Christmas came early in Redsland, as Uncle Walt left a shiny new pitcher under the tree. I have to admit I'm rather giddy right now, and I could fill this page with OMG's and .gifs of Ron Swanson dancing to illustrate my reaction to this move. Instead, I'll try to give an objective breakdown of this deal, piece by piece.
The Reds finally made a big splash after nearly two years of inactivity. Since Walt Jocketty shocked the baseball world on January 10, 2010 signing Aroldis Chapman, his conservatism regarding upgrading the team has been a source of great frustration for Reds fans. Last offseason saw the Reds coming off their first division title since 1995, and while the rival Brewers and Cardinals made moves to improve their club, Jocketty and the Reds rested on their laurels and hoped for continued improvement from their young ball club. Their major offseason moves included locking up Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto long term (good moves), buying out Joey Votto's arbitration years (a decent, but frustrating move), giving Bronson Arroyo a three year extension even though he had a club option (a move that blew up in their face), signing Miguel Cairo to a two year deal (a curious decision given that it was his first multi-year deal) and signing free agents Edgar Renteria (bleh), Dontrelle Willis (a fun signing that worked out alright) and Fred Lewis (completely inconsequential). The inactivity continued throughout the season. While the Reds were close to contention at the All Star break, the only move they made was to deal Jonny Gomes to the Nationals for organizational filler, a move that was largely made to let Yonder Alonso have a spot on the 25-man roster. There was speculation that catcher Ramon Hernandez would be dealt as a late season rental, with the Reds top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco ready to make the big league club. But yet again, nothing happened.
That takes us to this offseason, where the front office mantra seemed to be "the Reds have no money and are talking to no one." After a quiet Winter Meetings, Jocketty was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't get a deal done. The only acquisitions made had been getting two scrap heap relief pitchers that will likely end up in AAA this year. All the while, Reds fans were steeling themselves for an overpay for Gio Gonzalez or Jair Jurrjens. And then, Little Kenny Rosenthal reported that Mat Latos may be available for the right price. This piqued my interest, knowing that the Reds had the pieces to make a deal of this caliber work. But, I was fairly certain that given Jocketty's reticence of dealing prospects and the improbability of a pre-arb top of the rotation starter being dealt in the first place, that this was just another Twitter rumor to get my hopes up. When the news broke yesterday, I was both shocked and ecstatic. The Reds gave up three of their top ten prospects along with the intriguing, albeit frustrating Edinson Volquez. This is a huge haul of talent for a young, small market team trying to rebuild. For the Reds, they get the front end starter to pair with Johnny Cueto that they were looking for. Let's break this move down piece by piece starting with what the Reds gave up.
Yonder Alonso 1B, Bats LH, 24 years old:
Yonder Alonso was the Reds 1st Round pick (7th overall) in 2008. He played college ball at the University of Miami, where he played 3B and 1B. Alonso looks to be an on-base machine with moderate power, and is an extremely polished hitter for someone with only 127 plate appearances in the Majors. I'm no scout, but in my opinion, Alonso's presence in the batter's box was second only to Joey Votto in 2011. In 47 games in Cincinnati last year, Alonso hit .330/.398/.545, though he was protected against left handed pitching for the most part (15 PAs where he hit .154). The knock on Alonso has been, and likely will continue to be, his defense. He is considered by scouts to be slightly below average at 1B, and the Reds experimented with him in LF last season, but it was considered to be a failure by most accounts (this is the same team that has seen the likes of Jonny Gomes and Adam Dunn lumbering around LF in recent years). I am a big fan of Yonder Alonso, and I wish him nothing but the best in his career, but having an MVP blocking your only position makes a player expendable.
Yasmani Grandal C, Bats Switch, 23 years old:
Another 1st round pick by the Reds, Yasmani Grandal was drafted with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Grandal is a great hitting catcher, and the fact that he is a switch hitter makes him even more rare of a commodity*. Much like Alonso, Grandal was born in Cuba, played college ball at the University of Miami, and the biggest concern is with his defense. Some scouts have concerns of him sticking at catcher, but there is no question his bat is legit. Grandal rose fast through the Reds' system in 2011, starting the year in A+ Bakersfield, moving up to AA Carolina, and finishing the season in AAA Louisville. He likely needs at least another year in AAA, but he could see a September callup in 2012. Again, this is a guy I like a whole lot, but with the Reds having an even better catching prospect that will be on the opening day roster (Devin Mesoraco) as well as the underrated Ryan Hanigan signed for three more seasons, Grandal was not likely to be a factor for the Reds in the coming years.
*There have been fewer than 90 switch hitting catchers in the majors since 1883.
Brad Boxberger RH-RP, 23 years old:
Yet another 1st round draft pick, Brad Boxberger was a compensatory selection (43rd overall) in the 2009 draft. Boxberger projects to end up in the back end of the bullpen, and after an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League this year, was a dark-horse candidate for the Reds closer position this year. Boxberger has electric stuff, and can definitely miss bats, as his career 11.9 K/9 can attest. Boxberger has a chance to put up some impressive numbers in Petco Park.
Edinson Volquez RH-SP, 28 years old:
Edinson Volquez was acquired in a 2008 trade where the Reds sent Josh Hamilton to the Texas Rangers (ouch, that still smarts a bit). He is the classic example of a million-dollar arm with a ten-cent head. Volquez has incredible stuff (featuring a 98 mph fastball with a devastating 82 mph changeup), yet after recovering from Tommy John Surgery in 2010, he has struggled mightily with his command. In the past two seasons he has walked over 5 batters per 9 innings, and has frequently had trouble making it past the 5th inning. It is incredibly frustrating watching him pitch, because you know what he is capable of (4.2 WAR in 2008), but he has looked completely lost on the mound the past two years (0.6 WAR in 2010 and 2011 combined). It is possible a change of scenery will help him out, although unless Petco Park has a giant strike zone to go along with its giant outfield, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope.
This is an impressive group of players to send away, making the Padres' farm system (which was already well stocked) even better. Let's now look at what the Reds got in return.
Mat Latos, RH-SP, 24 years old:
Mat Latos is arguably the best pitcher the Reds could have acquired this offseason. I think it's fair to say he is decidedly better than Gio Gonzalez, Jon Danks and Jair Jurrjens. And the other trade target the Reds were linked to was Tampa Bay's James Shields, who you could argue is a better pitcher due to the competition he faces (I'll disagree), but is significantly more expensive and five years older than Latos. Latos, who turned 24 just this month, is under team control for four more years and has not yet hit arbitration. This is an extremely important part of the deal for the Reds, who face payroll concerns on a yearly basis playing in one of the smallest MLB markets. In fact, the Reds were actually able to shed about $3 million in payroll with this trade.
Latos has a tremendous amount of upside. With his stuff combined with his youth, he has a chance to be a true number one starter (I'm hesitant to use the word ace), something the Reds haven't had since Tom Seaver was patrolling the mound at Riverfront Stadium. Latos has a mid-90's fastball, a wicked slider and a career 3.06 K/BB ratio (8.65 K/9 2.83 BB/9), and it isn't out of the realm of possibility to think that his best years are ahead of him considering pitchers generally peak between 25-27 years old. It is also important to consider that his numbers aren't a Petco illusion. His batting line against is nearly identical at home as it is on the road. The kid is good, and he just might get better.
When news of this trade broke, a couple of mainstream baseball writers were declaring this a decisive win for the Padres. In my opinion, this is a deal that has a chance to be a win-win move and help out both clubs. The Reds had prospects that were blocked, and turned them into a quality starting pitcher that will greatly improve their chances of making the playoffs. The Padres turned one talented young player into three talented young players and a starter that has shown flashes of brilliance. Regardless of what happens in the future, this trade was not only the right move for the Reds to make, but it was the best possible move they could have made. And, as a Reds fan, I can't wait for the 2012 season to begin.