MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Reds pay heavy price to acquire Latos

Reds pay heavy price to acquire Latos

Reds pay heavy price to acquire Latos
Walt Jocketty had expressed frustration with the trade market this winter, and the trade he made on Saturday illustrates exactly why.

It's not that Jocketty didn't acquire a prime piece in Mat Latos. On the contrary, he landed a 24-year-old with true ace potential, and that's this game's greatest commodity.

But the particularly punitive costs associated with that acquisition illustrate the kind of frustration that leads to desperation. Yes, the Reds dealt from positions of depth, but they dealt deep. The bounty was, well, bountiful, and only Latos can make it all seem worthwhile.

Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger. All sent packing. It was an offer the Padres, hesitant as they might have been to deal their ace, simply couldn't refuse. You don't give up a pitcher like Latos -- young, talented and under long-term contractual control -- without being bowled over. And Jocketty rolled a strike in that regard.

Remember, it was just a week and a half ago that Jocketty bemoaned the progress (or lack thereof) his club was making in the trade market.

"Very frustrating," he had said at the Winter Meetings. "It's that way every year. You plan. We've been working on stuff since the Trade Deadline. You start looking at things, you start putting things together -- and your plan, you start trying to work on it. You start putting it into play, and you're not able to do anything."

The Reds have been after a frontline starter this winter. In Latos, they've landed one.

That's the plus side of this trade. In a National League Central division that will look drastically different without Albert Pujols and (most likely) Prince Fielder, they just improved in a big way for 2012.

Latos is the real deal. Through 72 big league starts, he's 27-29 with a 3.37 ERA. He limits walks (2.83 per nine innings) and misses bats (8.65 strikeouts per nine), and he's kept the ball in the yard (0.82 homers per nine). In 2010, he tied a Major League record by going 15 consecutive starts giving up two earned runs or fewer. And in 2011, he made 20 quality starts and held opponents to a .204 average. It's doubtful you'll see a higher-upside arm dealt this winter.

"To acquire a pitcher who is ready to fit into the top of a rotation," Jocketty said, "you have to give up talent."

That's true. But man, did the Reds give up a ton of talent.

They gave up their two most valuable trading chips in Alonso and Grandal, both former first-round picks.

They gave up a project in Volquez, but a tantalizing one, nonetheless. For all his faults -- and there were many of them in a wayward '11 -- he's still an intriguing arm not all that far removed from big league dominance.

And they gave up a legit relief prospect in Boxberger, just for good measure.

That's a load. And while nobody doubts that the Reds did their due diligence on some of the other potential options in the trade market, the gut feeling here is that the Reds ultimately overpaid for Latos.

With Latos and Johnny Cueto fronting a deep rotation, you instantly have to like the Reds' chances in the revamped NL Central in the coming season. But as far as the organization's future is concerned, it has a lot riding on Latos -- who will be making the daunting transition from pitcher-friendly Petco to the Great American bandbox.

And like all pitchers, we can't know for certain the long-term outlook for Latos. Keep in mind that he missed the start of the 2011 season with shoulder bursitis. He has yet to establish himself as the kind of workhorse who can front a playoff-caliber rotation. That's not to say he won't, of course. And because of his command of four pitches, there is reason to believe he will. But make no mistake: The Reds took a gamble on this guy -- even if the pieces they parted with could be considered spare parts in their system.

Alonso's the biggest piece. The seventh-overall pick in the 2008 Draft, he didn't look a bit overmatched in his first exposure to the Majors last season, batting .330 with a .943 OPS in 88 at-bats. With Anthony Rizzo already in the fold, the Padres will have to determine what to do with Alonso long term. Perhaps he gets flipped for more young talent. Either way, he was the Reds' most attractive bartering chip. But in this particular deal, he was merely the beginning of the equation.

Grandal is that rare catching commodity that so many clubs seek. But, for the Reds, he was excess baggage, given Devin Mesoraco's presence. The 12th-overall pick in the 2010 Draft, Grandal has a consistent bat and is considered above-average behind the plate.

Volquez is, of course, the trade's biggest wild card -- and Reds fans can be forgiven if they'd tired of his general unpredictability, be it the performance-enhancing drug suspension that followed his Tommy John rehab or his walk-prone woes that led to a Louisville demotion in 2011. But the truth is, he still has enough upside, in terms of age and velocity and contractual control (through '13) to make this trade come back to haunt the Reds.

And then there's Boxberger. Prospects are unreliable and relievers are unreliable, so ... relief prospects? Well, you get the picture. But Boxberger struck out more than three times as many batters as he walked in Double-A and Triple-A last year, and he's got a solid three-pitch mix. As relief prospects go, he's a good one.

Listen, this trade could prove to be a benchmark for the Reds. They now have the kind of intimidating one-two punch atop their rotation that you need to not only attain a playoff berth but advance in October. And Latos is under their contractual control for four more years, so this was more than a short-term fix.

That said, the frustration and, perhaps, desperation at play here was clear. Ultimately, the Reds got what they wanted, but they were forced to fork over their top trade commodities in one fell swap.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.