The Reds and Padres swung a mini-blockbuster today, with Mat Latos heading to Cincinnati in exchange for four players: first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal, and right-handers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger. We’re all familiar with Volquez because he’s been around a while, and Baseball America recently ranked Alonso, Grandal, and Boxberger as the Reds’ third, fourth, and tenth best prospects, respectively.
Rather than look to fill specific needs — which some felt the Royals did when they traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers last winter — it appears as though the Padres just took the best package of talent they could find. There’s a lot going on here as far as the San Diego is concerned, so let’s break it all down…
Both Yonder and Rizzo?
First base prospect Anthony Rizzo was a key piece of last winter’s Adrian Gonzalez trade, and about two months later Baseball America ranked him as the 75th prospect in the game. Alonso was two spots ahead of him at number 73. San Diego now has two young, high-end, left-handed power bats at first base that are essentially Major League ready in their organization, creating a bit of a logjam.
The Reds tried like crazy to find a non-first base spot for Alonso over the last few years, trying him at third base and in the outfield. Most of his big league time has come in left field, but it’s hard to find anyone that thinks that experiment will work long-term. Rizzo has never played anything other than first base in the minors, and as a left-handed thrower, he’s limited to first or the outfield. Neither player has great defensive tools, so they’re stuck battling it out for the same full-time roster spot. Ultimately, another trade is likely.
Petco Park tends to favor right-handed hitters or opposite field lefties like Gonzalez, which actually makes Alonso a better long-term fit than Rizzo even though his minor league performance isn’t as impressive. Both players have power the other way, though Alonso does have longer track record of hitting the ball to all fields with authority, dating back to his days at Miami. Their big league spray charts don’t tell us anything definitive given the small sample sizes (Alonso and Rizzo), but there is a noticeable difference. Yonder has also exhibited better strike zone discipline in the minors (11.0 BB% compared to 9.7% for Rizzo) without the propensity to strike out (15.1 K% compared to 20.7% for Rizzo).
It’s worth mentioning that Alonso figures to be more expensive going forward even though both guys are under team control through 2017. The big league contract he signed out of the draft in 2008 will pay him $1 million in 2012, and that will impact his future salaries going forward. Rizzo will make half that next season and won’t have the same trickle down effect. Both guys are great young hitters, but Alonso is probably a better long-term fit for San Diego given their extreme home park situation. There will be no shortage of teams willing to trade for Rizzo, with Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners, Nationals, Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers among the clubs that could use a young, power-hitting first baseman.
Volquez in Petco Park
We’re now three years removed from Volquez’s breakout 4.2 WAR season in 2008, with Tommy John surgery, a PED suspension, and walk issues popping up in recent years. The now 28-year-old right-hander has walked 13.4% of the batters he’s faced since the start of 2009, second most behind Carlos Marmol (16.6%) among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 220 innings. The strikeout (22.2 K% and 8.88 K/9) and ground ball (51.3%) rates are still very good during that time, it just continues to be a question of control.
For now, Volquez steps into Latos’ vacated rotation spot. He’s only under control through 2013 as an arbitration-eligible player, so don’t expect his tenure in San Diego to be all that long. With some help from a strong defensive club and a drastic change in home ballparks, Volquez could find himself on another club as soon as this summer if he puts together a solid first half. The guy has always had walk problems, but he could see some improvement going forward as he gets further away from elbow reconstruction. He’s the only established big leaguer heading to the Padres, but it isn’t insane to consider him the fourth piece of the deal as far as they’re concerned.
The Long-Term Catcher
The Reds were blessed with two top catching prospects, but it’s not surprising they decided to keep the big league ready Devin Mesoraco over Grandal, the 12th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Grandal had a huge year with the stick at three minor league levels in 2011 (.305/.401/.500 with 14 homers in 105 games), and Baseball America recently touted him as being an average receiver and thrower in the long-term. Like Alonso, he does a nice job controlling the strike zone (13.3 BB% so far in his career), and catchers that can avoid being zeros at the plate while being average behind it are very valuable. Grandal figures to be much more than that, and as an added bonus, he’s a switch-hitter.
The Padres are pretty well set behind the plate next year with Nick Hundley and John Baker, so they can afford to be patient and give Grandal a full season in the minors. He crushed Double-A pitching during his 45-game cameo there last summer (.301/.360/.474), so a full season in Triple-A is probably in the forecast next year. San Diego had little upper level catcher depth in the minors, so this move fills a glaring hole.
The 43rd overall pick in 2009, the Reds moved Boxberger to the bullpen full-time this season and he flourished. In 62 innings split almost evenly between Double- and Triple-A, he struck out 93 and walked just 28 with a strong ground ball rate (~46% according to Minor League Central). He tacked on another 22 strikeouts and six walks in 11.1 Arizona Fall League innings after the season.
For all intents and purposes, Boxberger is a big league ready bullpen arm with swing-and-miss stuff (92-95 fastball and an average slider) and some control problems. The Padres have a knack for turning guys like this into quality late-inning arms, which is what Boxberger projected to be even before the move to Petco. Boxberger is unlikely to step into the shoes previously filled by Heath Bell, at least not in 2012, but getting six cost-controlled years of a power reliever as an extra piece was a nice get for Byrnes.
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It going to hurt anytime a team trades a young, homegrown, ace-caliber pitcher, but the Padres did a fine job of getting long-term solutions at first base and catcher while adding some young bullpen help. Volquez is a bit of a wildcard, but he’s got a chance to help the club both on the mound and as a trade chip within the next two seasons. Byrnes managed to get a nice combination of short-term production and long-term value by trading Latos, and he should be applauded for being open-minded enough to take an upgrade over Rizzo if it meant getting the most talent possible.