Walt Jocketty, gamblin' man.
While the Cardinals
wait for the Carlos Beltran/Coco Crisp
/other random dude interested in making a couple million a year for throwing a ball around sweepstakes to sort itself out, the rest of the NL Central
The Cincinnati Reds had been remarkably quiet for a Walt Jocketty team in the early phases of the offseason, but that all changed over the weekend. The Reds acquired Mat Latos, who trade one of his Ts for magical pitching powers and has never yet regretted it, from the San Diego Padres for a package of players including first baseman Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez.
First off, that's an enormous amount of talent to give up for one player. Even allowing for the attrition rate of prospects, the Reds just traded away a ton of future value for Latos.
Second, Mat Latos is really, really good. I wouldn't say he's the best pitcher in the NL Central, but he certainly joins that top tier of guys like Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Adam Wainwright, et al. He certainly makes the Reds significantly better in 2012, and at only 24 years old he's both young and cheap enough to anchor the Reds' pitching staff for at least the foreseeable future.
There are really two things about this deal which stand out to me beyond just the players involved. One, isn't this just the most perfectly Jocketty trade you've ever seen? All those years he was in charge here in St. Louis, we watched him make this exact kind of trade over and over again.
Step One: Find a productive, high-quality player whose team is looking to move him for future value.
Step Two: Build a huge package of multiple minor leaguers you don't necessarily think you'll need.
Step Three: Trade said package for the aforementioned player.
Step Four: ???
Step Five: Profit!
Okay, actually, step four isn't really a mystery. Step four, at least when Jocketty was making these deals for the Cardinals, was to sign the player to a multi-year deal before he could escape via free agency. I'm not honestly sure what the Reds' financials look like, so I don't know if that will happen in this case or not. I would assume they'll try to get a deal done, but even if they can't Latos is under team control for the next while anyhow.
Two, the Reds are betting heavily on an interesting confluence of factors to try and win in the next two, maybe three years. The Cardinals have lost Albert Pujols. The Brewers have in all likelihood lost Prince Fielder. Both teams are going to have a tough time replacing the production those players offered. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the Reds have their own all-everything slugger at first base who will almost assuredly be too expensive to retain when his current contract is up in Joey Votto.
The Reds and Jocketty are betting on beating the two teams who just lost first baseman before their own first baseman leaves in the same manner. It's really not a terrible strategy; it falls squarely in Jocketty's wheelhouse and acknowledges the reality of the divisional situation.
That being said, the Reds' window is very, very narrow, and they likely just narrowed it further by making this deal. Brandon Philips is a free agent after the 2012 season, and he may or may not be affordable enough for Cincy to retain. I would lean toward no, but as I said I don't really know what the Reds' financial situation is. Joey Votto is signed through 2013, and I can't imagine the Reds coughing up a contract that would keep him around long-term.
The risk here is really in how much depth the Reds sacrificed to make this deal. All of the players they traded away were somewhat redundant in their farm system, with Alonso blocked by Votto, Grandal their second-best catching prospect, and Boxberger a reliever. Volquez was basically a throw-in bet by the Padres he can turn himself around in a new situation and slightly less bandbox-y ballpark. Still, redundant or no, Cincinnati is betting the farm on pretty much everything going right for the next two seasons to ensure they won't need any of that depth they just traded away.
Which, by the way, is also very much a Jocketty sort of move.
Bottom line, this is a good move for the Reds strategically, as they have a window right now to try and win. The top two teams in the division are likely coming back to the pack a bit, and this puts the Reds right there in the conversation as the best of the NL Central. Long-term I don't think it's terribly handicapping, but it could also turn into Jocketty's last trade for a west coast ace
pretty if just a couple things don't go as well as they're hoping.