Mat Latos Trade a Poor Fit for Both Sides

Just a couple days ago, the Reds swapped a huge talent package to pick up Padres’ starter Mat Latos. It’s no surprise for the Reds to dip into the pitching market, as their 3.89 team SIERA beat only the Pirates among NL clubs last season. Given the Padres current state, dumping current talent for future potential is also to be expected as they begin what could be a fairly extended rebuilding process.

However, I don’t believe this trade effectively fit the needs of either team. Other pitchers on the market could be better matches for the Reds, while the key prospects in this deal directly block other talented youngsters who otherwise could have been a huge part of the team’s future.

The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati has long been knows as one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. This continues to be true, as Statcorner’s park factors have it inflating home run production by 20% for lefties and an astronomical 33% for righties. Of course, any pitcher Cincinnati acquires will have to contend with these issues, but Latos is worse-suited to coping with the explosive run environment than many other pitchers that the Reds could have pursued. In order to look at all high-profile pitchers who have been rumored as trade candidates this offseason, I’ve constructed a Fangraphs Custom Report comparing Latos, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrjens, Wandy Rodriguez, James Shields, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd. Latos’ 2011 FB% is dead last on the list, at 41.1%. Since he plays in San Diego’s spacious Petco Park, that hasn’t been a huge issue for him. The park’s home run factors, again from Statcorner, are 31% below average for lefties and 5% below average for righties. While Latos hasn’t been hurt by his high flyball rates in his time with the Padres, that’s likely to change in Cincinnati. When Aaron Harang signed in San Diego for the 2011 season, his HR/FB dropped from a career 11.3% rate in eight seasons with Cincy to 9.4% in his first campaign with the Friars. As Latos completes the reverse move to the homer-happy Great American Ballpark, he will likely experience a big increase in the number of gopher balls he gives up. If the Reds had pursued a pitcher with a lower fly ball rate, that would have been less of an issue. Gio Gonzalez, probably the best pitcher currently available on the trade market, gives up flyballs at a rate of only 34.1%, While the A’s will require a huge package in exchange for Gonzalez, the players the Reds gave up in exchange for Latos would probably come close to getting a deal done. Latos is likely to be successful and productive in Cincinnati, but the Reds are paying for an ace in giving up a couple of extremely valuable prospects, and Latos is being put in a situation where his environment makes it hard to believe he’ll ever reach his that ace potential.

From the Padres’ side, this deal looks a little better, but I’m surprised that they couldn’t find a package of players from another team they liked more. Volquez’s high walk totals have prevented him from making use of his solid strikeout rates up to this point in his career, but it’s possible that a move to greener pastures in pitcher-friendly Petco will allow him to take a step forward. He won’t replace Latos, but he’s a nice piece to help solidify the back end of the Padres rotation. Anyway, he’s not the centerpiece of this trade.

The man who is, Yonder Alonso, probably benefits more than anyone else in the deal. Alonso, a first baseman by trade, spent most of the last couple years learning to play left field at the Reds triple-A affiliate in Louisville, as his path to the majors is blocked by Joey Votto. Votto’s 27 and has an MVP and two All-Star appearances under his belt, so he’s not going anywhere soon. In San Diego, Alonso will have a chance to compete for a big-league job as soon as he gets to Spring Training, and if he performs at anything near the level he’s capable of will soon be their first baseman of the present, as well as the future. However, this immediately begs the question of the fate of the Pads’ former first baseman of the future, Anthony Rizzo. At 21, Rizzo made his major league debut in 2011 and was clearly overmatched. However, with some seasoning in the minors, Rizzo should eventually be an extremely talented MLB first baseman, as evidenced by his spot atop Baseball America’s 2012 (pre-Latos trade) top 10 Padres prospect rankings. With Alonso in the fold, it now looks more than likely that if that should happen it won’t be in San Diego. The Cubs and Rays have expressed interest, and the Padres are likely to receive calls from a number of GMs looking to capitalize on his potential availability.

The Padres also acquired talented Cuban catcher Yasmani Grandal. The 23-year-old Grandal jumped all the way from low A, to double-A, to the Reds’ triple-A affiliate last season. However, he only appeared in triple-A at the end of the season, and the Padres will likely start him in triple-A next season, with a possible call-up contingent on Grandal’s performance in the minors. However, this is also problematic because of Austin Hedges, the team’s 5th-best prospect and 2nd-round draft pick in 2011. Hedges, a first-round prospect on talent alone, fell because of his commitment to UCLA, but the Padres eventually signed him by offering Hedges a larger signing bonus then either of the team’s first two picks, at $3M. That $3M bonus was the 9th highest in the draft overall, and the most money paid to any catcher in 2011. Hedges is regarded as an excellent defensive catcher with considerable offensive potential, with a chance to reach the big leagues by 2014. Although, as my beloved Giants learned the hard way last season, too much catching depth is never a bad thing, if Grandal’s and Hedges’ development both continue as expected, one will need to find a new position or a new team.

The final piece of the Reds’ package for Latos is relief prospect Brad Boxberger. Boxberger is being touted as a long-term replacement for new Marlin Heath Bell. His 2011 season was extremely impressive, and a Major League debut in 2012 is certainly not out of the question.

A calling card for the games of both Alonso and Grandal is their power, and both bat lefthanded (although Grandal is a switch-hitter). Remember, San Diego’s park cuts home runs by 31% for lefties. In the Padres’ massive park, their power will be suppressed, leading me to believe their value might be greater to other teams, including the Reds. The Padres could maximize their return by adding pitching prospects or players with the speed to take advantage of Petco’s deep gaps, but adding players who derive significant value from their pop puts those players in a park that will take away from their ability to be successful for half of their games.

The package of prospects the Padres acquired is certainly talented, and I’d agree with the majority of baseball people who believe that San Diego won this trade. However, with such a valuable commodity to move, I’m surprised that they couldn’t find a package of prospects who fit into their future plans, rather than a package that they have to rearrange their future plans significantly for. However, they’ll be able to deal their blocked prospects to receive prospects or players of equal value at other positions, and Alonso, Grandal, and Boxburger could make a big impact sooner rather than later.

On the Reds side, however, they’re giving up a lot of talented players in return for a pitcher ill-suited to their home park. While Latos is young, controllable, and undoubtedly promising, the Reds might have done better to find another pitcher who can keep the ball on the ground a little more effectively. The prospect package the Reds gave up has immense value, and represents a huge investment. In Cincinnati, the potential for Latos’ home runs allowed to rise significantly makes him an unknown quantity. Their 4-player package is a lot to gamble on a player who may have trouble finding success in your home park.

Tags: Brad Boxberger Edinson Volquez Mat Latos Yasmani Grandal Yonder Alonso

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