I write my own baseball blog called Baseball's Economist, and I figured you guys might find my analysis of today's trade informative.
Josh Byrnes may have found his replacement for Adrian Gonzalez’ bat in the San Diego Padres lineup, but he gave up one of the best young pitchers in baseball in the process. Today, San Diego traded ace Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for first baseman Yonder Alonso, starter Edinson Volquez, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and reliever Brad Boxberger. Was there a clear winner in this deal? And does Alonso have a legitimate shot at being as productive as Gonzalez, the former Padres’ slugger?
Latos is a 24 year old with nasty stuff who needed 35 minor league starts before his major league call up in 2009. Latos is a classic case of why a pitcher shouldn’t be judged by his win/loss record. In 72 starts, his career win/loss is 27-29, but the majority of those starts came with the abysmal Padres’ offenses of 2010 and ’11. Latos ranked 30th among 2010 pitchers in fWAR (4.0), 7th in K/9 (9.21) and incredibly 6th in FIP (3.00), in his first full major league season. He followed that up with a 2011 campaign with 185 strikeouts, a fWAR of 3.2, and a FIP of 3.16. The main reason Latos does not have a higher WAR, seeing as his peripherals are off the charts, is because the Padres limited his innings to under 200 per season, to keep down the wear and tear on his arm. If Cincinnati allows him to stretch his innings out past 200, which in all likelihood they will, his WAR numbers will inevitably increase. Fangraphs projects Latos to throw 208 innings in 2012, and have a fWAR of 5.0, which would put him just outside the top 10 of best pitchers in baseball. The Great American Ballpark will most likely feel like a t-ball field to Latos after leaving Petco park, but his career K/9 rate (8.65) and walk rate (2.83) make me think he’ll still be successful outside the friendly pitchers’ park that Petco is. To put those two rates in perspective, CC Sabathia’s K/9 and walk rates are 7.68 and 2.76 respectively, and Ubaldo Jimenez’ are 8.2 (K/9) and 3.91 (BB/9). Also, Latos will be a very cheap ace for Cincinnati, with 4 years of club control remaining before Latos reaches free agency.
Volquez is the wildcard of this deal. The Padres’ new starter was once traded for Josh Hamilton, before the 2008 season. That year he burst onto the scene as an all-star, winning 17 games, with a FIP of 3.6 and fWAR of 4.2. Thus, Volquez could seamlessly replace Latos in the Padres rotation, but Volquez has not been able to duplicate that performance in any way shape or form over the course of the last three seasons. Volquez has been plagued by injuries, only starting 42 games, posting consistent FIP’s over 4.00 and a combined fWAR of only 0.8 in those three seasons, as well as a negative fWAR (-0.3) in 2011. Volquez has lost the ability to stay on the field, as well as get the ball in the strike zone. His strikeout rate has remained very high, 8.92 on average over the last three years, but his walk rate has ballooned (5.40 on average). The 28 year old is still young, and has time to correct his health and control problems; also it will be interesting to see how Petco Park will help his performance with a career HR/9 over 1 (1.07). Fangraphs projects Volquez to have a FIP of 4.63 and a fWAR of 0.7 in 2012, which would truly be an immense downgrade from Latos.
However, Volquez was not the only player San Diego received in return for the services of Latos. The main pieces of this deal were former first round picks, Alonso and Grandal, who were only made available because of Joey Votto and Ryan Hanigan’s performances at the major league level. Grandal only has 113 career minor league games so his stats are difficult to interpret. However, his numbers last season, his first full season of professional baseball, were impressive (an above .300 average, 14 home runs and 67 rbis). A catcher who can truly hit for average and power, is a very valuable asset to a major league team. Grandal will most likely start 2012 in the minors, but it seems as though Byrnes may have netted an all-star catcher for the future. Alonso has been a name rumored for trades, since he was drafted in 2008. After getting a cup of coffee in 2010, Alonso went back to AAA to start 2011, where he had a solid season (wOBA of .373, 12 home runs, and ISO power rate of .190). Alonso, then ripped up the majors for 47 games, hitting 5 home runs and had an OPS over .900 (.943). All signs point to Alonso being ready to step in as the Padres’ first baseman on opening day. Fangraphs projects him to be an over 2 win player (2.3 fWAR) and hit 17 home runs (that number will likely be smaller when the numbers reflect his move to Petco).
Ironically, the 2005 version of the Padres former first baseman, Gonzalez, looks eerily similar to Yonder Alonso currently. In 2005, Gonzalez was called up the majors for a second time after his first chance in ’04, and he played in 43 games, in a hitters park (Texas), hit 6 home runs, had an ISO of .180, and OPS of .678, before being traded to San Diego. This is almost the exact career path that Alonso is currently on, with Alonso performing slightly better in his first opportunities, to perform in the majors. The change of scenery and a full time major league job allowed Gonzalez to blossom in 2006, who hit over .300 (.304) with 24 home runs, and an fWAR of 3.7. It will be interesting to see if Alonso will be able to duplicate this success or even possibly surpass it.
The Padres also added bullpen depth by making this deal in the addition of Brad Boxberger. Boxberger had a solid season between Double and Triple-A last season, with extremely high strikeout rates and a low FIP at both levels. The Padres bullpen has been depleted with the losses of Heath Bell and Mike Adams, Boxberger gives them a possible arm in 2012, and looks like a potential closer moving forward past 2012. Also, it will be interesting the see if Alonso makes Anthony Rizzo, the guy who was supposed to replace Gonzalez before Alonso was acquired, expendable; as well as, what the Padres can get in return for him.
The Reds gave up a lot to get a young ace with upside, but their roadblocks at positions (C and 1B) allowed them to make this move, while Byrnes’ bank of young pitching in San Diego made it easier for him to move Latos, at the time where is value is likely as high as it will ever be. Also, both clubs cannot be considered big markets, but this is an extremely cost effective deal for both teams, because Volquez is the only player involved who is eligible for arbitration, (MLB trade rumors projects his contract to be around $2.3 million in 2012). Both teams seem to have improved because of this trade at this point, but both teams could be the big winners in the future. San Diego will have won if Volquez finds the ’08 version of himself, Alonso becomes Adrian, and Grandal and Boxberger become formidable major leaguers. However, if Volquez still can’t find the zone, Alonso is not what he’s been cracked up to be, and Latos continues to be an all-starter in Cincinnati, then the Reds will have won this pre-Christmas 2011 trade.