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. Latos 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.