Padres net a huge haul from Reds in return for Mat Latos

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The Padres weren’t looking to trade their 24-year-old ace, but there’s simply no way that they could turn this down.

Cincinnati sent 1B/OF Yonder Alonso, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Edinson Volquez and RHP Brad Boxberger to San Diego for RHP Mat Latos in a trade announced Saturday.

In return, the Reds get one of the game’s most promising young pitchers to head a rotation also set to include Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and either Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman or Travis Wood. Latos is 27-29 with a 3.37 ERA in since debuting with the Padres in 2009. He’ll make close to the minimum next year and he’s four years away from free agency, making him a very valuable property.

Still, this looks like a pretty classic overpay from a frustrated GM in Walt Jocketty. The Reds’ plans had been stifled all winter to date. Now Jocketty has resorted to using the Reds’ two-best trade chips, their still tantalizing reclamation project and one of the game’s best relief prospects, all in the same deal.

Alonso, the seventh overall selection in the 2008 draft, excelled in his time in the majors last season, batting .330/.398/.545 in 88 at-bats. His minor league numbers were more good than great, so he’s probably not a future All-Star. However, he projects as a nice regular at first base and the Padres will have him under control for six years. What that means for fellow top prospect Anthony Rizzo still has to be figured out. Alonso could be stashed in left field at some point or maybe he gets traded again. For now, he’ll probably start at first, with Rizzo returning to Triple-A.

Grandal, the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft, is one of the game’s top five catching prospects, but he was blocked by an even better one in Cincinnati in Devin Mesoraco. He hit .296/.410/.510 in 206 at-bats in high-A and .301/.360/.474 in 156 at-bats in Double-A last season. He also projects as an above average defender. He’s going to need a year in Triple-A, but his arrival makes Nick Hundley expendable in San Diego.

Volquez, 28, went 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA for the Reds in 2008 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2009 and getting hit with a 50-game PED suspension during his rehab. Things seemed fine after he returned in 2010, but he struggled mightily last season, going 5-7 with a 5.71 ERA and 65 walks in 108 2/3 innings. Volquez still has his old velocity, so the upside is there if he can start throwing more strikes. He’ll make about $1.8 million next year and he’s under control through 2013, so he still qualifies as a pretty nice pickup.

Boxberger is the lesser name in the deal, but he was looking like a potential closer of the future for the Reds. The 2009 supplemental first-round pick had a 2.03 ERA and a 93/28 K/BB ratio in 62 inings between Double- and Triple-A last season. Boxberger throws 92-95 mph and has a surprisingly good changeup to go along with his slider. He could win a spot in the Padres bullpen next spring and become one of the team’s top relievers quickly.

So, the Reds got their impact player, and that counts for something in an NL Central that’s looking pretty winnable with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder departing. Latos is no Petco creation — he has a lifetime ERA of 3.57 on the road — and he still has the potential to take his game up a notch. It’s just that the cost was huge, and while the Reds didn’t give up anyone they looked at as a key player for 2011, they certainly hindered their ability to make future trades by giving up four quality properties here. Score one for the Padres. When teams say they’re not going to trade a player unless their bowled over, this is precisely the kind of deal they have in the back of their minds.

Eric Hosmer’s eight-year, $144 million contract isn’t that bad

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Late Saturday night, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres and first baseman Eric Hosmer agreed to an eight-year, $144 million contract, the new largest contract in club history. According to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports, the contract includes an opt-out after the fifth year. Further, Hosmer will average $21 million per year for those first five years and $13 million for the final three years, so it’s severely front-loaded.

Hosmer, 28, had a career year last season, playing in all 162 games while batting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs, 94 RBI, and 98 runs scored in 671 plate appearances. Per Baseball Reference, Hosmer accrued 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, only one of six first basemen to do so. At No. 6, he was 0.4 WAR behind Anthony Rizzo and 0.4 WAR ahead of Logan Morrison.

Wil Myers had previously told the Padres he would accept a position change if the club were to sign Hosmer. He will be moving to the outfield as a result. The Padres now have a logjam in the outfield, so Jose Pirela could move moved to the infield. How the Padres plan to handle that situation remains to be seen.

The general consensus about the Hosmer signing once news broke was that it is laughably bad. Back in November, Dave Cameron — ironically now in the Padres’ front office — called Hosmer a “free agent landmine.” That thought hasn’t really changed among many writers. For example, using restraint, Dennis Lin of The Athletic calls the deal “a big gamble.” MLB Network’s Brian Kenny said Hosmer has at least three “red flags.”

FanGraphs projects the Padres to finish 71-91, so adding Hosmer isn’t likely to transform the club into a contender on his own. That being said, the Padres’ payroll was only at $70 million prior to the Hosmer signing, so the contract won’t hamstring them going forward. If the young nucleus of players — including Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe — perform as expected, the Padres could be a threat in the NL West relatively soon with plenty of cheap, cost-controlled players and having some experienced veterans like Hosmer and Myers could be useful for their intangibles — pennant race/playoff experience, clubhouse presence, leadership, etc.

Hosmer has had three seasons of 3.5 WAR or more, according to Baseball Reference. He’s had four between -0.5 and 1.0. Now entering his age-28 season, it’s hardly a guarantee he’ll be an All-Star-caliber player in 2018, let alone in 2022 when he is 32 years old. From a strict dollars-to-WAR standpoint in a complete vacuum, one could’ve done better than Hosmer at eight years, $144 million.

The Padres, however, aren’t a small market team; they just operate like one. Forbes valued the club at $1.125 billion last April. The Padres don’t have the financial muscle of the Dodgers or Yankees, but paying Eric Hosmer $18 million on average for the first five years of his contract won’t come close to hurting the organization in any way, shape, or form. More importantly, signing Hosmer shows the rest of the team and the fans a commitment to being legitimate, bumping the payroll up towards $90 million. That now dwarfs teams like the large-market Phillies, who opened up spring training with just over $60 million in player obligations.

In the grand scheme of things, the Hosmer signing is also a good sign given the standstill in the free agent market. Many veteran players — even reliever Fernando Abad, who posted a 3.30 ERA last season — had to settle for minor league contracts instead of guaranteed major league deals. Many others, including the likes of Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned. The rumor that Hosmer wanted more than seven years and close to $150 million was laughed at last month. Agent Scott Boras was still able to get his client the deal he wanted, which could bode well for those still teamless. Martinez’s patience may yet be rewarded like Hosmer’s was; money may once again start flowing in the free agent economy.

In summation, the Eric Hosmer contract is good if: you are Eric Hosmer, related to or a friend of Eric Hosmer, a teammate of Hosmer’s, Scott Boras, a current or soon-to-be free agent, a Padres fan, and a baseball fan in general. The Hosmer contract is bad if: you are a penny-pinching owner of a Major League Baseball team, or someone who cares more about $/WAR than an actual good product being put on the field.