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Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on December 26, 2011
The recent 4-for-1 trade involving Mat Latos has left many baseball analysts scratching their heads as to who are the winners and losers of this trade.
The San Diego Padres parted ways with Latos, but the team acquired starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and prospects Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger from the Cincinnati Reds.
It seems, though, that there is no clear winner of this trade. Both teams have addressed needs but have also mortgaged significant pieces of their future to get the deal done.
Starting with the Reds, the team acquired the front-of-the-rotation starter that it had been seeking all offseason. Latos will slot nicely behind Johnny Cueto and in front of Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey.
On the flip side, Latos will be moving from Petco Park, where home runs go to die, to Great American Ballpark, a homer haven. Though he said that he doesn't let a stadium's dimensions dictate how he pitches, that may change after giving up cheap home runs in Cincinnati.
Additionally, while the free agent pitching market this offseason wasn't too strong, the trade market has picked up significantly. James Shields and Jair Jurrjens, among others, all appear to be on the block. One of these players might have cost the Reds much less than what the team gave up for Latos.
From the Padres perspective, this trade fits in perfectly with the theme of rebuilding. San Diego acquired young talent that can make an immediate impact. The real head-scratcher of the trade is Volquez.
Since elbow surgery in 2009, Volquez has been a shell of his former self. He was an All-Star in 2008, but pitched to a 5-7 record with a 5.71 ERA in 2011. He might just be a temporary solution, especially if he struggles with walks like he has in the past.
However, the other three pieces of this trade are quite intriguing. Alonso has been blocked the past few seasons in Cincinnati by All-Star Joey Votto. Votto is only 27 and has already won an MVP award, so he's entrenched at first base.
The Reds experimented with Alonso in left field, but that didn't work out. He has a potent bat but needs to play where he's comfortable. At age 24, he will have every opportunity to win the Padres starting first base job this spring training.
Padres first base prospect Anthony Rizzo, acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, also may compete for the starting first base job. He's only 21, but he appeared to be overmatched late last season in his first big league action. A little more seasoning in the minors can do him well.
The Padres also acquired lefty-hitting Cuban catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was blocked in Cincinnati by star prospect Devin Mesoraco. He shot through the Reds minors last season but will likely start 2012 in Triple-A for the Padres. San Diego also has Austin Hedges behind the dish so it will be interesting to see which prospect develops quicker.
Finally, Boxberger projects as a late-game reliever and eventual replacement to Heath Bell, who signed with the Miami Marlins. He likely won't start the season in the bigs but may get the call at some point next season.
While the Padres appear to be the clear winners of this trade, taking a closer look puts that into question. Given Latos' age, the stud pitcher could have been a huge part of the Padres rebuilding plans and beyond.
Latos won't be arbitration eligible until 2013 and won't qualify for free agency until 2016. He could have still been affordable for San Diego, and the team could have focused on building around him.
Instead, the Reds were the team that decided to take a huge risk by trading three highly-touted prospects for one player.
Only time will tell who is the winner of this trade, but for now, both teams are simply banking on hope that their future plans pan out.