The Curious Case of Mat Latos


Exactly 17 days ago, Mat Latos was sent to the Miami Marlins in exchange for a young starting pitcher and a catching prospect. You may not know their names now (Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach), but you do know Latos’s. His case is a curious one considering the Cincinnati Reds have never traded a pitcher of his stature in recent memory.

The 2002 Cincinnati Reds went 78-84, which was two games better than the 2014 version. The WAR leader on that team was also the WAR leader for the pitching staff—Elmer Dessens. It would be the second consecutive year that Dessens would be the team’s best pitcher, but that was more by default than anything else. On December 15, 2002—exactly three years to the date after signing with Cincinnati in 1999—the Redlegs took their best pitcher and swapped him in a massive four-team deal that landed them shortstop Felipe Lopez.

Latos was with the club a week shy of three years. And Elmer Dessens is no Mat Latos. While he’s still yet to be included on a National League All-Star club, Latos is on the verge of being paid quite handsomely in one calendar year’s time. His 33-16 record with a 3.31 ERA over the past three seasons with Cincinnati will be at the forefront of his résumé.

For a franchise that has seemingly been starved for pitching since the days of the hapless 1950s, it seems odd that a club so well known for their offense suddenly had an influx of pitching that carried them to the Postseason three out of the last four years prior to 2014. It’s like your significant other suddenly dying their hair a different color—it’s not necessarily a bad thing, just unexpected.

Beyond comparing Mat Latos to hair dye, there is a validity to the conflicting emotions Reds fans have had this offseason. It’s not that fans really believed the money to re-sign Latos would magically appear, it’s that they’re not sure it’s what is best for 2015.

While both Aaron Harang and Edinson Volquez are more recent examples of Reds pitching to go on and succeed in other places, neither has the potential upside of Latos. For the entirety of his career before coming to Cincinnati, Latos pitched in baseball’s most spacious landscape; Petco Park in San Diego. Now, he moves to Marlins Park, another cavernous venue.

Had Latos never left the friendly confines of Petco, there would be legitimate concerns about his ability to pitch other places. Never mind his 1.19 WHIP and just 37 home runs allowed in under 500 innings on the road, but pundits will be pundits, and would claim that Mat simply can’t pitch anywhere that isn’t built like a cave. Thankfully, he’s pitched at Great American Ball Park.

Baseball is the only major sport where the given dimensions are constantly in flux. Imagine Soldier Field in Chicago suddenly being 120 yards long from goal line to goal line, or raising the hoops to 12 feet at Madison Square Garden. Prior to coming to Cincinnati, Latos had been taking layups on the 10-foot hoop—now he stepped back to the three-point line on the 12-footer.

In his career, he has lost seven games at GABP. His ERA is just barely above three. As if this needed clarification, GABP is one of the more hitter-friendly, pitcher-destructive ballparks in all of baseball. Whether or not it’s the Marlins that pay Latos is still to be seen, but somebody will be getting an ace.

After years of searching for an ace (with failed Eric Milton attempts mixed in between), the Reds suddenly found themselves with two (and another paid like one—Homer Bailey). In the life of a mid-market club, there is the choice that has to be made, and it seems it was Johnny Cueto over Mat Latos. In recent history, the Reds have not sent out an ace into the open waters. Let’s hope he doesn’t come back searching for blood.