Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Mat Latos Trade


People complain about GM Walt Jocketty being too deliberate or overly analytical, but when he does decide to take the plunge, he certainly makes a damn big splash.

The first example was the Scott Rolen trade, which pundits hated. The current example was the Latos trade, which pundits also hate. Of course, I liked the former and I like the latter.

There are two components of the trade that need to be considered. First, the theory underlying the trade. Second, the execution of the trade.

The Underlying Theory

Obviously, the underlying theory implemented by the Reds was trading the future for the present. Trading prospects for established MLB talent. Trading from a surplus to address a weakness. Consolidating value in the 25-man roster at the expense of the farm system. The Reds finally realized that the present includes a window for success that may only be open until Votto reaches free agency.

Clearly, the underlying theory of the trade was solid. Of course, it was also so blatantly obvious that it's difficult to give Jocketty much credit for implementing it. In fact, it was painstakingly obvious to anyone who follows the team that this is the type of trade that needed to be made. In fact, it's the exact type of trade for which I was clamoring last offseason and it's been more than a little frustrating for the organization to fail to execute such an obvious strategy.

For those Yonder and Yasmani fans out there who wanted to keep them, well, sorry, but that was never a realistic possibility. From the moment Yonder was drafted, it was obvious that the Reds were going to have a problem. He might have been the best player available, but he was also incapable of playing anywhere else but first base. The idea of playing him out of position was a non-starter, as his defensive deficiencies at other positions would have dragged down the value of his offensive production to the point where his trade value would outpace his actual value. When those are your limitations and you have an MVP winner ahead of you, well there's really no where for you to go but out of town.

The story is largely the same for Yasmani, as Mesoraco is just a better prospect. As a result, there was simply no room for Yasmani. Despite some fan suggestions, the notion of a platoon between the two was a non-starter, as limiting their playing time would have been a waste of one or two of the assets. If you platoon them, then their actual value would simply be outpaced by their trade value. It just wouldn't work.

As for Brad Boxberger, he's an intriguing relief prospect, but he's still a reliever. And, relievers have an inherent volatility which limits their value. There aren't many relievers who maintain a consistent level of dominance and those who do seem to feature a more dominating repertoire of pitches than Boxberger possesses. Unless he can step up and consistently dominate in high leverage innings, then his loss won't be difficult to overcome. 

Fortunately, the farm system exists for one purpose, namely to support the major league team. That purpose can be achieved through the development and promotion of homegrown prospects or by trading those prospects away for established MLB talent. The paths diverge, but ultimately end up in the same place, namely an improved 25-man roster.  

Now that it has finally happened, it's impossible not to give the underlying theory high marks. However, regardless of how good the theory may be, the team still needs to execute it properly for the trade to be a good one.

The Execution

Well, similar to the aftermath of the Scott Rolen deal, the pundits are up in arms over the price the Reds paid. Personally, I had no problem with the price paid in the Rolen deal and don't really have a problem with the price in the Latos deal. Personally, I think we overpaid to a greater extent in this deal than we did in the Rolen deal. Even so, I think the overpayment was justified and made sense for where the Reds are as an organization.

Depending on where an organization stands in the win cycle, the price they should be willing to pay would  differ. For a team in need of a particular player to get them over the hump and into the playoffs, it only makes sense to pay a premium. That's where the Reds stand right now.

For me, it's not so much the price paid, as the risk inherent in such a deal. The Reds made the move they NEEDED to make, but it's a move that is inherently risky. They just traded four players for one. In doing so, they consolidated the total value of four roster slots into a single slot, which is exactly what the team needed. However, such a move also consolidates the risk. Instead of diversified risk spread over multiple assets, the Reds now have all their eggs in a single basket. So, it's a high risk, high reward trade.

Of course, given that the Reds NEEDED to make this move and that this move has inherent risk, the success of such a deal all comes down to picking the right pitcher. If you are going to push all your chips into the pot, then you'd better pick the right hand on which to do it.

For me, the Reds reeled in the best option available this offseason. Frankly, I'd rather have Latos than Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Jonathan Sanchez, or even James Shields. He just seems the best combination of polish, upside, salary, and length of time under team control. So, given what was realistically available, I think the Reds did it right.

Latos has had very good success so far in his career, but that success has come while pitching for the Padres and Petco Park. People have jumped at the park effects in pointing out that his career ERA is 3.11 at home and 3.57 on the road. Obviously, it's important to point out that leaving Petco for Great American Ballpark will act as a drag on his numbers. At the same time, I think the NL West context is somewhat under-examined, as the division combines big ballparks with weak offenses to create a very favorable environment for pitchers. And, Latos won't be bringing that environment with him to Cincinnati.

I do, however, have two problems with this trade:

1) That it didn't happen sooner

To me, this is the most egregious part of the trade. This is the trade that I wanted to see go down last year. If it did, then the gamble would have been lower risk. First, we would have landed a pitcher with a higher established baseline of production and a lower level of risk. Additionally, we would have avoided wasting an entire season of our win cycle. It would have cost more in monetary terms, less in prospect terms. Even so, it would have been a better time for such a substantial gamble, as it would have been lower risk and provided more chances to pay off.  

When you are a smaller market team, then your chances for success are typically a small window. When you have Joey Votto on the verge of free agency, Brandon Phillips getting long in the tooth, and the baling wire in Scott Rolen's shoulder getting more distressed by the day, then it's a borderline unforgivable sin to waste an entire season of your window. Windows don't come around very often and they aren't open very long when they do.

After a breakthrough season in 2010, it was unsurprising to see the Reds regress in 2011. Typically, when a team breaks through to a new level of performance, they follow it up with a step backward. The reason is simple, as success is typically the result of an occurrence of a number of positive events that simply cannot be expected to happen again the following season. To offset that, you have to take tangible steps to improve the team. The Reds didn't do that in 2011. They have learned their lesson. Still, it hurts to waste a season of MVP caliber production from Joey Votto.

2) Tossing Edinson into the Deal

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather, but to me this is the objectionable part of the price we paid for Latos. It just feels like a big mistake to include Edinson in this deal. And, I say that as something less than a fan of Edinson. Frankly, I didn't want Edinson to return to Cincinnati in 2012,. as his attitude and continued status as thrower instead of pitcher are reasons to part ways with him. However, I do think he has some trade value, even if we just treated him as if he did not. And, frankly, I just can't get behind the idea of wasting the value of an asset.

At the time of the trade, Edinson was undeniably the most unpopular player on the roster, so I fully expect this opinion to be equally unpopular. Regardless, I do think Edinson has some value and, frankly, I think he's the key to determining the winner of the deal. Keith Law thinks its Yasmani Grandal. I think it's Edinson.

To me, dealing Yonder, Yasmani, and Boxberger for Latos is a much more palatable price to pay than including those three AND Edinson. The reason is fairly simply, I could easily see Edinson getting back on track in San Diego. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Edinson puts up numbers in Petco that are similar to what Latos puts up in GABP.

In 2008, his first with the Reds, Edinson was a 4.2 win player. In 2010 and 2011, Latos was a 4.0 and 3.2 win player, respectively. So, once upon a time, Edinson was as valuable as (perhaps even more valuable than) Latos has been in each of the past two years.

In 2009, Edinson did not pitch after June 1, as his season ended in Tommy John surgery. He made it back in July 17, 2010, but as impressive as his recovery time was he probably came back too soon. Realistically, both his 2009 and 2010 seasons were undone by Tommy John surgery.

However, there is little to excuse his 2011 season. His 5.71 ERA and 1.57 WHIP sealed his fate in Cincinnati. In fact, he was so bad that he was demoted to triple-A. However, there are a few positives to be drawn from that point forward, if you look hard enough.

In triple-A, Edinson tossed 87.1 innings of 2.37 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 83/29 K/BB ratio. Overall, solid numbers, most encouraging were his 3.0 BB/9 and 8.6 K/9 ratios. And, while it was lost in the team's late season fade, he carried some of that improvement with him back to the majors in four September starts.

In his September starts, Edinson posted a 4.94 ERA and a 7.3 K/9, but a much more respectable 3.8 BB/9. Strides were made in the free pass department and the existence of those strides was reinforced by his pitch data.

In his four starts, admittedly a small sample size, Edinson took steps forward in percentage of strikes thrown and percentage of first pitch strikes. In September, Edinson tallied a first pitch strike 57.8% of the time and threw strikes 63.8% of the time. On the season as a whole, Edinson had a first pitch strike rate of 54% and threw strikes 60% of the time. So, he showed improvement when he returned to the majors. 

So, to a certain extent, he was getting back on track. And, when he's right, he has significant value, but now we've tossed him into a deal as if he had none. Add in the fact that he's heading to Major League Baseball's best park for pitchers and will be yet another year removed from his TJ surgery and it seems entirely possible that he'll get back on track in 2012. If he returns to form and becomes a 3 or 4 win player for the Padres, then Yonder, Yasmani, and Boxberger are almost pure profit for the Padres and they'll win this deal in a walk.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this deal is strong and long overdue. The underlying theory and the execution of it both work. It's been a long, agonizing, exhausting march towards the completion of this deal, but the Reds have finally gotten serious about improving this team and taking the next step forward.

The Reds paid a heavy price to make this deal happen, but it was the right move and one that was long overdue.


  1. First I agree that this deal had to happen and was long overdue. I was shocked nothing happened last winter. Upton available but nothing, Greinke available but nothing. This year was more of the same or so I thought. I was extremely frustrated and disappointed. They wasted a year but better late than never.

    I agree that Latos is easily the best pitcher available this year. In fact all things considered he may be the second best pitcher in Baseball. Latos for $400K > Lee for $25M. Kershaw is the best value of course.

    I agree Alonso and Grandal had to go. In fact by including them both in the same trade you get a much better pitcher.

    After seeing what the Nationals gave up to get a far inferior pitcher I am not to sure that SD didn't insist Volquez be included in the trade. I feel Peacock, Cole, Norris and Milone are a better group of prospects than Alonze, Grandal and Boxberger. Latos is without a doubt better than Gonzalez and That excludes the cost control advantage Latos has over Gonzalez.

    In short, great trade. I gave Walt a lot of heat the last 12 months. He deserves a lot of credit here.

  2. Again. Long overdue? To get Marcum? Greinke? Do you still think that is a good idea? Now the Brewers have no propspects, probably no Fielder, no Braun and two pitchers who are vastly over rated. I do not think they should have made a move last year because how much would Greinke have helped? Not only is he average, the team is not very good. And this trade makes them worse. People like Heisey and he is alright but he actually struck out more times per at bat then Stubbs (if that's even possible). Yonder was the clean up guy and a stud. And with no Sappelt it's Heisey, Stubbs and Bruce in the outfield. Let's face it, Bruce is weak (.240 or under four of the six months of the year) and his shoulder will always fly open, he's Jeff Francoeur Jr. This offense is absolutely pathetic and Yonder hitting behind Votto was the only hope. They will set a record for games with more strikeouts then hits. And now with no Yonder, the Reds have "Brewered" themselves. No prospects and no offense and soon no Votto. So Latos has to be beyond great to make the Reds matter. But hey Walt is in talks with CODY ROSS!!!! Problems solved. My expectations have never been lower. They even gave away Ronald Torreyes. Seriously, lend your genius mind to how awful this offense will be. Now that's an article.

  3. Dylan,

    Lolz...Yonder was the only chance for success. A guy with <200 career at-bats was our beacon of hope for 2012. Right...

    The Brewers system was weak even before the Greinke trade. The Reds, however, have some depth in the farm. They traded surplus to address a glaring a cost-controlled value, no less! It's not rocket science. Really, it isn't.

  4. Stock,

    Yeah, I was never on board with the idea of playing Yonder out of position or platooning Yasmani and Mesoraco. For me, these were always either/or decisions. I think you could have made a decent argument on both sides of the Yonder/Votto and Mesoraco/Yasmani debates, but I never saw a decent argument for keeping them both.

    If we overlook the fact that Walt arrived late to the party and celebrate the fact that he showed up at all, then Walt deserves a lot of credit. He did last arguably the best available option.

    Admittedly, I think you are higher on Latos than I am. I like him, but don't love him. At this point, I wouldn't consider him to be an established #1 starter. And, if you set aside service time considerations and salary, focusing instead on pure pitching ability, then there are a number of pitchers I would rate ahead of Latos.

    Latos is young and has time to continue to develop, but as it stands I would rate him as good, not great. He has the ceiling of a #1 starter, but has some work to do to reach it.

    Still, it was the right acquisition for the Reds on a lot of levels. And, one that was long overdue.

    Thanks for the comment!


  5. Dylan,

    Obviously, we'll have to agree to disagree. In Latos, the Reds added another top of the rotation arm who, along with Cueto, will be in Cincy for the next few years.

    As for the offense, I find it odd that you consider any offense that has Joey Votto in it to be awful. This team scored the 7th most runs in all of baseball last year and the 2nd most in the NL. Was the offense too streaky? Yes. Was the offense park-aided? Yes. But, at an absolute bare minimum, it's a solid offense. More likely, it's a very good offense. And, a legitimate possibility that it will be a great offense.

    On Yonder, he had no position to play. The notion that he could realistically play leftfield was a pipe-dream, nothing more. In his short stint out there last year, he did a faceplant into the Wrigley Field wall, turning the play into an inside the park homer in the process and managed to injury himself out there. The guy is NOT an outfielder. You can argue that we should have kept Yonder over Votto, but I don't see the argument for keeping them both. It wouldn't work.

    And, on Yasmani, he's not better than Mesoraco. So, where would Yasmani play? Or, were you envisioning Votto, Yonder, and Yasmani platooning at 1b?

    Both the offensive prospects we gave up were blocked. Plain and simple. They had nowhere to play. They were surplus assets. And, Walt did what he should have done with surplus assets, trade them for something of use to the organization.

    I'm pretty surprised by your pessimism about the offense. It's not going to take much for the offense to be the best in the league next year. A solid debut season by Mesoraco, a step forward by Bruce, or a bounce back by Stubbs and this offense is truly formidable.

    If I were you, I wouldn't wave the white flag before spring training even starts. The Reds are much better positioned to compete this year than last year. And, Walt isn't done yet.

    Thanks for the comment.


  6. Pete,

    I agree. The Brewers system was thinner than ours, but they decided to make a big postseason push before Prince left town. And, it worked, they made the playoffs. And, even though Prince is likely to leave and the system is thin, they still had enough pieces on the roster to make another postseason push in 2012. Of course, a 50-game suspension for Ryan Braun would be a big hit, but the Brewers will be fine for the short run. In a few years, maybe they'll be a different story.

    As for Yonder, I think his small sample size performance in 2011 has people overly excited. He's a good, professional hitter and that certainly has value. But, is he going to be an MVP like Joey Votto? I tend to doubt it.

    It's entirely possible that we sold Yonder at the pinnacle of his value. I certainly don't think letting teams see him play 150+ games in the outfield would drive his value up. And, any regression in offensive production, which is likely for sophomores, would also drag his value down.

    The Reds needed to decide: Yonder or Votto. Honestly, the answer probably came down to which player brought in more value in trade. Regardless of which decision they made, it was well past time that the organization MADE the decision.

    Now that they have committed to a course of action, they can focus on executing that action to the best extent possible.

    Thanks for the comment!


  7. My pessimism is because honestly look at the offense up and down. Yeah, Votto is great. But Rolen is finished. Stubbs got exposed, their is no bounce back and it is a pipe dream to think he can hit at a major league level. Bruce is what he is, his shoulder will always fly open, he is weak. And heisey hit .250. And Cozart hit .250 in the minors so what do you really expect in the majors? And what can you really expect from Mesoraco, a rookie catcher? Yonder was a stud, watch him the batters box. His swing and approach are excellent and everything Jay Bruce isn't. Yeah, Yonder was the answer, sorry to say guys. Yeah, he played some bad games in left. But played 66 games in the minors in left and did well enough to warrant 66 games. And after he struggled he went back out there and did decent enough according to everyone. He vowed to lose 15 pounds in the offseason. So, yeah, i think he could play left as well as Ludwick. And if Votto has no protection, how valueable is he? He's shown that he swing at bad pitches if you look at his june- august numbers. His strikeouts went down when Alonso was protecting him in the line up. Those stats you use on the offenses ranking are very misleading. They were great in april, may and part of june. Then the offense really tailed off because other teams learned that they have no one but Votto to drive in runs. My pessimism comes from projecting what the offense is going to do based on what they did over the last part of the year when it mattered. I don't deal in IF Stubbs and Bruce will get better. They won't. They got exposed.

  8. And Yonder definitley has a position to play in a year when Votto is gone. And I know your not one of those that think they will re sign him. Because that is growing amongst people i talk too and is just ridiculous. It would be over a quarter of what they spend on the entire team.

  9. How many home runs would Greinke give up in GABP over a full year of starts there I wonder?

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