Take a deep breath and relax Reds fans, the Latos trade wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as bad as it may seem.
As everyone knows by now, the Reds traded Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins for pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and catcher Chad Wallach. The early impression for most Reds fans is a feeling of slight disappointment. Many people felt that a Latos trade would net an upgrade for the gaping hole in left field. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes of the Boston Red Sox was a popular topic of hot stove conjecture. Instead of a big name like Cespedes we ended up with a pitcher who put up an ugly 6.27 ERA in 2014 and a 23 year old catcher still in the low minors. Apparently our perception of LatosÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ trade value did not match his true market value around the league.
We all thought Mat Latos would bring back a higher level of talent in return, but when you look around at all the other recent trades across baseball we can see that other good pitchers didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t yield big hauls either. After a great 2014 season Jeff Samardzija was traded to the White Sox for Marcus Semien and most observers were shocked that was all the Athletics got, especially when you consider the AÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gave up an elite prospect to get him at the trade deadline just last July. Pitching is plentiful these days. This is a low-scoring era when good pitchers seem to be sprouting up everywhere. Teams are unwilling to give up top prospects for impending free agents with large salaries like Mat Latos, even more so when there are injury concerns attached.
But was it really that bad? LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take a deeper look at the players the Reds received Ã¢â‚¬Â¦
Anthony DeSclafani is a 24-year-old right-handed starting pitcher (he turns 25 two weeks after Opening Day). He was originally drafted in the 6th round back in 2011 by the Blue Jays. After one season in the Toronto system he was included in a controversial, 12-player blockbuster trade with the Marlins that sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and 5 others north of the border in what was billed as a massive salary purge by Miami.
DeSclafani rose quickly through the depleted Marlins farm system to reach the majors in less than 2 years. In 2014 he bounced from the minors to the majors multiple times, ultimately pitching only 33 innings for the Marlins including 5 starts and 8 relief appearances. His 6.27 ERA looks bad but fortunately his peripheral stats are much better. An unlucky .330 BABIP and an extremely unlucky 58% Strand Rate led to an ERA that was nearly twice as high as it should have been. DeSclafaniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 3.77 FIP, 3.80 xFIP and 3.70 SIERA all indicate that he actually pitched pretty well during his abbreviated major league debut season.
DeSclafaniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 7.09 strikeouts per 9 innings were not impressive, but that is only a tick below the 7.34 K/9 league average for starting pitchers. On the positive side, his excellent 1.36 BB/9 would have ranked him near the top of the league if he had thrown enough innings to qualify. His strikeout rate in the minors averaged about 8 K/9, which is decent but does not inspire much confidence that he can be an above average pitcher in the majors. It is possible to succeed with a subpar strikeout rate if you can keep the walk rate low, which is something DeSclafani has been able to do throughout his minor league career. His ability to limit walks enabled DeSclafani to post a 14.4 K-BB% score, which is safely above the major league average of 12% in this key metric. That 14.4% score was better than Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon this year. Only Johnny Cueto was better among the starters in that important statistic.
DeSclafani has a limited repertoire. He is basically a 2-pitch pitcher, utilizing his fastball almost 70% of the time. He uses a slider 25% of the time and throws a rare changeup on 5% of his pitches. Neither offspeed pitch grades well according to scouts. His fastball averages 93 mph but tends to stay up in the zone, which leads to a high fly ball rate Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a dangerous factor in a home run friendly ballpark like Great American. That may work in the large ballpark and humid air of Miami but it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work here. His ground ball rate of 35% last year was one of the lowest in the league. Not only does that lead to home runs but also fails to take advantage of one of the few things the Reds are really good at Ã¢â‚¬â€œ infield defense. The Reds had the best Defensive Efficiency Ratio in baseball last year and were ranked at or near the top of the league in every defense metric available. If a Reds pitcher is not going to strike out a ton of batters he really needs to keep the ball on the ground if he is going to succeed, and judging by his past that could be a real problem for DeSclafani. He is still young and learning his craft, so it is certainly possible that Bryan Price and Jeff Pico can work with him to adjust his repertoire to suit his new environment in Cincinnati.
Since DeSclafani is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher he really needs that breaking ball to be plus. Unfortunately his slider has not been very effective at generating swings and misses and is therefore not much of a strikeout pitch. He is going to need to develop an additional effective offspeed pitch if he is going to be a starting pitcher for the Reds, otherwise he will be limited to middle relief. He doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the strikeout rate required to be a set-up man or closer. He has a strong arm and excellent command and control, so there is plenty of potential here without question. Perhaps the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ coaching cadre can help him complement his good velocity and control with an improved offspeed pitch to allow a breakthrough to the next level of performance. In my opinion he can fit the mold of a Jacob DeGrom, Collin McHugh, Matt Shoemaker or Dallas Keuchel Ã¢â‚¬â€œ unheralded minor leaguers who reached the majors late and delivered much better results in the big leagues than they ever did in the minor leagues. But two things those guys have in common is a large and varied repertoire and keeping the ball on the ground. I think DeSclafani has the talent and mechanics to develop in that direction with the good coaching he is likely to get in Cincinnati but he may require some time in the minors first to make those changes.
DeSclafani was a top 10 prospect for the Marlins. His exact rank depends on who you ask. MLB.com had him ranked at #3 a week ago, behind only Andrew Heaney and Tyler Kolek (the 2nd overall pick of this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s draft). Heaney was traded to the Dodgers, then the Angels one day before the Marlins traded DeSclafani to the Reds, so he was the #2 prospect for a few hours. MLB.com has slotted him in as the Reds #5 prospect behind Stephenson, Winker, Lorenzen and Howard. They also ranked him as the 2nd best prospect traded at the Winter Meetings, behind Heaney again.
Baseball Prospectus ranked DeSclafani as the Marlins #6 prospect. They said he has the potential to be a #4 starter but his realistic projection is a late-innings reliever (7th/8th inning). They say Ã¢â‚¬Å“DeSclafaniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mentality and fastball-slider combo likely slot him into a relief role over the long run, where his heater can play up a tick in short bursts and his aggressive approach fits with getting two or three concentrated outs before handing the ball over to someone else. There is a chance that the 24-year-old can tone things down a bit and get enough out of the changeup to hang as a starter on a second-division team for the early portion of his career.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Baseball America released their Marlins prospect rankings on Friday, the day after the trade, so DeSclafani was not included. John Sickels at Minor League Ball has not released his Marlins rankings yet, and neither has FanGraphs. Prospect361.com ranked DeSclafani as the #8 Marlins prospect, although they see 4th starter upside and are confident he will remain a starter Ã¢â‚¬Å“if it all comes togetherÃ¢â‚¬Â.
The other player the Reds received was catcher Chad Wallach (6Ã¢â‚¬â„¢3Ã¢â‚¬Â 210 lbs, recently turned 23). He is the third son of former ExposÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ star Tim Wallach to play in the minor leagues. Chad was a 5th round pick in the 2013 draft out of Cal State Fullerton. He was not considered one of the MarlinsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ best prospects, not having been ranked on any of the top prospect lists I have seen. He is a bat-first catcher whose defensive chops are questionable. Wallach played poorly in 2013 after being drafted, but this year at the age of 22 he had a breakout season where he put up .322/.431/.457 mostly in Low A ball with a brief spell in High A. He hit only 7 home runs in 408 plate appearances. But Wallach struck out only 46 times and walked 62 times. Right now he projects as a Ryan Hanigan type of high on-base percentage hitter but without the excellent defense. He is pretty much the opposite of Tucker Barnhart, who is an excellent defensive catcher with a poor stick. Wallach will be interesting to watch to see if he can gain more experience and skill with the tools of ignorance. If he can stick behind the plate he has a chance to be a useful backup catcher who can also provide solid value as a quality pinch hitter, something the Reds have had precious few of in recent years.
In addition to the two prospects the Reds also avoided having to pay Mat Latos in 2015. That is a major part of the trade calculus because Latos was likely to earn about $8.5 million through the salary arbitration process. Considering that Latos is coming off a down year, a 2-mph loss in velocity and multiple surgeries it would have been risky for the Reds to devote a large chunk of precious mid-market cash to a player who could spend a lot of time on the shelf in 2015. If the Reds decide to pocket that savings this winter it would be a tremendous disappointment. The Reds could put that money toward paying a new left fielder, or they could use it to subsidize a contract extension for Johnny Cueto or Mike Leake.
While the trade did not bring in an exciting new player it did have some positive effects. It cleared some payroll space that can be used to improve the team via future transactions. It brought in a young pitcher who is likely going to be a part of the Reds 2015 staff. It remains to be seen how good DeSclafani will be and if he will be a starter or a reliever but the potential is there for him to provide more value to the Reds in 2015 than Mat Latos will provide to the Marlins. DeSclafani will be under RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ control for up to 6 years at a low salary for the first 3, whereas the Marlins only have Latos for a single season and will have to pay him $8.5 million. The Reds also get a potentially useful minor league catcher as a bonus. All things considered the trade was positive for the team, but only if the cash they saved is put to use to improving the team.