The Reason for the Season

It’s a funny business, this blog game. Stuff happens really quickly and all of us, bloggers and fans and journalists alike, generate instant reactions and analysis in a snap. Sometimes opinions get a little ragged and sometimes we get a little too snappy in our judgments.

There are two impulses in particular that are increasingly common and increasingly troublesome. Number one is the overvaluing of prospects and number two is the need to declare a winner and loser in every single trade.

The second impulse is understandable but ultimately inconsequential. Too many fans and pundits race to declare a trade’s winner and while holding up the loser as an example of incompetence. Why are trades not allowed to end fairly? Must one general manager pick another’s pocket to for a deal to qualify as a successful trade?

Teams make trades to address needs. If the need is financial, they trade expensive players for those working for a smaller pay packet. Good teams position themselves so they might trade from a position of strength to address one of need.

The Cincinnati Reds did just that on the weekend, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs addresses. The Reds traded two block prospects, a quality young reliever and a floundering but formerly successful starting pitcher for an excellent young pitcher. Due to the high status of the blocked prospects — Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal — many commmenters consider this a “gross overpayment” by the Reds. Think of the heights those two young players may reach!

That they were unlikely to figure into the Reds plans is not immaterial. These are real players and the team must treat them as such, not simply assets with value. Even so, do these assets not begin losing value rotting away in the minor leagues while better, higher-ceiling players get everyday exposure?

There is a third part of this equation, as it relates to Mat Latos. We are all so accustomed to dismissing any and all pitchers who even step foot in Petco Park as marine layered frauds. Somehow it invalidates the achievements of any and all pitchers. This isn’t true. Mat Latos is really good. He is really good and really young and really cheap. He throws very hard and misses bats well above the major league average. He is not an extreme flyball pitcher nor does he suffer from gross home/road splits.

Any pitcher moving from Petco to GABP will allow more runs but Latos’s park adjusted numbers and rates are still excellent. Mat Latos is in the top ten for SIERA over the last two years and ranks first in tERA. He can pitch. There is no doubt about it.

There simply aren’t very many number one type starters on the market, trade, free agency or international signing, at any time. Mat Latos comes as close to fitting those criteria as you would like. And he’s so very young.

Mat Latos, with 400 big league innings of 3.28 FIP baseball under his belt, is younger than prospect Yonder Alonso by six months. He is but 11 months older than Grandal, who has a handful of plate appearances at triple-A. When James Shields, the “much better option” according to some comment section-types, was Latos’s age he had thrown a grand total of zero big league pitches. James Shields becomes a free agent after 2012 and will earn $10 million for the coming season. Mat Latos will earn less than $500 000.

Latos is under the Reds control for four more years. He is now their best starter. Despite bringing highly touted prospects like Homer Bailey, Mike Leake (whoops), and Travis Wood through their system, the Reds couldn’t develop a number one pitcher so they paid a steep price in prospects to acquire one.

If you believe Yonder Alonso to be the next Prince Fielder and Yasmani Grandal to be another Carlos Santana, you don’t make this trade. If the Reds thought either of those outcomes were likely, do they make the trade? Do any of the players San Diego acquired profile as better Major League Baseball players than Mat Latos as he approaches his age 24 season?

As has become my mantra: one must give to get. A pitcher like Latos doesn’t become available very often, not at this age for this mere pittance. Like Keith Law said in his take on the deal ($), it is a matter of quality or quantity. With the washout rate of prospects sitting well below 100%, it is never a bad thing to trade future pieces for now pieces, especially when the now pieces are this good.