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Latos and the Starting Pitcher Trade Market

December 17, 2011

Mat Latos of the San Diego Padres was traded today in a very significant move with the Cincinnati Reds who sent Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez to the Greater Tijuana area in return. This is a significant haul for the Padres as Alonso, Grandal and Boxberger were significant prospects ranked #3, #4 and #10 respectively in the Reds’ system just a few weeks ago by Baseball America. Volquez, the only one with significant MLB experience (Alonso has a combined 127 plate appearances between 2010 and 2011) has struggled in recent seasons but was the key piece of the trade that moved Josh Hamilton from Cincinnati to Texas. For his career the 28-year-old Volquez, has a 4.65 ERA with a 4.52 FIP with 8.7 K/9, 4.9 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9, and though he has struggled he is a pitcher than has at least once in his career figured it all out at once which for him came in his 4.2 WAR 2008 season. The prospects San Diego receives have high upside with Alonso expected to become their starting first basemen, Grandal looking like he will begin the season at Tucson but is a future starting catcher candidate and Boxberger looking like a future closer (though he too probably will start in Tucson with the Padres having acquired Huston Street).

Latos has quietly been worth 7.3 WAR in two and a half seasons of Major League baseball. In 429 2/3 innings the recently 24-year-old has posted a stellar 3.37 ERA with an even more impressive 3.28 FIP. Even normalizing his low HR/FB (8.0%) gives him a very strong 3.51 xFIP. His peripherals at 8.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 are exceptional, though one has to wonder if the HR/FB, HR/9 and .275 BABIP are the result of him being the beneficiary of spacious Petco Park to a degree. He will be moving to a bandbox in Cincinnati at Great American Ballpark but still figures to be an impressive young starter despite some questions about his maturity.

The relevance of this is that the A’s naturally have a pitcher in Gio Gonzalez that they were looking at shopping with the Cincinnati Reds one oft-talked about suitor with Yonder Alonso for one being consistently bandied about as a potential piece coming back to Oakland. Obviously the likelihood that Gonzalez would be Ohio River Valley bound is now minimal, but what does the Latos move say about the market for Gio? Jerry Crasnick of ESPN tweeted,

“[Padres GM Josh] Byrnes said 4 teams had the “young player package” to make a run at Latos. #Padres winnowed it to 2 before deciding on #Reds”

That means there is at least one team out there willing to move a big package of prospects to acquire young starting pitching. Now Latos and Gonzalez are different pitchers, and Latos only – publicly at least – became available in the past few days – but now with Yu Darvish off the table, Gonzalez is the best pitcher that we know of available on the market. Comparing Latos and Gio we see that Latos has in his career which is only slightly shorter than Gonzalez’ (535 1/3 innings for Gio to 429 2/3 for Latos) been better:

Latos 8.9 2.8 0.8 3.37 3.28 3.51 7.3
Gonzalez 8.6 4.4 0.9 3.93 4.06 3.98 7.3

However it should be noted that that includes Gonzalez’ miserable time of it in 2008 when he had 34 very rough innings of  work amassing an ugly 7.68 ERA with a 7.04 FIP, gaudy 6.6 BB/9 and -0.6 WAR. If you exclude that, and compare the 2009-2011 seasons of both young hurlers (and it should be noted Gonzalez is two years “less young” than is Latos), they become more even:

Latos 8.9 2.8 0.8 3.37 3.28 3.51 7.3
Gonzalez 8.6 4.3 0.8 3.68 3.86 3.90 7.9

One has to think with Gonzalez not having any of the maturity issues that have been brought up with respect to Latos – though in fairness there have been makeup questions regarding Gonzalez in terms of his demonstrative frustration at times – that the market for the two would be similar but the haul required to get Gonzalez would be less than that of Latos.

The lesson learned from the Latos trade thus far at least, is that Billy Beane‘s waiting game is a smart move and any return for Gonzalez should be significant. While it may not be on par with the return for Latos a deal for Gio that includes something akin to the rumored asking price of the Yankees (Manny BanuelosDellin Betances and/or Jesus Montero) or Tigers (Nick Castellanos, Jacob Turner and more) no longer seem that far-fetched in a pitching market becoming very devoid of quality alternatives. It’ll be interesting to see if this quickly contrived Padres-Reds trade, after all it was just two days ago that Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports wrote,

“It’s not likely the Padres will trade Latos, but you never know where discussions might lead,”

if a similarly fast-moving market for Gio Gonzalez develops.

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