In the 2011 offseason, the Cincinnati Reds were in win-now mode, simple as that. And how could they not be with guys like Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips leading the way, and other pieces in Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce rounding out the core. However, at this point, the non-Cueto portion of the Cincinnati rotation was lacking, as Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake, who would’ve been the fourth or fifth starter in most other rotations at the time, were second and third in Cincinnati. To rectify this, the Reds sold out for a then young phenom in Starting Pitcher Mat Latos, giving up not only their current fourth starter in Edison Volquez but top-of-the-line prospects in Catcher Yasmani Grandal and first basemen Yonder Alonso, as well as reliever Brad Boxberger.
At the time of the deal’s completion on December 17, 2011, it was seen as a somewhat questionable, but all-around alright deal for both parties. The Reds got their guy to win now, and the Padres got some good pieces to aid their rebuild. Then Reds GM Walt Jocketty justified giving up that much talent by saying how you have to give up talent to get an ace, which Jocketty clearly thought Latos was. Further aiding Cincinnati’s rationale was the fact that Alonso and Grandal were blocked by Joey Votto and Ryan Hanigan respectively at the major league level, making the departure of two former first-round picks an easier pill to swallow.
In 2012, Latos was admittedly a good piece for the Reds, with an ERA+ of 118 and a WHIP of 1.16, the acquisition seemed like a massive success. However, the deal began to fall flat once the Padres’ got a massive return immediately from guys that were largely still supposed to be prospects. In terms of fWAR, Mat Latos put up a respectable total of 2.8, however, the four players dealt to the Padres combined for a total of 6.3 fWAR in 2012, of which 3.8 was put up by Yasmani Grandal alone. For all intents and purposes, the Reds gave up the sum of MVP level production for a pitcher that was just 20% better than league average. Especially considering Latos’ blunder in the 2012 NLDS, it’s worth considering whether that Reds team could have gone farther with the guys they already had.
2013 was the big season the Reds hoped for when they dealt for Latos, 5.1 fWAR, a 3.16 ERA, and 187 strikeouts. However, a closer look at the peripherals shows that his 2013 was eerily similar to his 2012, as his WHIP increased by 0.05, his xFIP only decreased by 0.23, and his rate statistics by and large only improved marginally. Over in San Diego, there was, for lack of better words, a collective sophomore slump, as the players who had posted an fWAR total exceeding 6 as a collective the previous year, couldn’t even manage to accumulate 3. At this point, history was back to looking favorably upon this trade for Cincinnati, considering the strides he had taken by the age of just 25.
However, Latos’s 2014 started late after a forearm strain, he ended up with just 1.8 fWAR on year although his rate statistics remained relatively steady. However, his fastball lost 2 miles per hour of velocity in 2014, which led to a marked decrease in K/9, greatly decreasing his future effectiveness. In San Diego, both Boxberger and Volquez both left in the 2013 offseason, going to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh respectively. Despite being on different teams, however, the Reds still lost out on 4.5 fWAR from the players they’d dealt for Latos as a whole, with Grandal once again providing over half of that production.
Prior to the 2015 season, the Reds once again made a trade surrounding Latos, this time trading him away to the Marlins for Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach as they entered a rebuild. Despite no longer being on the Reds, Latos made it clear what his real impact on the Reds during his tenure in Cincinnati was. Considering his scathing remarks about his team’s work ethic and the training staff, it became abundantly clear he himself had been a massive problem in the clubhouse. Then Reds infielder Skip Schumaker further exacerbated this idea, going on to say that “[He] think[s] it was an addition by subtraction…I think a lot of us will be happy to see him in Miami”. So, despite the surface-level numbers, his negative impact on those around further exacerbated this trade’s legacy as a massive loss for the Reds. This legacy only grew in 2015 as Yasmani Grandal became a superstar with the Dodgers, posting 5.2 fWAR, making it so Grandal himself had been more valuable since the trade than Latos, with Grandal’s 12.9 fWAR and Latos’s 11.3, a status that remains to this day.
Following 2015, Latos bounced around the league, pitching just 85.0 innings in his remaining 2 years in the major leagues before signing with the New Jersey Jackals of the Frontier League in 2018, remaining in unaffiliated baseball ever since. As for the package Cincinnati gave up in 2011 to get Latos, all of them maintained value for nearly a decade following their departure from Cincinnati, leaving the question as to whether the painful rebuild of the mid-2010s could’ve been avoided if not for one of the worst trades in Cincinnati’s, if not the league’s history.