Springtime Storylines: What did the Mat Latos deal do for this team?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The San Diego Padres.

The Big Question: What did the Mat Latos deal for this team?

We are seeing fewer and fewer blockbuster trades in baseball these days, but the Padres pulled one off last winter, shipping out ace Mat Latos and getting back a bunch of guys: Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger.  It was quite a haul, and given that it’s way easier to develop or attract pitching in Petco Park, it seems like a pretty winning trade for the Padres. But how much will the trade help now?

Well, if it pays off this season, it will probably be because the third most important guy in the trade — Volquez — returns to form after an awful 2011.  The real value here come in Alonso and Grandal, and each of them face some challenges. Alonso is going to have a lot of pressure on him to be a middle of the order threat, especially since Carlos Quentin will miss the first month or so of the season.  Grandal is going to be stuck in the minors for a while, it seems, as the Padres just extended Nick Hundley’s contract through 2015.

Alonso will at least get the plate appearances and hopefully the pressure and the spaciousness of Petco Park won’t be too intimidating. Padres fans looking for the Grandal portion of the deal just have to be patient and hope that the Padres can figure out how to turn either him or Nick Hundley into some other parts they’ll need in 2013 and beyond.

What else is going on?

  • While this team has been offensively challenged for a while, there are a core of good hitters here in Cameron Maybin, Alonso, Hundley, Will Venable and Jesus Guzman. But man, that park kills ’em all.
  • That park also helps pitchers, and that makes the rotation seem better than it really is. They play half of their games on the road, obviously, and no one in this rotation save maybe Cory Luebke impresses you that much when you take them away from San Diego.
  • Losing Heath Bell is a blow, but the Padres have not wanted for good relief pitching in some time. Huston Street will slip into the closer’s role and import Andrew Cashner will provide some firepower in support. The pen, as always, will be a team strength.
  • The Padres may not scare anyone right now, but they have one of the top farm systems in the game and that is the sort of thing that keeps hard core fans interested. My spies in San Diego (well, my brother) tell me that there is a lot of excitement about the organization as a whole, even if no one thinks the big boys will do much this year.

So how are they gonna do?

Probably fifth place. Nothin’ personal, man, but they just don’t have the pop and they don’t have the top end pitching to compete, even if it only takes slightly above .500 ball to be in the conversation in this division for most of the season.

Report: Gerrit Cole has seven-year, $245 million offer from Yankees

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Bob Klapisch of The New York Times reports that free agent starter Gerrit Cole has a seven-year, $245 million contract offer on the table from the Yankees. As Klapisch also notes, the deal would set a record for total value and average annual value for a pitcher, besting Zack Greinke‘s $34.4 million AAV and David Price‘s $217 million total.

While it is possible that Cole signs before the end of the Winter Meetings on Thursday, clients of Scott Boras have tended to sign later in the offseason, so this may be a protracted process with today’s report as a jumping-off point. Both the Yankees’ and Angels’ front offices have received clearance from ownership to break the bank to sign Cole.

Cole, 29, could not have timed having a career year any better. During the regular season, he led all of baseball with 326 strikeouts and led the American League with a 2.50 ERA while also posting a 20-5 record and walking only 48 batters across 212 1/3 innings. He performed brilliantly in the playoffs as well, holding the opposition to seven runs on 21 hits and 11 walks with 47 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings of work as the Astros narrowly missed out on winning another championship.

Cole is entering his age-29 season, so a deal of at least seven years would take him well into his mid-30’s. Teams, especially lately, have been hesitant to commit to pitchers, but as the Nationals showed with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin, sometimes it leads to a championship.

For what it’s worth, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports says the Yankees haven’t made a formal offer to Cole yet, though the club plans to make one this week. During this time of year, both sides — front office personnel and player agents — leak details to the press to help establish leverage. What we can generally take from this is that the Yankees are hot for Cole and he’s going to get a record-setting contract from some team, even if it’s not the Yankees.