The San Diego Padres had an asset that they deemed expendable in Mat Latos, a pitcher with roughly 2 1/3 seasons of MLB experience under his belt, and they had the worst offense in major league baseball. So they dealt him to Cincinnati and in return they received two very good hitting prospects in 1B/OF Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal, a replacement for the rotation in still young Edinson Volquez and a potential young closer in Brad Boxberger. Regardless if you think Latos is a legitimate ace or not, the questions surrounding his maturity that date back to his run-in with a coach at the Florida State All-Star Game his senior year of high school still weren't completely gone, and the Padres had reportedly grown tired of it. That alone makes this trade a win for them, but even though they parted with a young, cheap, talented starting pitcher, the trade actually may have expedited their timeline for realistic from a Seattle Mariners angle, let's take a look at the players they got back and ask the question, would this type of trade be enough for Seattle to parts ways with their young front-end arm, Michael Pineda?
Latos and Pineda are very similar pitchers. Both are large, intimidating, powerful figures on the mound as Latos stands 6-foot-6 and is listed at 225 pounds while Pineda's vitals tell us he is 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. Both routinely throw their fastballs in the mid-90s and have good control. But their similarities transfer over to their stats, too. Latos broke into the big leagues in July of 2009 while Pineda saw his first major league action in the Mariners' fifth game of last season. Latos' career consists of 72 starts while Pineda has 28. But outside of the difference in experience, they are very much alike. Pineda is a little over a year younger, having signed as an International Free Agent whereas Latos signed out of high school. Latos had a 2.49 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while striking out 10.5 batters-per-nine and walking just 2.3 per nine in his minor league career. Pineda had an identical minor league ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, 8.8 SO/9 and 2.1 BB/9. Both young, right-handed power pitchers that have enjoyed early success in the major leagues, too.
Latos compiled a 3.37 ERA and 3.28 FIP while accumulating 7.3 WAR over 429 2/3 innings for the Padres while striking out 8.65 batters-per-nine, walking 2.83 per nine giving him a 23.5% strikeout percentage and a 7.7% walk percentage. He has also allowed just 0.82 HR/9, thanks in part to a nice 42.8% ground ball rate. Pineda's rookie season saw him net a 3.74 ERA, 3.42 FIP and 3.4 WAR in 171 innings with 9.11 SO/9 and 2.89 BB/9 -- good for a 24.9% strikeout percentage and 7.9% walk percentage -- while allowing just 0.95 HR/9 and inducing a 36.3% ground ball rate.
Similar pitchers who've accumulated similar statistics working with a similar repertoire. That said, they aren't identical twins, so it isn't a slam dunk to assume that the trade package that the Reds sent to the Padres would've also been offered to the Mariners. But while Latos has a fourth pitch, more experience and a more polished and effective slider, Pineda is younger, more even-keeled and comes with one more season of cheap club control. So in ways, Pineda could be seen as even more valuable on the trade market.
Being a front of the rotation arm is one thing. Being that arm when you are still young and cheap is another thing altogether. Pineda showed front-end potential last season, especially in the first half that saw him post a 3.03 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 113 innings, and while he faded a bit in the second half, two of his three September starts were still quite good. So while much of the trade talk around baseball the past year or so has surrounded the Mariners ace, Felix Hernandez, it may ultimately be Pineda that the club is looking to deal if the cache of talent they can return is right.
The obvious number one reason that this option could be attractive is that the club would retain Hernandez, arguably the best young right-hander in baseball. But beyond that, the Mariners have a great assemblage of young arms in the minor leagues that may soon be ready to step up to the big leagues and possibly replace Pineda. Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Erasmo Ramirez and Jose Campos are all pitchers that we've talked about at length here at SeattleClubhouse, and one, two or all of them may well turn into Pineda-type pitchers in a short time. Another thing to look at is that, while Pineda certainly exceeded all expectations during his rookie campaign and looks like a legitimate front-end arm, we need to look no further than the Latos trade to see that young pitchers can fall off.
Volquez went from the Rangers to the Reds in a trade for Josh Hamilton in December of 2007 and was a huge surprise for Cincinnati in going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 206 strikeouts in 196 innings and being named to his first All-Star team. But injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued him since and he has won just 13 games in the last three seasons while posting a 5.01 ERA and walking 5.4 hitters-per-9. I'm not suggesting that I foresee Pineda experiencing such struggles, but now may well be the time to maximize his value.
If the Mariners would have been able to plug Alonso and Grandal into their lineup there is no question that the offense would have been set up better to succeed. Unlike the steady rumors of trading with the Yankees, these players would have actually filled a positional need within the organization with a true designated hitter bat in the left-handed Alonso and an offensive catcher in the switch-hitter Grandal. Since Safeco Field is mainly tough on right-handed power, their handedness most likely helps their effectiveness here. Both would be easy starters for the ballclub soon -- Alonso right out of the gate and Grandal no later than 2013. And while losing Pineda would hurt, the Achilles' heel of the Mariners is clearly their (lack of) offense. The inclusion of the bullpen fireballer in Boxberger and a replacement starter in Volquez would make the deal easier to stomach. Now that these players are (presumably) off the market however, the Mariners need to turn their attention to teams that have analogous talent and are in search of pitching.
The Yankees, of course, are looking for pitching, but their division mates Boston and Toronto may actually match-up better with Seattle's needs in a trade. The Nationals, Marlins, Cardinals and Rockies could make a deal work as well if they determined that buying now on Pineda would help their 2012 chances. Seattle's needs are offense, offense, offense. They would prefer that offense come in the form of a true left fielder, third baseman or catcher, but beggars can't be choosers, which is why they are tied to Prince Fielder.
Considering where the club is now and what the newly established market for young, front-end pitching is, however, a trade of Pineda looks like it makes much more sense than signing a big-money free agent like Fielder. Will the Mariners do it? They have to find the right match, but if they get an offer like the Reds gave San Diego, they should take it.