A belated moment of appreciation for Mat Latos as he moves on to Miami.

It’s been about a month and a half since the Reds traded the 6′ 6″ right-hander to Miami. There’s been plenty of discussion about the trade itself: salary had to be cut, the Reds weren’t going to re-sign him, etc. We’ll be better equipped to evaluate the trade when we see how Latos comes back from injury in Miami, and how Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach develop.

One thing that’s certain is that I will miss having Mat Latos on the Reds.

On Saturday, December 17th, 2011, the Latos trade brought a sort of hope infused with confidence for the Reds that I hadn’t felt for a long time. Winning the Central in 2010 after a 15-year playoff drought was thrilling; Jay Bruce’s clinching homer is one of the great Reds images of the past couple decades. But who thought our guys were going to hang with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels in October? I hoped, don’t get me wrong, but it felt like we needed a miracle.

After a disappointing 2011, Latos came at a steep price but he filled out maybe as good of a rotation as any we’ve ever seen in Cincinnati. Giving up three prospects and Edinson Volquez was risky, but it signaled Latos’ importance, and the team’s commitment, to competing right away. They won their second division title in three years and Latos was more than a worthy #2 starter, making 33 starts and finishing top 10 in the NL in WAR, WHIP and IP.

Latos brought a fire too. I picture him stalking off the mound shouting into his glove or looking like steam would come out of his ears cartoon-style. He’s a guy that once added, “I hate SF” to his autograph when he was with the Padres. I’m not for players needlessly disrespecting other players or teams or cities, but I appreciate an athlete that wants to beat a rival as badly as the fans want him to.

Latos’ extensive tattoos and his wife Dallas’ boisterous and uninhibited twitter presence give them a sort of rock star (or at least reality tv star) status in the baseball world, and it was fun to have that in Cincinnati. They’re characters without causing any distracting off-the-field drama.

When Game 1 of the 2012 division series began at AT&T Park, I was at a wedding reception in Virginia—my wife’s friends—checking every pitch on my phone, carrying on conversations like a fool texting and driving. Eight pitches into the game my phone stopped updating, uninformed minutes ticked by, and the ants under my skin grew increasingly active. When I could take it no longer I excused myself (oh man, how many bathroom breaks was I going to take at this reception? Should I go ahead and claim food poisoning?) and I ran downstairs to the bar to find a TV.

Sure enough, the mother of all ironies: the starting rotation had avoided injury for an entire season, only to lose their ace in the first inning of the playoffs. I saw replays of Johnny Cueto coming up lame and leaving the field; Sam LeCure was warming up. But then I saw something comforting and oddly exciting, an image that will stick with me a long time when I think of the Reds: the replay of Mat Latos standing up in the dugout and pointing to himself. It felt like something from childhood or something the hero would do in a kickboxing movie. It was like when Daniel-san decided at the last moment that he would fight in the finals.

Latos’ gesture said, “I’m coming in, there’s no decision to be made here, I’ve got this, and we are ok.” I wanted to cheer–cheer in a way that would’ve gotten me thrown out of that clubhouse bar in a ritzy golf club in Virginia, where no one was paying attention to the game. Latos came on in the 3rd to throw four scoreless innings on the road and on short rest, and the good guys held on for what seemed like a tone-setting victory.

Admittedly, another image that will long haunt me is that of Ryan Hanigan jerking his head away from the field the instant that Buster Posey made contact with Latos’ 3-2 pitch in the 5th inning of Game 5. But I don’t hold that against Mat. Game 5 should’ve been Cueto’s time, Mat did everything he could in his first playoff experience, and he got beat by the best hitter on a team that would win three World Series in five years.

Latos went on to have another impressive season in 2013, marred only by a late injury that kept him from starting the playoff game in Pittsburgh, and forced the Reds to use Cueto too soon after his return from injury.  Latos missed half of 2014 with injuries, but pitched well when he was healthy.  I had the feeling that Mat’s next fully healthy year could be a special one.

Whether or not that’s true, it won’t be with the Reds, and another piece—along with Bronson Arroyo—is gone from the unprecedented 2012 rotation that missed only one start in the regular season. Even the one start they missed was due to a double-header.

In 2015, we don’t know how Tony Cingrani’s health will hold up or if Anthony DeSclafani and some of the younger potential starters will pan out. It does seem that all of the candidates for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will have inning limits because of past injuries or inexperience. Even if things go well, some guys might have to be held back or shut down later in the year. If things don’t go well, we could see a bit of a clown car scenario that will show us just how consistent the past few years have been, and how much we all miss the tattooed hero.

Yet, players turn over. Making way for new and cheaper talent is an essential part of the game. We know that the Reds are loaded with young pitching talent. In 2009, Baseball America’s list of the Reds’ top 10 prospects featured nine position players and Kyle Lotzkar. In 2015, there are only three position players on the list joining Robert Stephenson, Rasiel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and so on. Stephenson, Lorenzen and DeSclafini have comparable experience, age, innings pitched and games started to what Cueto, Leake, Bailey and Latos had two seasons before the latter group began completing full seasons in the starting rotation. Cingrani and Iglesias are wildcards with high ceilings at the moment.

Even if Cueto and Mike Leake leave for greener contracts after this year, we could see another solid starting five making nearly every start as early as 2016. The departure of Latos and Alfredo Simon means that the consistent starting rotation we’ve grown accustomed to the last three years is gone, but probably not for long.

I’ll remember Latos’ time on the Reds fondly. But hopefully when I think back on 2015, I’ll get images of Reds as far as the eye can see at the All Star Game, Cueto and Bailey competing for a Cy Young, Bruce lacing homers into right, and Votto spraying doubles all over the field, scoring Billy from whichever base he had just stolen.