Mat Latos Trade Opens Opportunity for Mariners
Back in June, I wrote a piece suggesting that the Mariners should trade Michael Pineda to Cincinnati for a package of players built around first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal. Well, today, the Reds made the deal I suggested for perhaps the most similar pitcher in the sport (in terms of results) to Pineda, landing RHP Mat Latos from San Diego in exchange for those two and a couple of good arms in Edinson Volquez (another favorite of mine) and Brad Boxberger. Overall, I’d say this package is slightly better than the one I suggested, as swapping in Volquez and Boxberger in exchange for Todd Frazier and Travis Wood provides a bit more upside for San Diego.
While we can’t know if the Reds would have surrendered this exact same package of talent for Pineda, it seems likely that the M’s could have flipped him for something close this level of value. Pineda’s track record isn’t as long as Latos’, but he comes with an extra year of team control at the league minimum, which helps offset some of the value of the extra experience. Personally, I would have made this deal for the Mariners, as they could have used all four guys San Diego acquired and replaced Pineda with a free agent starter while waiting for the young live arms to get to the show.
However, that ship has now sailed, and there’s no real reason to think that the Mariners were ever as interested in moving Pineda for that kind of package as I am. In all likelihood, they’re going to keep both him and Felix and try to upgrade the roster around those two. And, if that is the plan, then this deal could actually create a new opportunity for the team.
In acquiring Yonder Alonso, the Padres have essentially picked up their first baseman of the present. He’s 25-years-old and already shown that he can hold his own against big league pitching, so the Padres will almost certainly slot him in as their everyday first baseman in 2012. His power-to-all-fields approach is actually a good one for Petco Park, and while he’s probably not going to develop into Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres have seen that LH hitters with opposite field power can perform well in their park. Alonso may not have superstar upside, but he’s a good fit for San Diego, and should be able to hold down their first base job for the foreseeable future.
The opportunity here for the Mariners is that the Padres best prospect is also a left-handed hitting first baseman. In trading Gonzalez to Boston last winter, they acquired Anthony Rizzo, and then watched him break out with an outstanding season for Triple-A Tucson. While the PCL is a hitter’s league and all numbers down there need to be taken with a grain of salt, Rizzo’s ability to post a .331/.404/.652 mark at age 21 against that level of competition is extremely impressive, and his overall line was still 49 percent better than the average PCL hitter, the fourth best mark of any hitter in the league.
Or, to put it in Mariners-related context, Rizzo was essentially as good as Mike Carp was down in Tacoma, only he’s three years younger and has more room for growth. Rizzo’s stint in the Major Leagues didn’t go as well, but his core performance was better than his overall slash line, which was driven down by a .210 BABIP and the fact that Petco is murder on left-handed pull power hitters. Petco’s effect on balls to right field is more extreme than Safeco’s effect on balls to LF, and Rizzo’s power is almost entirely to right field. A move to a more friendly stadium for his skillset could have a strong positive effect on his future results, and Safeco plays nice to guys who can rip the ball out to right field.
The Padres won’t have room for both Alonso and Rizzo, and of the two, Rizzo is the one who doesn’t really work in San Diego’s home park. I have to think that this deal makes him available for the right price, and he’s the type of interesting young left-handed slugger that the Mariners could use for the long term. While Justin Smoak and Mike Carp still offer some potential, Rizzo would give them a third quality young power hitter from the left side who could slide into a job at either 1B/DH, and the team’s willingness to use Carp in left field means that he wouldn’t push either of them off the roster. If Rizzo shows he’s ready for the big leagues, the organization could make room for him, or they could simply go with a short term LF/DH option and give Rizzo the ability to get more development time in Triple-A while they figure out what they have in Smoak and Carp.
The big question is what the cost would be, obviously. It’s hard to say exactly what the Padres would ask for in exchange for their top prospect, but the Mariners certainly have pieces that would be attractive to San Diego. Nick Franklin seems like one potential piece the team could dangle, as the Padres don’t really have a shortstop of the future at the moment, or they could dangle an arm like James Paxton if the Padres preferred to reload their pitching depth after trading Latos.
Obviously, going this route would mean the Mariners wouldn’t also throw huge money at Prince Fielder, so I expect the pro-Fielder crowd to hate this suggestion and give us the generic reasons why he’s The Savior and The Only Option. For those of you who understand that there’s more than one path to success, however, Rizzo is now an intriguing option who probably wasn’t available 24 hours ago. At the least, the M’s should explore what the asking price would be, and if he can be had for a reasonable price, the team could add the left-handed power hitter they’ve been looking for without having to spend $200 million to get him.