After yesterday’s trade of Mat Latos to the Reds, the general consensus among fans what that the Padres got a hell of a haul of prospects from Cincinnati. The highlights of the deal are Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, a pair of Cubans who look ready for the majors after brief spells in the minor leagues. But here’s the problem with both of them: there doesn’t appear to be room for either in San Diego at this moment. Alonso is a first baseman, as experiments with him in left field have been an unmitigated disaster. In 2011, San Diego split playing time at first base between rookies Anthony Rizzo and Jesus Guzman. Guzman was the more impressive of the duo, posting an .847 OPS in 271 plate appearances to finish off the year. Rizzo was awful during his 153 plate appearance stint in the majors, with just .523 OPS. Once getting sent back down to AAA Tucson however, Rizzo exploded, with a 1.056 OPS in 413 plate appearances, and 26 home runs.
A huge difference between the performances of Rizzo and Guzman in 2011 has to do with age. Before being demoted, Rizzo was a 21 year old making his major league debut. Guzman was 27 after being handed the starting job. Rizzo also had a puny .210 BABIP in comparison to Guzman’s robust .360 mark during the season. If you run Rizzo’s crazy AAA numbers in 2011 through a minor league equivalency calculator, you get a line of .259/.319/.481 with 18 homers, which to me, is more valuable than Guzman’s BABIP inflated line of .312/.369/.478 with just five homers.
But back to reality for a moment, the Padres now have Alonso in the fold in addition to Guzman. He OPSed .943 in a brief MLB callup in 2011 (98 plate appearances), and had a .296/.374/.486 line in 409 AAA plate apperances in 2011. If you run HIS 2011 numbers through the same MLE calculator, you get a much less impressive .237/.305/.376 line. Keep in mind, that Alonso played the 2011 season as a 24 year old, splitting the difference between Guzman and Rizzo.
If I had to choose one to keep, I’d go with Rizzo, due in part to his age and fantastic upside. Alonso could be better suited in the American League as a DH, because his glove doesn’t really profile well anywhere on the field. But it actually appears that the Padres are getting plenty of calls on Rizzo, with the Rays and Cubs apparently interested. Both teams would make sense, as the Rays love other teams’ castoff prospects (SEE: Carlos Pena, Edwin Jackson), and the Cubs need a first baseman with the aforementioned Pena’s future uncertain, and Rizzo’s history with both Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer. But again, if I were in Padres GM Josh Byrnes’s shoes, I’d be looking to dump Alonso as opposed to the younger, higher upside Rizzo. And as for Guzman? Well, I’d see if some team would look to give up any sort of value for him. 27 year olds who BABIP .360 in their major league debut seasons don’t exactly inspire me to keep them around. The Padres outfield is already full, with Kyle Blanks in left, Cameron Maybin in center, and Will Venable in right. Maybe you can keep Guzman around as a pinch hitter type, like the Braves did with Brooks Conrad (before nontendering hiim this past week). But I would not declare a competition at first base with Guzman as one of the primaries.
That brings me to the other major principal in the Latos deal: catcher Yasmani Grandal. Grandal shot through the Reds system, starting the year off in A-league Bakersfield, spending some time in AA Carolina, and finishing for a brief spell in AAA Louisville. His combined line at the three stops? .305/.401/.500 in 441 plate appearances, with 31 doubles and 14 homers. Now that sounds like a future All-Star catcher, especially at the age of just 22. He’ll play 2012 at the age of 23, and I’d imagine he’d start his season off in AAA Tucson. The Padres have a great catcher right now in Nick Hundley, who in just 308 plate appearances last year, had a .288/.347/.477 line. His 3.3 fWAR was second on the team among position players behind Maybin, who had a lot of his value come from his glove and legs. But like Guzman, Hundley had a high BABIP, at .362. In 2010, when his BABIP was a more manageable .293, his line was .249/.308/.418. In 2009, with a .303 BABIP, his line was .238/.313/.406. So there’s clearly not a blockage factor here with Hundley when Grandal is ready for the show, possibly as early as mid-2012. Hundley will likely shift to the backup role when Grandal is ready, because 2011’s backup was the always exciting (note: sarcasm) journeyman, Rob Johnson.
To summarize things quickly, in this trade, the Padres got their catcher of the future in Grandal, who could provide more value to them than Latos did over his two and a quarter seasons with the season (7.3 fWAR), and either a long-term first baseman or a trade chip in Alonso. It’ll also be interesting to see how Latos fares going from an extreme pitcher’s park in Petco Park to an extreme hitter’s park in the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. On the road over his career, Latos had a 3.57 ERA (compared to 3.11 at home), and had a nearly identical home run rate (0.83 at Peto, 0.81 on the road). If those trends can hold, maybe the Reds got a decent deal with this, because both Alonso and Grandal were blocked long-term in Cincy, Alonso by former MVP Joey Votto, and Grandal by superior prospect Devin Mesoraco. People, myself included, are calling this an overpay…but maybe, it’s realy not. The Padres got a lot more confused with this one, and the Reds heavily upgraded a rotation that saw seven pitchers primarily get used in 2011 and combine for just 6.1 fWAR.