The Reds made it official on their Twitter feed what you already may have known: the team pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire Mat Latos. In exchange, the Reds are sending Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger to San Diego. At a gut level, this is a very exciting trade. The Reds needed to get a front-of-rotation starter, they were targeting the top tier young pitchers available on the market this Winter and Walt went out and nabbed one.
The gut is also a little staggered when it looks (does a gut look?) at the package the Reds put up. Last season's opening day starter, two of its top five prospects and its top relief prospect are all gone. We had a good sense that this was the cost of doing business this offseason. Our esteemed colleague, nycsredsfan, very astutely included Grandal and Alonso in all of his proposed deals for Gio Gonzalez and James Shields, who were among the other elite trade targets said to be available. Trevor Cahill, a #11 prospect overall before 2009 and roughly the same age as Latos, was traded along with Craig Breslow (a serviceable 31 year old reliever in 2012 who was pretty hittable last year) for an outfielder both younger and regarded higher as a prospect than Grandal and Alonso, a major-league ready CF-capable OF who gets on base and a reliever who might have comparable success in the majors over the next few seasons to Boxberger.
The Reds gave up more for Latos than the D-backs did for Cahill, depending on how highly you value Jarrod Parker. At first glance, they got a pretty similar pitcher in return. Both Latos and Cahill were Cy Young Top 10 finishers in their respective leagues in 2010 and saw some regression in their Age 23 seasons this year while headquartered in pitcher-friendly West Coast parks in the bottom third of park factors for 2011. Cahill, however, has a bigger disconnect between his home and road splits, while Latos' career splits are much more aligned, with nearly an identical WHIP and opponent slash line in both cases. Given that Chase Field and GABP are roughly comparable offense-friendly environments, this is a significant advantage: Latos. Latos also has much more comforting peripherals than Cahill, suggesting a pitcher whose major league performance may be a more credible predictor of future success.
A red flag for Latos is that fly ball percentages have been above 40% each of his three MLB seasons, which is in the Bronson Arroyo-Homer Bailey range. As a young pitcher with #1 starter potential and highly-regarded stuff, the hope is that he won't be getting hit very hard and won't suddenly melt down into a home run machine, while benefiting from a solid defensive backing. But this is something to "keep an eye on going forward."
Depending on what you think of each piece of this trade, especially the x-factors like Boxberger, Volquez and, to a lesser extent, Grandal, you might think the Reds paid proportionally more for Latos' talent than may have been necessary. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that this was a decidedly win-now move. Grandal and Boxberger both may have played marginal or non-existent roles on the team in 2012. Alonso was preparing to play LF, but it was far from clear what his paying time would be out there.
Latos, for the sake of argument, replaces Volquez, who pitched like a sub-#5 starter in 2011. It seems like a good bet that Latos eclipses the immediate production of all those players next season. He also frees up as much as $3-4M in salary space for the Reds to find additional production in the roster spaces they need to fill.
Latos is currently pre-arbitration and will be a free agent at the earliest in 2016, so even if the Reds "lose" over the balance of that time, comparing the four other players to Latos plus a couple million dollars invested this offseason, I feel good about the trade both in the near term and in the fact that the team has four seasons of control over a potential staff ace.
I hate seeing those guys go - especially Grandal and Alonso, but this is what the Reds needed to do. I don't think they could have done it during this offseason for much cheaper. Not that this should stop any of us, but it would probably be a little hypocritical to be anything less than happy it happened - even if the pieces of the deal can be debated ad naseum.