, then the Reds won’t really mind if Alonso becomes a .280/20-homer man. That is, provided that Latos matures into an 18- or 20-game winner. No pressure, Mat, buddy.