So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Reds traded for Mat Latos yesterday. It’s a pretty interesting development, especially given the enormous package they gave up to acquire him.

There has already been tons of analysis about whether or not this is a good deal, so I’ll just say that I come down on the pro side and leave it at that. What I’m really interested in is how this immediately affects the 2012 season. Let’s look at the ins and outs.

Starting Rotation

Right now, the Reds rotation looks something like this:

  1. Cueto (as in, I think he’ll start opening day. I think Latos is better.)
  2. Latos
  3. Leake
  4. Wood/Bailey/Chapman
  5. Arroyo

The best thing about trading for a top-end starter is that Latos is effectively taking what were scrub innings last year. His floor is probably about 3.0 WAR, but his ceiling is much higher. His peripherals indicate he could mature into one of the best pitchers in the league. For now, let’s contain our wildest dreams and say the ceiling is 5.0 WAR. Given that he’s taking a bunch of innings that otherwise would have been at or below replacement, on his own Latos improves the rotation by 3-5 WAR.

What the Reds do with the bottom two spots of the rotation is actually a fun question for a change. I put Leake at #3 because I think he is the best bet to be solid and healthy for a full season. After that it’s a scrum between Chapman, Bailey, Wood and Arroyo.

Chapman obviously has the highest ceiling. He could become the best pitcher in the league, never mind the Reds. But right now, he isn’t going to go a full season. Even if he does start, at best, he’s only good for 150 innings, so he can’t fill a rotation slot by himself. The most likely partner here is Bailey. Homer has had a lot of potential for a long time, but he hasn’t been consistent, and health has been an issue the last few years. Still, the worst Bailey has shown us is more than enough to be a #4 starter. He’s probably league average at worst.

That leaves Wood and Arroyo. I penciled in Arroyo at #5, but I’m conflicted. I think, in an ideal universe, the Reds would cut him, but he makes a lot of money and there are no questions about his durability. That’s something you can’t say about Cueto, Latos, Bailey, or Chapman. So while Arroyo seems like he should be the odd man out, there’s probably some value in keeping him around. Someone is going to get hurt during the season and then it will be nice to have an innings eater at hand. Besides, there is pretty much no way Bronson isn’t a bit better this year. He won’t be good, but he’ll be acceptable in the 5 slot. As for Wood, I’m betting he’s on the shuttle between Louisville and Cincinnati filling in whenever someone is hurt and spending more time on the roster than off it. I’m higher on him than most, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him suddenly blossom into a #2 starter.

The end result is a solid chance we get what we hoped for last year: an excellent rotation. Of the seven pitchers who are likely to get starts (assuming no one gets traded), Arroyo is the only one I’d bet on putting up a below average season. Think of it this way: Cueto and Latos both have the ceiling of a #1 starter and the floor of a #3. Chapman is the biggest question mark, but could settle anywhere from a #1 to a #4. Bailey, Leake, and Wood are all in #2 to #4 range. As long as everyone doesn’t end up on the floor, that’s a very good rotation.

The Rest of the Roster

Despite what they gave up, the trade doesn’t hurt the Reds in 2012. Alonso’s defense was going to keep him from being any better than Heisey in left.  You know about Volquez, I suspect.

The loss of Alonso and Volquez does free up about $3M the Reds can spend elsewhere. Based on what we’ve heard, that should get them enough to at least think about landing Carlos Beltran. According to Jocketty, the Reds don’t have that kind of money, so I don’t know what to make of this. Walt says he does expect to make more trades, so we’ll have to stay tuned, but unless the Reds sign Juan Pierre and Baker insists on playing him, I don’t see how having a bit more money can hurt the team. Even if they do nothing, Heisey figures to be at least average in left.

Conclusion

This trade makes the Reds better in 2012. Right now, they are easily favorites to win the division. Something that gets lost is how unlucky the Reds were in 2011. They figured to improve a bit as it was. With Latos, that improvement should be even bigger.