Mat Latos

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.

Joe Blanton signs with the Nationals

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Joe Blanton #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have signed Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Surprised it took this long given that Blanton was excellent out of the pen for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80/26 K/BB ratio over 80 innings. But even if it’s a late signing, it’s not a terrible one: Blanton will receive a $4 million salary and will have the chance to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. UPDATE: The salary structure is kind of odd. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports that Blanton will get only $1 million in 2017, plus some incentives, and will have $1 million deferred to 2018 and $2 million deferred to 2019.

And he got two weeks off work. Bonus!

Baseball doesn’t need gimmicks to draw in young fans. It just needs to be baseball.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Chicago Cubs ball and bat bags are seen prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
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MESA, AZ — I didn’t set out to ask Robin Mitchell about pace of play, rules changes, how to best execute an intentional walk or how to turn kids into baseball fans. I was interviewing her about other stuff. She brought those topics up on her own.

“I heard them saying that they were not going to throw four pitches for intentional walks anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’d prefer that they throw the pitches because anything can happen. There can be wild pitches. And that’s the exciting part of baseball. That you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to speed the game along.”

For most baseball fans such sentiments are tied up with a devotion to baseball purism, tradition or their distaste for change. But such is not the case for Mitchell. While the lifelong Chicago resident went to Cubs games as a child, baseball has not been a lifelong obsession. Rather, it’s something she has become reacquainted with via her two baseball-obsessed boys, Jake, 11, and Bennett, 9.

Mitchell and her boys live on the north side of Chicago and, over the past two years, her sons have developed a huge affinity for the Cubs, almost by osmosis. It was certainly a good time for it, as the Cubs have become winners, and Mitchell allows that since Jake and Bennett didn’t “have to suffer through some of the more challenging times,” their attraction to the game became easier. It’s clear to her, however, that they are not going to be fair weather fans.

“They love baseball,” she said, implying that it’s not just homerism for the current World Series champions at work. They love the sport itself and began to play it too. It’s not easy for Mitchell to say whether their playing led to their fandom or vice-versa. It all sort of happened at once, with each reinforcing the other.

I asked her what about baseball, specifically, appeals to them. What, at a time when Rob Manfred and everyone connected to the game is worried about the sport’s seeming inability to attract and hold on to young fans, keeps Mitchell’s sons engaged.

For them, it seems to be all about accessibility and engagement. Being in Chicago and living close to a park is important, as is having all of the games available on TV. Also important to them: appealing young stars.

“It helps that the Cubs have some really nice players who seem like really nice guys,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we see them in the neighborhood even. Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo. David Ross. Whenever we’ve seen them out or at an event they’re always kind and polite and give the boys encouraging words.”

But isn’t baseball . . . boring? And slow? Don’t kids like video games and kinetic action? Doesn’t a 19th century pastime with a sometimes turgid pace turn off 21st century kids?

“No, are you kidding?!” Mitchell said. “We don’t leave the game before it’s over. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We love the pace of baseball. In the world of electronics, with everything moving really fast and being gimmicky, there’s something I think that my boys and I find appealing about baseball. I can share it with them and we all just slow down.”

As we talked, Jake and Bennett ran around a field just outside the Cubs clubhouse, playing catch and practicing rundowns with a couple of other boys they just met. Mitchell and I spoke for nearly a half hour. They played the whole time and looked like they wouldn’t stop unless or until their mother dragged them away.

We have spent a lot of time lately talking about how to fix baseball. I don’t know that anyone has made a compelling case that, despite the challenges the game faces, it is actually broken. Robin Mitchell doesn’t think it is. Neither do Jake and Bennett. While Rob Manfred and Joe Torre propose increasingly unorthodox methods for speeding things up, some pretty basic and longstanding factors are continuing to attract young fans:

  • The availability of games almost every day;
  • An exciting and successful local team;
  • The charisma of baseball’s biggest stars;
  • The ability for kids to play the game themselves and to emulate those stars on a little league field; and
  • The chance for parents to share their love of baseball with their children.

These are the factors which have always made up baseball’s appeal. Perhaps Major League Baseball should concentrate on ensuring that those factors, which are proven to draw in fans, persist and flourish. Perhaps they should concentrate less on chasing hypothetical fans via gimmicks aimed at fixing problems which are far-from-established.