Looking at Latos


There was an article posted by Jim Bowden over at ESPN yesterday (Insider) that suggested five major trades that could (or should) happen this offseason. And they’re all long-shots, for sure, but they’re intriguing nonetheless. The most likely involved the Red Sox acquiring Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics, but others included Felix Hernandez to the Yankees, Adam Jones to the Braves, and both Wade Davis and B.J. Upton to the Reds. Those are intriguing, but it was the fifth that made me think quite a bit.

He suggested the Royals could trade Aaron Crow, Jake Odorizzi, and Blake Wood to the Padres for starter Mat Latos.

Let that simmer a bit, and then I want to run down what that would do for the Royals and what I think about the possibility.

Just briefly, let’s look at Latos’ production the last two seasons. Latos, 24 and 6’6″, has started 62 games over the past two seasons, totaling 379 innings for San Diego. In 2009, he made ten starts over 50.2 innings, but that was a typical first season for the young right-handed starter. Since then, he’s struck out 8.9 per nine innings to only 2.7 walks and 7.6 hits. He has an ERA of 3.21 over that span with an FIP of 3.13. His grounder:flyball ratio sits at just over 1 and his xFIP is at around 3.37. Latos doesn’t throw heat, but a fastball around 93 works well with a slider around 83-84, a changeup at 82-83, and a curveball at roughly 78 MPH. The slider and changeup bring the most swing-and-misses, but the changeup is also his most common pitch to be put into play.

Basically, Latos is good. Very good. He received enough Cy Young votes to place eighth in the voting in 2010. He anchors a Padres team that hasn’t had much to celebrate the last couple seasons. And it’s rumored that he may or may not be on the market as the Padres try to rebuild their team.

Now, I think we all know about Crow, Odorizzi, and Wood, if only well enough to have an idea of what we’d be trading. Odorizzi projects well to be a two- or three-starter, in my mind. He doesn’t have quite the upside that guys like Mike Montgomery or John Lamb have, but he’s also likely a safer bet to hit his projection. As for Crow and Wood, they’re strong and decent relievers, respectively, that might be hard to effectively replace. But relievers are often easier to replace that starters anyway, so it’s less of a concern.

Since Latos has pitched at pitcher-friendly Petco Park as his home park for his career, some of his numbers should be taken lightly. But the strikeouts and walks should be fairly stable moving to any park. And that’s what we see based on his splits. He’s pitched more at away parks and batters have almost exactly the same line against him no matter the park (.229/.287/.348 at home versus .224/.286/.351 away). The guy is very talented. I’m not going to pretend to be a scout, but he has some serious potential to be a strong starter for a very long time. If he were in a place that got more attention, like Chicago or Boston, he’d be much more highly regarded. As it is, the Royals could be sneaky to grab him if they find he is available. I’d prefer Latos to Ervin Santana, who I talked about last week.

Of course, the price has to be right. For me, I’m tentative about trading both Crow and Odorizzi in one package. Crow is a big piece of the bullpen going forward, in my mind, even though relievers are easy to replace. Between Crow, Greg Holland, and Tim Collins, the Royals have a few strong young relievers to hold down late innings in the future. And I love having that reliable bullpen. As far as Odorizzi goes, I love the guy and the numbers he’s been able to put up in 2011. He could be a pretty important piece of the starting rotation in just a year’s time, so it’d be hard to see him go now. And as far as Wood goes, well, I won’t be too heartbroken.

Really, I like this as opposed to trading Wil Myers in a package for Gio Gonzalez. If I had to pick between the two, I’d pick this package by far. As far as including Wil Myers here and changing the package around, I’d be intrigued, but not sold.  However, the Padres have depth in their organization as far as RHPs go, from what I can tell, so they may want Myers to make such a deal. In any case, I’d be intrigued enough to give it a shot.

If Latos really is available, the Royals would be crazy not to dig in and see if they can work something out. Still, given what it might take to get him, they’ll have to carefully weigh the cost. At least with the proposed trade, it’s mainly based on pitching. And quality right-handed pitching is more prevalent than left-handed, which the Royals would not be giving up here. It’s tough and I’m already attached to Crow in the bullpen, but if I had to choose, I think I’d make the trade.

What would you do?

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