Mat Latos Rumors

Central Links: Reds, Cubs, Avila, Tigers, Tomas, Butler

Reds GM Walt Jocketty is of the mindset that his team will need to either be “all in” or “all out” in 2015, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. In other words, if the Reds decide to trade one of four starters who is eligible for free agency following the 2015 season — Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon — others may very well follow. Sherman lists Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman as names to watch if Cincinnati does elect to go into a full rebuild. Both can be free agents after 2016, though the Reds have a club option on Bruce for the 2017 season.

Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…

  • Sherman also tweets that the Cubs aren’t likely to spend big on a closer this winter, which seemingly eliminates a potential suitor for David Robertson. Earlier today, reports indicated that Robertson is seeking a contract comparable to Jonathan Papelbon‘s four-year, $50MM contract.
  • The Tigers are willing to listen to offers on Alex Avila, tweets the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Avila has a $5.4MM club option for his final arb year and was projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn the same amount in arbitration. Cafardo notes that the Braves and Red Sox are both looking for left-handed bats. While both have inexperienced catchers (Christian Bethancourt and Christian Vasquez, respectively), adding Avila would limit each team’s ability to get an extended look at how their young backstop handles a full workload.
  • John Manuel of Baseball America tweets that the Tigers‘ defense up the middle in 2015 could be special with Jose Iglesias and the newly acquired Anthony Gose. He also notes that Devon Travis, who went to the Blue Jays in the deal, now has a clear shot to Major League playing time that he may not have had in Detroit.
  • The Royals could scout Yasmany Tomas in the Dominican Republic next week, reports Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. Royals officials will be in the Dominican Republic on other business anyway and met with Tomas’ agent, Jay Alou, earlier this week at the GM Meetings. The team’s payroll could surpass the $100MM mark for the first time next season, and there’s perhaps room for one significant expenditure such as Tomas, Ervin Santana or Melky Cabrera, McCullough writes.
  • Billy Butler is receiving interest from a number of clubs — even one National League club — tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. The interest in Butler likely means that a return to the Royals isn’t the best fit, he adds. McCullough reported Tuesday that K.C. doesn’t seem inclined to go beyond two years to retain Butler.
  • Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wonders if the Brewers will consider trading a starting pitcher (Twitter link). The Brew Crew needs some payroll flexibility, and the Braves are one team that has been poking around at the GM Meetings.

NL Central Links: Hamels, Cards, Cueto, Reds

The Cubs weren’t included on Cole Hamels‘ updated 20-team no-trade list, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports (Twitter link).  The Cubs are known to be looking for top-of-the-rotation arms this winter, and the remaining four years/$96MM on Hamels’ contract would cost Chicago less than what it would take to sign a top free agent starter like Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.  On the other hand, the Cubs would have to give up multiple top prospects to obtain Hamels from the Phillies, so they could prefer to just keep their young talent and spend extra to sign a free agent ace.  The Red Sox are thus far the only team known to be on Hamels’ no-trade list.

Here’s more from around the NL Central…

  • Right field has sadly become an offseason concern for the Cardinals due to Oscar Taveras‘ untimely death, GM John Mozeliak told MLB.com’s Jen Langsoch.  “I think it certainly leaves that position in question,” Mozeliak said. “Clearly internally, we have [Randal] Grichuk and potentially [Stephen] Piscotty to fill that spot. I would also say that it does now force us to explore other options, whether it’s the free-agent market or the trade market….I’m not saying it’s a must, but I also think we need to be prudent and make sure that we understand what that landscape looks like.”  The Cards will explore both short-term and long-term options in RF, Mozeliak said.  Out of respect for Taveras, Mozeliak waited a week after the outfielder’s passing to begin making calls to agents and general managers, Langosch writes.
  • The Reds “are listening” to offers for their starting pitchers but ace Johnny Cueto seems the least likely to be moved, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports.  Cincinnati would probably have to be “absolutely overwhelmed” to deal Cueto, Heyman writes, as the team plans to contend in 2015.
  • Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan also hears that Cueto is unlikely to be traded, though rival executives tell Passan (Twitter link) that the Reds are willing to discuss trading Mat Latos and Mike Leake.
  • The Reds are “at [a] fascinating crossroads,” FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal notes in a series of tweets.  If the Reds deal Cueto, they might as well deal Aroldis Chapman too as part of a rebuild, Rosenthal opines.  Attendance and the fact that they’re hosting the All-Star Game could make 2015 a bit of a “buffer” year for the Reds, though Rosenthal points out that the team might not want to rebuild in a season when they’re hosting the Midsummer Classic.  Back in September, I explored Cincinnati’s trade options with their rotation members in a Trade Candidates piece.
  • Major League Baseball has opened an investigation into whether or not the Cubs tampered with Joe Maddon when he was still under contract with the Rays, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports.  The Rays asked MLB to investigate last week.  “There was no tampering whatsoever,” Cubs president Theo Epstein told reporters (including ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers).  “I’d rather they investigate so we can clear our name and move on from this quickly. We’re giving our full cooperation and we welcome it.”

Central Notes: Maddon, Vogelbach, Hunter, Latos

Prior to being hired by the Cubs, manager Joe Maddon reached out to the Rays with an “olive branch” offer that is believed to be for less guaranteed money than he received from the Cubs, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Heyman writes, however, that even Maddon’s lighter offer was more than the team was willing or able to pay. The Rays offered Maddon an annual salary approaching $3MM, Heyman continues, which would have represented a raise from his previous $1.8MM salary. Of course, that number is still well shy of Maddon’s reported five-year, $25MM deal with the Cubs. Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, recently appeared on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden and said that the Cubs verified the opt-out and received permission from the league before reaching out regarding Maddon’s availability, calling accusations of tampering “insulting.”

Here’s more on the Cubs and the game’s central divisions…

  • The Cubs are rich with hitting prospects, but one whose future with the team is a bit cloudy is first baseman Dan Vogelbach writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times in a piece for Baseball America. As Wittenmyer notes, Vogelbach is seen by the Cubs (and other clubs) as a first baseman only, and he has Anthony Rizzo to serve as a firm roadblock to the Majors. The Cubs have already fielded calls on his availability in trades, writes Wittenmyer, who notes that Vogelbach, formerly listed at 6’0″ and 250 pounds, dropped 30 pounds and improved a good deal defensively this season. He does note that the improvement took him merely from “unplayable” to “below average.” Vogelbach recovered from a slow start at High-A to hit .285/.373/.461 over his final 115 games.
  • Two A.L. Central teams — if not more — could be among the key competitors for the services of veteran outfielder Torii Hunter. Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweeted last night that the Twins are “already in on” Hunter. And Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports on Twitter that there is mutual interest in a reunion with the Tigers.
  • Reds starter Mat Latos tells MLB Network Radio (Twitter link) that he has not had any extension discussions with the club. Nevertheless, Latos — who stands to reach free agency after the coming season — said he would be interested in trying to find agreement on a new contract if Cincinnati is willing to talk.


Trade Candidate(s): The Reds’ Starting Pitchers

The Reds’ hopes of challenging in the NL Central were dimmed by several major injuries this year, and this visit from the injury bug was particularly damaging to a team who already faced some big decisions in the offseason.  With just over $71MM committed to 10 players on the 2015 payroll, the mid-market Reds may be forced to save some money by moving a starting pitcher.  Though Cincinnati’s durable and deep rotation has been a big part of the club’s success in recent years, pitching seems like a natural area for payroll reduction simply due to the fact that three starters will enter their third year of arbitration eligibility.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Baltimore OriolesTwo pitchers who won’t be dealt are Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani.  The Reds have already committed to Bailey in the form of a six-year, $105MM extension, and wouldn’t have been likely to move him even if Bailey hadn’t recently undergone forearm surgery.  Cingrani has also had injury problems, spending most of 2014 on the DL with shoulder problems.  Had Cingrani been able to build off of his impressive 2013 rookie season, the Reds would’ve felt at least a bit better about trading one of their more established starters (Bronson Arroyo wasn’t re-signed last winter in part because the Reds were comfortable with Cingrani).

It’s possible Cincinnati could trade multiple starters, though I’d suspect that the team wouldn’t want to lose too much pitching depth until they know Bailey and Cingrani are fully healthy.  The Reds would probably rather not have David Holmberg or Dylan Axelrod as full-time rotation members next year, top prospect Robert Stephenson still needs some seasoning (a 4.74 ERA in 136 2/3 IP at Double-A in 2014) and the newly-signed Raisel Iglesias could still wind up in the bullpen.

The Reds’ other four pitchers are all controlled only through 2015, so the team likely wouldn’t score a truly huge return in a trade but all carry value even as one-year pitchers.  The candidates…

Johnny Cueto: The Reds have a $10MM option on Cueto for 2015 that is sure to be exercised given how well Cueto has pitched.  After an injury-shorted 2013, Cueto bounced back in a major way by posting a 2.15 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.73 K/BB rate over a league-leading 222 innings.

Cueto’s next contract will be in the nine-figure range, and it’s unclear if the Reds would be willing ink another major extension given how much money has been tied up in recent deals with Bailey, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.  Cueto would net the biggest return in a trade, though moving their ace would seem to hint that the Reds are punting on 2015, which I doubt they’re prepared to do.  On the other hand, the Reds could trade Cueto for Major League parts (such what the Rays and Red Sox received for David Price, John Lackey and Jon Lester before last July’s trade deadline) and use a Cueto deal to reload rather than rebuild.

Keeping Cueto would give the Reds stability at the top of their rotation, and they could still explore dealing Cueto at next year’s trade deadline if they fall out of the race.  If they’re contending and wanted to keep Cueto, Cincinnati could then get a compensatory draft pick via the qualifying offer if he leaves in free agency after the 2015 season.

In a recent Insider-only piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney recently explored Cueto’s trade market and raised the possibility that the Reds could clear some payroll space by attaching Phillips, for example, to Cueto in a trade package.  With several notable starters available as free agents this winter, Olney believes some teams might prefer trading for a year of Cueto rather than making an expensive multiyear commitment for an ace on the open market.  Also, a contending team that potentially loses their ace in free agency (such as if Max Scherzer leaves the Tigers or James Shields leaves the Royals) could look to Cueto as a short-term replacement to keep their rotation strong for another run in 2015.

Mat Latos: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently cited Latos as perhaps the likeliest of the Reds’ starters to be dealt, as both Latos and Cueto can make a case for commanding an extension larger than Bailey’s deal.  While Cueto is two years older than Latos, presumably the Reds would be more inclined to extend their homegrown product than they would Latos, who missed part of 2014 with an elbow injury.  Latos has a 3.25 ERA in 102 1/3 IP this year, though ERA indicators show that he hasn’t pitched quite that well (3.64 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 4.08 SIERA) and both his ground ball and strikeout rates dropped significantly below his career averages.  The right-hander’s average fastball velocity also dropped to 90.7 mph, down from 92.5 mph in 2013.

The Reds already tested the market for Latos at the trade deadline, so I tend to agree with Rosenthal that if a Cincy starter is moved, it’ll probably be Latos.  His declined numbers could be explained by his elbow issues, and if fully healthy, Latos could be a standout front-of-the-rotation starter for several teams.  He earned $7.25MM in 2014 in the last year of a two-year extension, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for a third and final time this winter.

Mike Leake: Another pitcher with a third arb year remaining, Leake will get a raise from his $5.925MM salary in 2014.  The right-hander has been a reliable rotation piece over his five Major League seasons, not missing many bats (career 6.1 K/9) but inducing a lot of grounders (49.8% ground ball rate) and eating a lot of innings, averaging 191 IP over the last three years.

Leake comes with the fewest question marks of any Cincinnati starter, lacking the injury histories of Cueto and Latos but also never pitching nearly as well as those two have at their peaks.  While Leake’s ceiling in the bigs may never surpass the “solid” level (he has an even 100 ERA+ over his career), this also means that the Reds could extend him at a much lower price than Cueto or Latos.  A Leake extension could look something like the five-year, $65MM deal the White Sox gave John Danks a few years ago, as Leake and Danks are decent comparables in terms of age and career numbers to that point in their careers, plus both had one arb year left before free agency.

The Reds put Leake and Latos on revocable waivers in August, possibly in a move to gauge trade interest for the upcoming offseason.  I’d guess there’s a better chance Leake stays in Cincinnati than goes, though the Reds will certainly get interest in the durable 26-year-old.

Alfredo Simon: The big surprise of the group, the 33-year-old Simon moved from the bullpen to the rotation as an injury fill-in and wound up making his first All-Star team.  Though his performance has very much come back to earth in the second half, Simon still has a 3.48 ERA through 178 1/3 innings on the season despite a middling 5.9 K/9.

Simon is arb-eligible for the third time this winter and he’ll earn a healthy raise over his $1.5MM salary, though the raise will hardly break the bank.  Simon’s age and career track record give him a very modest amount of trade value, so it’s likely he stays with the Reds and competes for the fifth starter’s job (or returns to the pen) if and when a rotation spot opens up via trade.

With this variety of available starters and a wide variance in asking prices for each of the four pitchers, many teams could fit as potential trade partners for the Reds under the “you can never have too much pitching” argument.  If the Reds look to deal a starter and fill an everyday lineup hole at the same time, they’ll likely target a left fielder or a shortstop as upgrades on Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart, respectively.  Ludwick has a $9MM mutual option for 2015 but after two negative fWAR seasons, the Reds might instead buy him out (for a deferred $4.5MM) and look for other options.

Using these needs to speculate about trade partners, the Cubs, Diamondbacks and possibly the Indians stand out as teams with a shortstop surplus.  The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders and are known to be looking for starting pitching.  The Dodgers could finally solve their long-standing logjam in the outfield and, if it meant getting back Cueto or Latos, would be willing to eat a lot of salary on one of their high-priced outfield bats.

As Ken Rosenthal noted (video link), the Reds could employ some gamesmanship with their starters and perhaps leverage them against each other in figuring out which (if any) pitchers they want to sign over the long term.  Between these negotiations and waiting for the free agent pitching market to play out, Cincinnati might wait until January or even February to move a starter.  At this point, the only thing that seems certain about the Reds’ 2015 rotation is that at least one of Cueto, Latos, Leake or Simon won’t be on the roster come Opening Day.

Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon/USA Today Sports Images


Mat Latos, Mike Leake On Revocable Waivers

With August wrapping up, the window for teams to sneak players through revocable waivers is coming to a close. Those who are interested can check out MLBTR’s list of players that have cleared revocable waivers, and those that are still unfamiliar with revocable waivers and August trades in general can check out our August trade primer.

With that said, we’ll keep track of today’s list of players that have been placed on revocable waivers here…

  • Reds right-handers Mat Latos and Mike Leake were both placed on revocable waivers yesterday, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter links). However, a trade of either is unlikely. Cincinnati is expected to move a starter this prior to next season, says Rosenthal, but it’s unlikely to happen until they can negotiate with all 29 other clubs. (Obviously, Latos and Leake aren’t going to clear waivers.) Latos, 26, is earning $7.25MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter. He opened the year on the DL but has turned in a 2.99 ERA in 84 1/3 innings, albeit with a career-low 6.1 K/9 (his 2.5 BB/9 rate is right in line with his career marks). Leake, also 26 and arb-eligible for the final time this offseason, is earning $5.925MM in 2014. He’s posted a 3.51 ERA with 7.0 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and a career-best 54.4 percent ground-ball rate. The other 14 National League teams will have priority (in record of reverse standings) before the Cincinnati righties are exposed to the AL (also in reverse order of standings).

Rosenthal On Reds, Latos, Tomas, Gregorius

The Reds had yet to place any of their starting pitchers on waivers as of Saturday morning, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports in his weekly “Full Count” video. As Rosenthal notes, their waiver status may be a moot point, as each would likely be claimed and subsequently pulled back. More highlights regarding the Reds and the rest of the league below…

  • The real drama surrounding the Reds‘ rotation could come this offseason, as Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon will all be entering their final year of team control. The Reds will have to decide which, if any, they want to sign to a long-term deal, and Rosenthal notes that they will likely trade “at least” one. Latos is perhaps the likeliest candidate to be dealt, according to Rosenthal, who notes that both Latos and Cueto would command more than Homer Bailey‘s six-year, $105MM contract.
  • Rusney Castillo‘s six-year, $72.5MM contract with the Red Sox might not stand as the largest deal for a Cuban free agent very long. Yasmani Tomas is expected to be cleared as a free agent this offseason, and his huge raw power will be highly appealing, even if he is limited to left field, defensively speaking. As Rosenthal points out, Tomas is four years younger than Castillo and is against a crop of weak free agent bats. One executive that spoke with Rosenthal said the only flaw he sees in Castillo is his propensity to swing and miss.
  • Rosenthal points back to a report of his prior to the trade deadline in which he had learned that the Nationals were looking for a young shortstop on the trade market. He’s now learned that Didi Gregorius of the Diamondbacks was one of their targets. Washington had planned on playing Gregorius at second base in the near-term and moving him back over to shortstop if Ian Desmond could not be retained. Of course, the club still wants to extend Desmond, who is a free agent following the 2015 season.

Reds Dangling Mat Latos In Trades

Coming off a dreadful losing streak, the Reds have dangled right-hander Mat Latos in trades, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark (on Twitter).

The 26-year-old Latos would represent a huge impact on the starting pitching market. He’s posted a 3.31 ERA with 5.6 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and a 32.5 percent ground-ball rate in 55 1/3 innings this season since being activated from the DL. While those strikeout and ground-ball rates are down, Latos has been among the NL’s best young starters over the past several seasons. He owns a a 3.27 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 850 2/3 innings dating back to 2010.

Latos is eligible for arbitration for the final time this offseason and would be a free agent following the 2-15 season, so he’s much more than a rental for interested parties. Of course, the Reds are looking for a huge return for their No. 2 starter, as Stark notes.


NL Notes: Reds, Heyward, Gonzalez, Rockies

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark doesn't expect the Collective Bargaining Agreement to be reopened before its 2016 expiration to address issues with the qualifying offer system, writes Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle. "It’s very difficult to open up a CBA," said Clark. "Suffice it to say, if there are issues during the course of any agreement, we continue to have discussions that may not require the CBA be to opened up, making sure that whatever the concerns are, whatever the issues are, and if they can be discussed in some more formal fashion, so be it, but more often than not, come 2016 when we have an opportunity to sit down is when we’ll do so." Last night, Aaron Steen asked MLBTR readers about the qualifying offer and nearly 47% want to tweak the QO while 25% want to eliminate it entirely.

In National League news and notes on Oscar Sunday:  

  • With the ink barely dry on Homer Bailey's six-year, $105MM contract extension, the Reds will be in the same situation with starters Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Johnny Cueto next year. Owner Bob Castellini told the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay the team wants to retain all three. "We’re going to try to sign all these guys," Castellini said. "Whether we can or not, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball."
  • Castellini also told Fay he is not pleased with the media's coverage of the Reds' offseason because it has had an adverse affect on the team's revenues. "That season-ticket number is the most important number we can generate," said Castellini. "We knew we wanted to sign Homer. We knew we were going to make some other commitments. It’s not that we didn’t look. It gets written in such a way – 'Well, the Reds aren’t doing anything' – that really does affect people buying season tickets." Castellini provided Fay with details of the club's revenue generated through ticket sales, sponsorships, and the national TV contract adding neither he nor any of the other principal owners or investors have ever taken money out of the franchise.  
  • Last month, the Braves gave Jason Heyward a two-year, $13.3MM contract. In two years, the perfect storm of baseball's economics, Heyward's age, and actions taken by the Braves will set the 24-year-old up for a huge payday on a likely barren free agent market, according to Mike Petriello of ESPN.com in an Insider-only piece (subscription required).
  • With mixed reviews to date, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez made his Spring Training debut yesterday. Phillies GM Ruban Amaro Jr. was upbeat about what he saw, reports MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "He probably threw better with his stuff as far as his velocity and breaking ball since he's been in camp," Amaro said. "I was encouraged that his stuff was better than it had been in his sides. And hopefully it will continue to progress in a positive way." Pitching coach Bob McClure added (as quoted by Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer), "I saw a very competitive (guy), and that is what I was really hoping for. And he might be one of those guys that’s not the best practice player, but you put him in a game and he competes." Reports surfaced last week Gonzalez could open the season in the minors.
  • Solid pitching will be key to any improvement the Rockies hope to make this season. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick focuses on young starters Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler while the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck examines the Rockies' adherence to pitch counts to protect their starting rotation and the corresponding reliance on their bullpen, which could be called upon to record 10 or 11 outs every game. 

NL Central Notes: Latos, Bailey, Samardzija, Pirates, Neshek

The Reds announced today that right-hander Mat Latos had minor surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. He's scheduled to return to his regular throwing program in 10 days (Twitter links). MLB.com's Mark Sheldon writes that Latos injured the knee a couple of days ago when he slipped while playing long-toss. Latos also had surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow back in October, Sheldon adds. Though the club does not seem overly concerned, it remains uncertain whether or not Latos will be ready for Opening Day. Here's more from the NL Central…

  • Fellow Reds hurler Homer Bailey says that he is still in extension talks with the club, the Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans reports. Even with an arbitration hearing scheduled for February 20th, Bailey said that the sides "haven't really talked one-year that much, it's been primarily multi-year." It was recently reported that, though talks continued, Bailey and the Reds remain far apart.
  • For another extension candidate, Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs, the reported gap in negotiations may be generating some friction, as Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. "The emotional attachment I have to this organization, a lot of times you just give the benefit of the doubt," said Samardzija. But, he added: "The more this process goes along, the more I realize it is a business and that only goes so far."
  • Samardzija painted a picture of a negotiation process in which both parties fully understood the others' position, but are seemingly unwilling to give in. "If there wasn't a gap, we would have signed," said Samardzija. "But both sides are justified. It's not like anyone is asking for some outlandish concept. I understand where they're coming from, and they understand where we're coming from. That's really all there is to say."
  • Meanwhile, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says that the team kept some of its off-season powder dry, MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reports"In the two previous off-seasons, we've spent every dollar available to us," said Epstein, "and this is the first winter where we ended up keeping some in reserve to be used on players [that are] hopefully prime-age, impact-type players down the road. It gives us a bit of a leg up as we look toward next winter or an in-season move that might make the present and the future better." Epstein went on to discuss how those funds could be put to use. "Rather than just spend the money to spend it," said Epstein," if we can book that and have it available to us to sign that international free agent who comes along in the summer or to acquire a player in a trade who carries significant salary but fits for the long term, or to just start out next off-season knowing we can be a little more aggressive on the guys we really want early because the money will be available to us, that made more sense than spending the money now just to spend it." 
  • The Pirates have heard some complaints about their failure to spend significant money this off-season, but the club seems unconcerned, reports MLB.com's Tom Singer. "Payroll does not equal playoff," quipped GM Neal Huntington. Having decided against making any big splashes, the Bucs will look to replicate last year's success by once more getting contributions from homegrown talent. "We are really excited by where we can get to with some of the younger players we'll see in this camp," said Huntington. "The challenge is knowing when they will be ready, because when they get here, they will have to help." Manager Clint Hurdle said that the organization "will always rely heavily on developing our own talent," placing Pittsburgh among half of the league in that respect. "You have to anticipate change and get ready for change," said Hurdle. "We have created a culture of opportunity and manning up."
  • Right-hander Pat Neshek had multiple offers this offseason but chose to sign with the Cardinals because of the chance it presented him to get to a World Series, he told MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. Neshek said that he is open to pitching for Triple-A and waiting for a spot to open up: "If I have to go down to Memphis, that's fine. There would be no problems from me. From my past experiences, if you do well, you're going to get an opportunity. It might not be right away."

Jeff Todd contributed to this post.

 


Transaction Retrospection: The Mat Latos Trade

The Reds used only six starting pitchers last season — an unheard of feat these days that serves as a testament to the quality and durability of their rotation. Todd Redmond was the only pitcher outside of the Reds' top five arms to make a start, and he made exactly one. Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and Mat Latos combined to start the other 161 games. Each of those right-handers has been with the Reds organization since 2009 with the exception of Latos, who was acquired from the Padres in December 2011.

Latos never appeared on a Baseball America Top 100 list, but he wasted little time establishing himself as a front-line starter in San Diego. From 2010-11, he led the Padres staff by compiling 379 innings of 3.21 ERA ball with 8.9 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.

Latos' name had scarcely appeared on the rumor mill prior to December 17, when Ken Rosenthal broke the news that he'd been traded to the Reds. Cincinnati wound up paying a hefty price for four years of Latos by dealing prospects Yonder Alonso (24 at the time), Yasmani Grandal (22) and Brad Boxberger (23) as well as starter Edinson Volquez to the Padres. Let's examine each player in the deal and see how this one looks today…

The Major League Side

  • Mat Latos: Latos instantly became one of the Reds' top two starters alongside Johnny Cueto, and his first season didn't disappoint. Many questioned whether Latos, who is more of a fly-ball pitcher, could succeed in the confines of Great American Ball Park. LatosLatos answered them by pitching to a 3.48 ERA in 209 1/3 innings. He whiffed 185 batters against just 64 walks and allowed homers at a league-average rate (1.07 HR/9). Latos was forced into action in Game 1 of the NLDS following an injury to Cueto and delivered four brilliant innings of relief, but he was unable to replicate that magic in his second appearance. So far this season, the former 11th round pick has a 1.83 ERA with 37 strikeouts and eight walks in 39 1/3 innings so far. He signed a two-year, $11.5MM contract in the offseason that bought out his first two years of arbitration. Assuming another successful two seasons, he'll likely earn well over $10MM in his final year of arbitration eligibility, although the Reds could pursue a long-term contract extension that would delay his free agency. Fangraphs pegs Latos' value to the Reds at 4.0 wins above replacement to this point.
  • Yonder Alonso: Alonso was the No. 33 prospect in the game and the Reds' No. 3 prospect at the time of the deal, according to Baseball America. His first season with the Friars could be considered a disappointment by some due to his lack of power, but the former No. 7 overall pick was still an above-average bat (109 OPS+) thanks to a .278/.348/.393 batting line. He's already homered four times in 2013 after hitting just nine in 2012, so it seems that the alterations to Petco Park's dimensions and another year of experience have done the young slugger some good. Under team control through 2017, the Padres are counting on Alonso to be the first baseman for San Diego's next contending team. So much so, in fact, that they traded Anthony Rizzo less than a month after acquiring Alonso in the Latos deal.
  • Yasmani Grandal: The No. 53 prospect in baseball and No. 4 in the Reds' system at the time of the deal (per BA), Grandal burst onto the scene as the Padres' everyday catcher last season. After raking to the tune of a .335/.443/.521 line in Triple-A, he hit .297/.394/.469 in 60 games for the Padres. That line would be impressive enough for any rookie, but it's particularly impressive for a catcher who spent half his time hitting at Petco Park. Of course, Grandal was slapped with a 50-game suspension this offseason due to an elevated testosterone level, so he has yet to join Alonso in the middle of the Pads' lineup.
  • Edinson Volquez: Volquez's inclusion in the deal gave the Padres an experienced Major League arm to immediately fill Latos' void in their rotation. Volquez came with upside, as he was three years removed from a 3.9 WAR season. He didn't come close to that level, but he did provide 1.1 WAR by hurling 182 2/3 innings of 4.14 ERA ball with 8.6 K/9, 5.2 BB/9 and a 50.6 percent ground-ball rate. He's been worse in 2013, though he did turn in a good start today. The 29-year-old Volquez, who was once traded for Josh Hamilton, will be eligible for free agency following the 2013 season.

The Prospect Side

  • Brad Boxberger: Only Boxberger can still be considered a "prospect" in this deal, and that's a bit of a stretch as he appeared in 24 games for the Padres last season. He still has rookie eligibility, however, and was ranked 15th among Padres' prospects by BA and 18th by MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo. Boxberger had a strong 2.60 ERA and 10.7 K/9 for the Padres in 2012, but he walked 18 batters in 27 2/3 innings and also hit two. BA writes that Boxberger's fastball sits 91-93 mph and tops out at 95 with hard cutting action. He favors his changeup heavily over his slider, and BA notes the Reds would like to see him incorporate the third pitch more often. Mayo feels that Boxberger has the stuff to eventually succeed as the Padres' closer, provided he can improve his command issues — a feat which he did achieve in Triple-A last season (3.9 BB/9).

Overall, this trade has the makings of a win-win deal. Volquez has provided little value, but he was also the least significant part of the trade for the Padres, given his lack of team control. San Diego GM Josh Byrnes secured three prospects that he can control through at least the 2017 season in exchange for an established arm that will be in Cincinnati through the 2015 campaign. Based on the early results, Alonso and Grandal look like they will be mainstays in a rebuilding Padres lineup, and Boxberger has the chance to become at least a serviceable middle reliever with upside for more.

Latos has already played a role in giving Cincinnati one of Major League Baseball's best rotations, and given his age, he may have more to offer as his prime years set in. Reds GM Walt Jocketty couldn't have been thrilled about the concept of parting with Alonso and Grandal, but the Reds already had Joey Votto at first base and felt confident that Devin Mesoraco could become their everyday catcher. That hasn't happened yet, but Mesoraco is still just 24 years of age and catchers often take longer to develop offensively. Unlike some of the other trades I've examined in this series, both the Reds and Padres have plenty to feel good about following this swap.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.