Walt Jocketty Makes His Move, Mat Latos joins the Cincinnati Reds Rotation

The Cincinnati Reds have finally embraced the off season and made a move.  Bloggers and Tweeters alike will give this subject intense coverage but like all trades, you cannot evaluate them until current contracts run their course.  The Reds have been rumored to be in the market for a top of the rotation starting pitcher for months but it needed to fit the budgetary constraints imposed by Reds ownership to maintain a salary budget in the neighborhood of $90,000,000.

First let’s look at the trade from a purely monetary standpoint.  Edinson Volquez was the post expensive, and from the Reds standpoint most expendable, piece of this puzzle.  He received $1.63 in 2011 and was scheduled for arbitration this year that will grant him more money in spite of a season few would consider a success.  Volquez may have the raw tools to be a successful MLB pitcher but often lets his emotions dictate his control and literally throws games away.

Yonder Alonso will enter 2012 as a rookie but saw enough playing time to convince many Reds observers that he must have a regular place in the lineup to take advantage of his gifts at the plate.  He does all the right things.  When he is behind in the count with two strikes he digs in and chokes up on the bat to grant him better control and insure he reaches base.  San Diego can use him at first to replace light hitting Brad Hawpe and their lineup will become more effective.  Alonso is signed this season to a $1,000,000 contract for the 2012 season.

Yasmani Grandal will also benefit from this trade after charging from Advanced A ball into the Louisville Bats AAA lineup.  He hit well at each level of the Reds minor league system but with Ryan Hanigan signed to a long term contract and Devin Mesoraco settling onto the active roster there just is no where for Grandal to go within the organization.

I am disappointed to see Brad Boxberger included in this trade and this move adds urgency to the Reds need for a quality closer to be signed.  I see no way that Bill Bray, Nick Masset, or Logan Ondrusek can fill that role.  Boxberger has a high strike out rate and has demonstrated grace under pressure in the minors but will have to raise his game to establish himself in the Major Leagues.  Both Grandal and Boxberger would probably only get the league minimum if called up this year so at most they will cost $800,000 or so combined.

Combined, the Reds contributions to this deal will cost between $3 million and $4 million dollars in 2012 while 24 year old Mat Latos will receive in the neighborhood of just under half a million dollars saving the Reds approximately $3 million dollars.  They need to sign a decent left fielder and a closer and the roster should be complete.  Given the players involved in this move I think it is safe to say this will be the most substantial trade of the offseason.  This move relieves pressure for Aroldis Chapman to be effective from day one of the season and strengthens the rotation.

Mat Latos is entering his 4th season in the Major Leagues.  He has a career ERA of 3.46 and a WHIP of 1.188.  His GB/FB ratio was 0.63 in 2009, 0.85 in his breakout 2010 season, and after a slow start finished with a 0.80 ratio in 2011.  Not spectacular numbers for GABP but not horrible either.  He has a decent BB/K ratio and he played for a team that scored just 3.28 runs per start supporting him.  He will win more games on a team that can hit the baseball.

In the end I believe this trade will make the road easier to earn a playoff berth in 2012.  It demonstrates a commitment to win and it shows the value placed on quality starting pitching by Major League General Managers.

For me the only way I would be happier about this trade is if Boxberger were not involved.

I spoke to the editor of the Fansided network writer for the Padres, Justin Hunter.  He shared these comments regarding Latos:

Not many people bring this up, but Latos had a supposedly minor injury in Spring Training this past season.  He was terrible in his Spring starts but got better once the season started.  He still wasn’t quite his 2010 self, but I really think the injury hampered him more than the team or Latos let on.  I expect him to be 100% healthy next year and to bounce back to his ace-like self. 

If you believe sources, Latos still has maturity issues.  It was no secret he had attitude problems in 2009 and 2010.  To me it sounds like he has not corrected those problems.  Of the Reds can handle that, they have a very solid pitcher on their hands.  

But here’s the flip side, I think Cincinnati gave up too much.  I don’t think that’s Cincinnati’s fault though.  I think Josh Byrnes may have just pulled off his version of Kevin Towers bringing in Adrian Gonzalez.  Byrnes made it clear the team wasn’t shopping Latos.  He made it clear it would take a lot to get Latos.  He helped perpetuate the trade rumors that likely increased Latos’ value.  Only time will tell how either side fares with their new crew.

In addition, Justin wrote about Latos’ trade rumors just two days ago though extolling the need to keep him in San Diego given ability and youthfulness.

This trade also frees a bit more money to use in search of a closer and a left field bat.

In all, if the Reds go to the playoffs in 2012, and Latos pitches 200 innings and wins 15+ games I will view this trade as a success regardless of what a starter with no future in Cincinnati, a hitter who can’t field, a catcher with no where to catch, and a closer no matter how successful he is.  Reds fans have screamed for months about the need for a substantial trade and that is what they still have.  I will remain amused by the vocal minority who will still complain.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz