I’m not sure if you’ve heard or not, but the Reds made a pretty big trade over the weekend, and people disagree strongly on the question of whether or not it was a good deal. Some people don’t think Mat Latos is good enough to merit the cost the Reds paid to acquire him, some people seem to think no one is good enough to merit trading Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger in the same package, while other people think the deal was reasonable. I don’t necessarily have a strong opinion on the question, but at first glance I thought it was a very reasonable trade for both sides, and two days later I’m even more confident in my initial reaction.
Here’s the thing; “value” is not a static number. Rather, it’s a moving target that’s affected by any number of different factors and personalities, and in the case of the trade in question, you can’t asses the value on each side while divorcing the move from the organizational strategy the Reds are implementing.
Obviously I don’t need to tell you this, but Joey Votto will most likely be playing baseball for a team other than the Reds in 2014. That’s not guaranteed by any means, but the most likely scenario, by far, is that the market for Votto will get away from Cincinnati when the first baseman hits free agency after the 2013 season. As a first order of business, the organization has to decide how they’re going to deal with that fact, and the choice is mostly between trading Votto before then in hopes of getting a large return and going all-out to win while they still have Votto on the roster. There’s no inherently right answer, but the Reds have clearly chosen to follow the lead of the 2011 Brewers and go with door number two. To that end, any deal the Reds make needs to be viewed primarily by how it affects the team over the next two seasons. It’s certainly fine to disagree with the organization’s chosen direction, but what’s done is done, and once the path is chosen you can’t get cold feet.
So, back to the trade itself. Prospects are a tricky creature, with multiple ways of assessing their value, but considering the strategy the Reds are taking now, we’re going to look at the package the Reds gave up in terms of their marginal value to the big league roster in the near term. Alonso may be a heck of a hitter, but he has nowhere to play, and if you’re not playing you’re not providing much value. Grandal is in an even starker situation, as he’s probably a year away from the big leagues, and has a rookie ahead of him on the depth chart. Unless Mesoraco is a bust, Grandal doesn’t figure to be anything more than a backup catcher for the Reds for the better part of the next decade. Edinson Volquez is, well, Edinson Volquez, and if nothing else including him in the deal means the Reds also save a decent chunk of change on payroll this year. Boxberger is the guy who might have provided the most marginal value to the Reds in the near term, but that lost value is at least partially offset by the financial savings of dumping Volquez (and the fact that you no longer have to worry about Dusty Baker starting Volquez in Game One of the NLDS).
So, in short, this deal is almost pure windfall for the Reds, at least in terms of the next two seasons. They’re trading away talent, to be sure, but talent that wasn’t likely to provide much help in their quest to win big while Votto was on the roster, and they’re trading that talent for a young guy who can be the front of the rotation starter with the potential to dominate hitters they’ve desperately craved for a while now. And as an added bonus, he’s 24 years old with plenty of potential to get even better, he isn’t eligible for free agency for four more seasons, and he’ll earn well below his market value in salary during that period.
And you know what? A 26 year old Mat Latos sounds like a fine piece to start with when it’s time to build a post-Votto roster.