Highway 55, Revisited

Thearon W. Henderson

I'm a subscriber to the theory that trades should be evaluated at the time they're made. GMs don't have time machines. If they did, I'd like to think we'd be using the them for a higher purpose. Like bringing Babe Ruth to the future to see if he could hack it.

Still, front offices might, in some cases, by privy to information that the general public isn't. Information that might become more clear after the trade. We can't be sure.

But it's still fun to think about trades.

Mat Latos was dealt to the Reds for Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger on December 17, 2012. If I remember correctly, we were mostly ecstatic that the Reds had dealt from strength to get an ace. But clear eyes would also have to admit that, within a very few seasons, the scales could tip to the Padres. Maybe even sooner than we'd like to admit.

Which way have those scales tipped over the last calendar year?

Mat Latos

Age (2012)
2012 Stat line
fWAR
bWAR
24
122 ERA+, 2.89 K/BB, 209.1 IP
3.1
4.2


After the all the sound and fury about how Latos started (and finished) the season, the Reds still got pretty much exactly what they were hoping for. He got past the 200 IP milestone and his park and run-environment adjusted ERA was just a tick below his excellent 2010 season. Though his K-rate was below career average, there was very little to complain about here.

Even the criticism that he was a risky pitcher to bring to GABP mostly falls flat. While park played a role in his home run rate, his ERA was 3.18 at GABP (vs. 3.93 on the road) and his fly ball rate was lower than it's ever been. His HR/FB rate was also higher than it's ever been, reflecting the fact that Latos was hit a little harder than in past seasons, but also probably some bad luck.

Yonder Alonso

Age (2012)
2012 Stat line
fWAR
bWAR
25
.273/.348/.393
2.0
1.1


Yonder played a full season at first base for the Padres. Petco may have sapped some of his power, though you wouldn't tell it from his away splits. It seems too far out now to blame his 2009 hammate injury, but it could also be a function of playing his first full season in the majors. At 25, his power could still be developing.

Edinson Volquez


Age (2012)
2012 Stat line
fWAR
bWAR
28
88 ERA+, 1.66 K/BB, 182.2 IP
1.3
0.7

Despite getting off to a hot start, The Wagon wheels fell off in the second half. Volquez ended up with a below-average, if healthy, season in San Diego. He's now posted a BB/9-rate over 5.0 in each of the last four seasons (though only two of those were IP>100). That's not really good company to keep. Of the nine-pitchers who have pitched at least 100 innings and walked 5 or more batters per nine innings, all were below average by ERA+. Carlos Zambrano as a Marlin is probably the best of that crew.

Yasmani Grandal

Age (2012)
2012 Stat line
fWAR
bWAR
23
.297/.394/.469
2.6
2.7


Obviously, it gets dicey talking about Grandal's performance now that he's been suspended for 50 games and has been linked to the Biogenesis guilt-by-association list. But he's also a 1st-round pick who's hit everywhere he's played. I don't think PEDs made him more patient at the plate or more likely to stick at catcher. If anything, he's probably had to contain his testosterone-fueld urge to swing the bat? Only time will tell how repeatable Grandal's past success will be, but a catcher who can get on base will always be valuable.

Brad Boxberger

Age (2012)
2012 Stat line
fWAR
bWAR
23
142 ERA+, 1.83 K/BB, 27.2 IP
-0.1
0.1


Boxy spent most of 2012 in the PCL, where he posted very impressive numbers in a hitter's league. His biggest stumbling block is control. If he can't get his walk-rate down, he may not blossom into SD's future closer.

###

Splitting the difference on win-values for everyone involved, the Padres "win" this trade in its first season. Which doesn't look so great at first glance.

At the risk of sounding like a homer, it's not quite that simple. The biggest issue is probably that those wins aren't really portable. First, there's the question of whether anyone besides Volquez would have played at the major league level with the 2012 Reds. Boxberger may have gotten a cup of coffee, while maybe Grandal would have played in place of Navarro. Not signing Ludwick and putting Alonso in LF would have been a costly mistake.

Viewed from the perspective of how the Reds were actually composed going into 2012, the Latos trade undoubtedly made the team better. Latos dramatically improved the rotation by filling Volquez's spot and more than likely provided more value than any part-time contributions or trade-offs from the other players, such as having Alonso play over Votto or Ludwick.

That's a different question, though, from what talent changed hands. Latos helped the Reds reach the playoffs in 2012, but could they have gotten more out of trading these four players some other way? Or by hanging on to them for 2013 and beyond?

Alonso is likely to keep improving over a very respectable floor he set last season. But he's also a 1B/DH type who was worth more at Great American Ball Park than most places. He makes up all of his value with his bat and that limits his appeal to AL teams and NL teams with 1B openings. Let's say he could have been dealt for a high-upside, but unproven pitcher.

Edinson Volquez, meanwhile, is settling in as a back-of-rotation starter.

Brad Boxberger is a future back-of-pen arm if he can iron out his control.

Grandal is the player with the biggest upside, but possibly also the biggest liability. The very fact that he's not playing for a 1/3 of next season helps the Reds on the trade scoreboard. But he still has enough PED-proof talent and resume to imagine him having taken over for Hanigan in 2014.

So the question might be something like this: whether the Reds would rather have their future catcher*, future closer** and a pretty good trade chip over their current ace (plus or minus an Edinson Volquez).

That prompts a whole bunch of other questions.

What isn't in dispute is that the Reds won 97 games and made the playoffs last season. Until we can remove some of the warts and qualifiers from some of the Reds-cum-Padres, that's the stat that matters.

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