|The Reds won the National League Central in 2010 behind National League MVP Joey Votto and seemed primed to contend in 2011. However, their pitching didn't cooperate, and they never made a serious run at the division-winning Brewers or the wild card winners, the Cardinals.
Cincinnati sensed that the tide may be turning in the Central this offseason, so the Reds decided to make their move. They traded two of their blocked prospects, first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal, plus former all-star righty Edinson Volquez and righthanded relief prospect Brad Boxberger, to the Padres for 24-year-old righthander Mat Latos, one of the top young power pitchers in the NL.
Over the course of the past three seasons, Latos ranks sixth among league pitchers with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings, while pitching to a 3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 430 innings. Latos has thrived both at San Diego's Petco Park and away from its spacious confines. His career OPS allowed is .635 at Petco and .637 elsewhere.
Two factors, one internal and one external, have emboldened the Reds to act aggressively this offseason. Firstly, they have Votto, one of the league's top performers, under contract for just two more seasons. Secondly, the NL Central appears to be experiencing a talent drain that leaves the top spot ripe for the taking. Free agent Albert Pujols fled the Cardinals for the Angels, and the Brewers' Prince Fielder could soon follow suit to a new destination. Further clouding Milwaukee's 2012 outlook: reigning MVP Ryan Braun may be forced to sit out 50 games at the outset as penalty for a failed drug test.
New Padres acquisition Alonso will contend with No. 1 prospect Anthony Rizzo to be Adrian Gonzalez's heir at first base—or Rizzo could become trade bait. Boxberger and Volquez could win spots on the San Diego pitching staff, though Volquez may be no more than a placeholder in the rotation while the Padres wait for their cadre of Double-A arms—headlined by Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin and Juan Oramas—to ripen on the vine. Grandal, one of the game's top catching prospects, figures to receive more minor league seasoning in preparation for a full-time gig in 2013.
|Yonder Alonso, 1b
Age: 24. Position: LF (78 G), 1B (24 G), 3B (1 G).
Born: April 8, 1987 in Havana, Cuba.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 240. Bats: L. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Reds in first round (seventh overall) of 2008 draft; signed Aug. 15, 2008.
Alonso batted .296/.364/.478 with 24 homers in 192 Triple-A games, waiting for an opportunity that never came playing behind Votto in the Reds organization. He's 24 and very much big league ready. Cincinnati tried in recent years to shoehorn Alonso in as a left fielder or even third baseman, but he's not athletic enough for either spot on a long-term basis. His strength is his polished approach, command of the strike zone and above-average hitting skills. His power stems more from strength than pure bat speed, and he projects to hit 18-22 homers a year, though those numbers may be unattainable if he plays half his games in Petco Park. Compared with Rizzo, Alonso is a better pure hitter, more polished player and more consistent defender with less power and athletic ability. He may be an overall better fit for Petco than Rizzo, however, because of the park's unfavorable conditions for lefty power hitters. As a point of comparison, lefty slugger Adrian Gonzalez hit just 57 of his 161 home runs (35 percent) at home while wearing a Padres uniform.
|Yasmani Grandal, c
Age: 23. Position: C (44 G).
Born: Nov. 8, 1988 in Miami Springs, Fla.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Bats: B. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Reds in first round (12th overall) of 2010 draft; signed Aug. 16, 2010.
Grandal and Rizzo were both part of Boston's 2007 draft class. Rizzo signed for $325,000 as a sixth-round pick, but 27th-rounder Grandal didn't sign and subsequently spent three years at Miami as the starter, playing with Alonso on the Hurricanes' last great team in 2008. (Padres Double-A catcher Jason Hagerty also played for Miami during this time, often at first base in deference to Grandal.) The Reds drafted Grandal in the midst of a breakout season by catcher Devin Mesoraco, the 2007 Cincinnati first-rounder who emerged in 2010 and is now the organization's No. 1 prospect. Mesoraco's superior athletic ability and power made Grandal a useful trade chip, and he has the arm strength and physicality to be an everyday catcher. He's also an experienced game-caller, and on the offensive side of the ledger he has strong plate discipline and average power. Grandal's receiving is his weakest attribute as evidenced by 19 passed balls in just 90 games in 2011, but with Nick Hundley and John Baker slated for regular play San Diego, the Padres probably will give their new acquisition ample time in Triple-A. Grandal signed a big league deal with the Reds out of the draft, so he goes directly on San Diego's 40-man roster. The club designated catcher Luis Martinez for assignment to make room.
|Brad Boxberger, rhp
Born: May 27, 1988 in Fullerton, Calif.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Southern California.
Career Transactions: Selected by Reds in supplemental first round (43rd overall) of 2009 draft; signed Aug. 17, 2009.
Boxberger shifted to the bullpen full-time in the second half of 2010 and thrived in that role in 2011. He throws a 92-95 mph fastball with natural cutting action as well as a slider and changeup. Neither secondary pitch grades more than average, though his slider has its moments when he throws it for strikes. He struck out 22 in 13 innings in the Arizona Fall League and should get a shot at a role in San Diego's 2012 bullpen.
|Edinson Volquez, rhp
Age: 28. Remaining Commitment: Arbitration-eligible for 2012-13 seasons ($1.625 million salary in 2011).
Contract details courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
|Mat Latos, rhp
Age: 24. Remaining Commitment: Under club control for 2012-15 seasons ($461,000 salary in 2011).
Contract details courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.