Newly anointed San Diego Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes has not been shy about pulling the trigger, trading for John Baker, Huston Street, and Cory Burns so far this winter.
On Saturday, however, Byrnes made his first blockbuster deal as Padres GM, sending 24 year-old ace Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for RHP Edinson Volquez, 1B Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal, and RHP Brad Boxberger. For names alone, this deal is a doozy.
Latos will not become arbitration-eligible until 2013, so he’ll be under Reds control for four more years. The Reds are getting a bona fide number one starter here, with potential to develop into one of the better pitcher’s in the game.
In Latos’ first full season, 2010, he put up a 2.92 ERA in 184.7 innings (189 strikeouts, 50 walks). Latos finished eighth in Cy Young voting and put up anywhere from three to four WAR, depending on where you look.
Last season, Latos went through a very mild case of sophomore-itis, as his ERA and walk rate climbed slightly, while his strikeout numbers declined. Still, he put together a formidable campaign and solidified himself as a front-end starter.
As impressive as Latos has been, consider his career ERA+ is only 108; above average, but far from Earth-shattering. Like any pitcher who gets the benefit of throwing a good portion of his innings in Petco Park, Latos is a bit overrated. He simply isn’t as good as his raw numbers, and it’ll remain to be seen how he adjusts to working outside of a pitcher’s paradise.
Let’s estimate Latos surplus value, just for kicks:
When the Padres dealt Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox last offseason, we estimated his surplus value at $21 million, as Gonzalez only had one year left under contract. The packages the Padres received for each player may look more similar than expected, however, as Gonzalez is better than Latos year-to-year and more of a sure-thing (being a position player). Further, the Red Sox knew they were going to be able to lock him up.
Anyway, back to the Latos deal. The Padres did get a lot in return for the young starter. Edinson Volzquez, 28, is simply a gamble. Volquez racked up 4.8 WAR (B-Ref) in his breakout 2008 season; in the rest of his career, Volquez has been worth –1.6 WAR. That’s about all you need to know about him. He’ll benefit from Petco and should provide some depth in the back-end of the Padres rotation. Volzquez is arbitration-eligible in 2012 and under control through 2014.
Yonder Alonso, drafted seventh overall in 2008 by the Reds, has been dubbed the key piece in this deal. Curiously, however, he has a similar long-term outlook to the recently acquired (from the aforementioned Gonzalez deal) Anthony Rizzo. In fact, Rizzo has put up better overall minor league numbers and he’s a couple years younger than Alonso.
While Rizzo has struggled big-time against MLB pitching (.141/.281/.242, 153 PAs), Alsono has thrived (.299/.354/.479, 127 PAs). While that’s an extremely limited sample, it certainly doesn’t hurt Alonso’s case. There’s also some talk that Alonso’s gap-to-gap approach may be better-suited for Petco. One would think that one of either Alonso or Rizzo may be dealt soon. Alonso is under Padres control through 2018.
Yasmani Grandal, 23, was drafted in the first round (12th overall) of the 2010 draft by the Reds, but he only got 33 plate appearances in Rookie Ball that year. He flew through the system last season, though, going from Low-A to Triple-A while hitting .305/.401/.500 in the process. He has work to do behind the plate, but he did throw out 34 percent of base stealers last season.
While the Padres aren’t in desperate need of a catcher thanks to Nick Hundley’s emergence, Grandal definitely has the potential to surpass Hundley in a year or two. He offers a lot more upside, obviously. Positional scarcity, a rock-solid debut campaign, and less of a road block at catcher lead one to believe that Grandal may be the true centerpiece of this deal.
Brad Boxberger, 23, was drafted 43rd overall by the Reds in 2009. Primarily working as a reliever, Boxberger has put up some gaudy numbers in the minors, striking out 11.9 per nine while surrendering .6 HR/9. His control has been a bit shaky, as he walked 4.1 per nine in each of his first two minor league seasons.
His size (6-2, 200) and control might worry you, not to mention the fact that he’s been used mostly in relief so far, but Boxberger clearly has potential to develop into something of use.
Baseball America’s recently posted Reds Top Ten has Alonso ranked third, Grandal fourth, and Boxberger tenth.
While these trades are ultimately tough to face as Padres fans, we’re getting used to it – Peavy Gonzalez, and Latos have all departed in recent seasons. Latos was home-grown, rose quickly through the system, and established himself as a legitimate front-line starter. It’s tough to see him go.
Still, from an analytical standpoint, it’s satisfying to see the Padres try to build for the near-future, and this is a creative and bold way to do it. While Latos could have definitely contributed in a big way to the next Padres contender, the package they received has the potential to have a more significant impact. Apparently, Byrnes and company did not believe Latos was a long-term fit.
The Padres pick up three young cost-controlled prospects for one young big-league starter. It’s not a no-brainer, by any means, but there’s a reason San Diego is being lauded nationally in this deal (though, yes, you have the right to be a little worried since Jim Bowden is such a big fan).