With Albert Pujols in Anaheim and Prince Fielder with one foot out the door in Milwaukee, the landscape of the NL Central changed pretty dramatically. Essentially the door marked, “Come compete for the division crown” has opened itself up a tad, and the Cincinnati Reds are paying attention.
Reds’ starting pitching yielded a 4.47 ERA in 2011 which ranked 12th out of the 16 NL ball clubs. The combined record of their rotation last year(50-55) also doesn’t look so hot when you compare it to their division counterparts – [St. Louis - 62-42 & Milwaukee - 73-43.]
Saturday the Reds attempted to answer this dilemma by acquiring 24-year-old Mat Latos from the Padres. However, as you all know by now, the price tag was teetering on the edge of out-of-control. Edinson Volquez and three dynamite prospects Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger are all packing their bags for sunny southern California.
Losing two prospects the caliber of Alonzo and Grandal must have been a tough pill to swallow for Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty, even if they were facing impenetrable position blocks. But Jocketty’s justification can be found in this quote via Jon Morosi on twitter.
“We Consider him(Latos) to be a potential number one starter, who, contractually, we have under control for four more years.”
Considering Cincinnati’s tight budget, thus making it difficult to throw money around at top free-agent pitchers, a trade needed to be in the works. And if you also consider Jocketty’s stance on Latos regarding the possibility of him being a number one type pitcher, then the justification is legit.
Is Latos a number one starter right now? It’s kind of a subjective question, but the answer has to be no. Can he be a legitimate number one in a year or two? I don’t think so. His stuff just doesn’t seem to have the requisite filthiness to be considered ace worthy, and for me it starts with the fastball. A guy who can touch 94 on the gun is certainly no slouch, but perhaps due to the lack of crazy movement on the pitch, and the fact it doesn’t sit in the high 90s, I don’t find it to be a jaw-dropping offering. I’d say it’s a plus fastball, but it can’t be considered game-changing or deadly.
But if I’m a Reds fan I’m a long ways from slitting my wrist over this trade. Just because Latos lacks the goods of an ace, doesn’t mean he’s going to do anything but mow down hitters in the NL Central.
Mat Latos: The Goods
1. He might not have King Felix’s skill set, James Shields’ changeup or Roy Halladay’s control, but he did have a better strikeout rate then all three of these guys in 2011 (8.47 K/9). The ability to miss bats is real, and this is a good thing for any pitcher.
2. While Mat Latos lacks that one off-the-charts pitch, his four pitches(fastball, curve, slider, change) are all above average. He will get a lot of swings and misses from the curve and the slider in particular, which seem to be his bread and butter pitches.
3. I love his mound presence. He doesn’t seem to get rattled unless he’s walking off the diamond after giving up a run, in which case he gets pissed ala Verlander. There was a particular moment at Chase Field in September when he even screamed at himself for giving up a long fly ball out to end an inning. He is a very confident 24-year-old who feels he can always do better.
4. Latos appears to get tougher as the year goes on, which may be a nice benefit to a team looking to make a push for the playoffs. In 2010 and 2011 his K/BB ratio peaked in September.
5. I couldn’t finish of this article without mentioning the most enormous ballpark in the history of mankind. Yes Mat Latos does see a jump in his career road ERA(3.57 compared to 3.11 at Petco). But consider this – in his 185.1 innings at Petco Park he has allowed 17 home runs. Now in is career he has pitched 244.1 innings on the road and only given up 22 homers. You would think that number would be a little higher. Leaving Petco for Great American Ballpark will put a dent in his shiny numbers at some point, but that dent shouldn’t be alarming.
It’s funny when people see a trade and their initial reaction triggers a sense of panic. As I watched the reactions unfold on twitter yesterday neither side was thrilled at first. Padres fans were pissed off they lost Latos, and Cincy was up in arms they just emptied the meat and potatoes of their farm system. My personal knee-jerk reaction was Mat Latos better be a number one starter. But he doesn’t have to be to make an impact in Cincy justifying the package sent to San Diego – remember they did send over positions of excess. There are guys you’d consider second in command like Ivan Nova, Doug Fister and Jaime Garcia(in his case third in command when Wainwright returns), who make gigantic impacts on their teams.
So while Latos may never wind up being labeled an ace by the mass media, that certainly doesn’t make this trade bunk for the Reds. I think Mat Latos will work out just fine, and the Reds took a significant step towards being competitive again.
Follow Mickey Brignall on Twitter @mickey_baseball