Hot Stove: The Reds Acquire Mat Latos
Saturday December 17th, 2011
The Cincinnati Reds strengthened their pitching rotation via trade this weekend by acquiring Padres righthander Mat Latos in exchange for veteran pitcher Edinson Volquez and youngsters Yonder Alonso, Yasmini Grandal, and Brad Boxberger.
The 24 year-old Latos served as the ace of the San Diego pitching staff during the past two seasons. He broke out as a star during the 2010 season when, particularly through the first five months of the year, he ranked among the National League leaders in ERA. He struggled during the final month of 2010 but still had impressive overall numbers with a 14-10 win-loss mark, a 2.92 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and 189 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings pitched. Many expected big things from him in 2011, but he regressed somewhat and posted bad and mediocre numbers throughout most of the first part of that campaign. He rebounded to a 2.87 second-half ERA but finished the year with just a 9-14 record and a 3.71 season ERA.
Despite some struggles last season, Latos is still viewed as one of baseball's elite emerging pitching talents and will slot into the Reds rotation nicely alongside 25 year-old righthander Johnny Cueto, who dominated in 24 starts this past season and finished the year with 9 wins and a 2.31 ERA. With young sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce leading the offense, the Reds are setting up a viable young nucleus for the next several years and could become surprising playoff contenders, much as they did when they won the NL Central Division in 2010.
For Latos, the Padres received several pieces, with Volquez and Alonso being the primary returns. Edinson Volquez is a former All-Star who turned heads with a 17-win, 3.21 ERA season for the Reds back in 2008 but has been hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness since that year. He still has impressive stuff and has averaged 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) throughout his big league career, but the 28 year-old hurler has been unable to repeat his All-Star form. He made 20 starts in 2011 and posted a 5-7 win-loss mark and a 5.71 ERA, though he did strike out 104 hitters in 108 2/3 innings. If he can work to reduce the number of walks he allows, Volquez could benefit greatly from the confines of pitcher-friendly Petco Park. However, it's unclear whether he will be able to do so this year or beyond.
Hitting prospect Yonder Alonso impressed in his 47-game stint with the Reds in 2011 by hitting .330 with 5 home runs in just 98 plate appearances and could be a valuable young bat for the Padres. Alonso is a highly-regarded prospect but his progression through the Reds system was hindered by the presence of first baseman and 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto, and the club's solution to this was to work Alonso at the outfield corners and even at third base. Alonso found himself in left field for most of this time with the big club in 2011, though he has also worked as a third baseman and at first base, his natural position. The Padres have a coveted first base prospect in Anthony Rizzo, but the 22 year-old's subpar big league debut may signal that he'll open 2012 in the minor leagues. Whether Alonso ends up at first base or in the Padres outfield this year, his bat will be his biggest asset, as evidenced by his minor league career .296 average and .370 on-base percentage.
The other two prospects in the deal, 23 year-olds Yasmini Grandal and Brad Boxberger, are above average talents but have not yet made their major league debuts. Grandal, a catcher, was the 12th overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft and advanced as high as Triple-A Louisville last season. The backstop has hit .303 with a .401 on-base average and 14 home runs in 474 minor league plate appearances thus far and projects as a solid defensive catcher with the potential for above-average hitting skills. Though not viewed as a top prospect, a true test at Triple-A this year will determine whether he can be seen as a future big league starter.
Boxberger, on the other hand, has massive potential but has struggled with consistency as a professional since being selected 43rd overall in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. His 203 strikeouts in 153 2/3 minor league innings work out to an eye-popping 11.9 K/9 rate and he's allowed just 124 hits in those innings, but trouble with walks and control issue have raised some questions about his future. If he can tighten up his performances and limit those free passes, he has the stuff to project as a top-tier setup man or closer, though that might not happen for another season or two.
From a fantasy baseball perspective, this deal could have some significant effects on the key players involved. Mat Latos will be without the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park in San Diego for half of his starts, but he'll also most likely have more run support from the heavy hitters in the Reds lineup. One could expect him to tally more season wins in 2012, particularly if he can avoid the same rough start he had early last year. Yonder Alonso, if all goes well, will finally get a legitimate chance to be a big league regular and could be a key run producer with that opportunity, though his big league experience is limited so it's unclear how he'll perform. He could be a viable sleeper option in some fantasy leagues, but owners should watch closely to see how much playing time he will be getting. Edinson Volquez could benefit from a move to Petco Park, but he needs to show some more consistency before fantasy owners consider him for a roster spot in 2012. The other players traded, Grandal and Boxberger, will likely open 2012 in the minors, so their value is yet to be determined.
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