A belated moment of appreciation for Mat Latos as he moves on to Miami.

It’s been about a month and a half since the Reds traded the 6′ 6″ right-hander to Miami. There’s been plenty of discussion about the trade itself: salary had to be cut, the Reds weren’t going to re-sign him, etc. We’ll be better equipped to evaluate the trade when we see how Latos comes back from injury in Miami, and how Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach develop.

One thing that’s certain is that I will miss having Mat Latos on the Reds.

On Saturday, December 17th, 2011, the Latos trade brought a sort of hope infused with confidence for the Reds that I hadn’t felt for a long time. Winning the Central in 2010 after a 15-year playoff drought was thrilling; Jay Bruce’s clinching homer is one of the great Reds images of the past couple decades. But who thought our guys were going to hang with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels in October? I hoped, don’t get me wrong, but it felt like we needed a miracle.

After a disappointing 2011, Latos came at a steep price but he filled out maybe as good of a rotation as any we’ve ever seen in Cincinnati. Giving up three prospects and Edinson Volquez was risky, but it signaled Latos’ importance, and the team’s commitment, to competing right away. They won their second division title in three years and Latos was more than a worthy #2 starter, making 33 starts and finishing top 10 in the NL in WAR, WHIP and IP.

Latos brought a fire too. I picture him stalking off the mound shouting into his glove or looking like steam would come out of his ears cartoon-style. He’s a guy that once added, “I hate SF” to his autograph when he was with the Padres. I’m not for players needlessly disrespecting other players or teams or cities, but I appreciate an athlete that wants to beat a rival as badly as the fans want him to.

Latos’ extensive tattoos and his wife Dallas’ boisterous and uninhibited twitter presence give them a sort of rock star (or at least reality tv star) status in the baseball world, and it was fun to have that in Cincinnati. They’re characters without causing any distracting off-the-field drama.

When Game 1 of the 2012 division series began at AT&T Park, I was at a wedding reception in Virginia—my wife’s friends—checking every pitch on my phone, carrying on conversations like a fool texting and driving. Eight pitches into the game my phone stopped updating, uninformed minutes ticked by, and the ants under my skin grew increasingly active. When I could take it no longer I excused myself (oh man, how many bathroom breaks was I going to take at this reception? Should I go ahead and claim food poisoning?) and I ran downstairs to the bar to find a TV.

Sure enough, the mother of all ironies: the starting rotation had avoided injury for an entire season, only to lose their ace in the first inning of the playoffs. I saw replays of Johnny Cueto coming up lame and leaving the field; Sam LeCure was warming up. But then I saw something comforting and oddly exciting, an image that will stick with me a long time when I think of the Reds: the replay of Mat Latos standing up in the dugout and pointing to himself. It felt like something from childhood or something the hero would do in a kickboxing movie. It was like when Daniel-san decided at the last moment that he would fight in the finals.

Latos’ gesture said, “I’m coming in, there’s no decision to be made here, I’ve got this, and we are ok.” I wanted to cheer–cheer in a way that would’ve gotten me thrown out of that clubhouse bar in a ritzy golf club in Virginia, where no one was paying attention to the game. Latos came on in the 3rd to throw four scoreless innings on the road and on short rest, and the good guys held on for what seemed like a tone-setting victory.

Admittedly, another image that will long haunt me is that of Ryan Hanigan jerking his head away from the field the instant that Buster Posey made contact with Latos’ 3-2 pitch in the 5th inning of Game 5. But I don’t hold that against Mat. Game 5 should’ve been Cueto’s time, Mat did everything he could in his first playoff experience, and he got beat by the best hitter on a team that would win three World Series in five years.

Latos went on to have another impressive season in 2013, marred only by a late injury that kept him from starting the playoff game in Pittsburgh, and forced the Reds to use Cueto too soon after his return from injury.  Latos missed half of 2014 with injuries, but pitched well when he was healthy.  I had the feeling that Mat’s next fully healthy year could be a special one.

Whether or not that’s true, it won’t be with the Reds, and another piece—along with Bronson Arroyo—is gone from the unprecedented 2012 rotation that missed only one start in the regular season. Even the one start they missed was due to a double-header.

In 2015, we don’t know how Tony Cingrani’s health will hold up or if Anthony DeSclafani and some of the younger potential starters will pan out. It does seem that all of the candidates for the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation will have inning limits because of past injuries or inexperience. Even if things go well, some guys might have to be held back or shut down later in the year. If things don’t go well, we could see a bit of a clown car scenario that will show us just how consistent the past few years have been, and how much we all miss the tattooed hero.

Yet, players turn over. Making way for new and cheaper talent is an essential part of the game. We know that the Reds are loaded with young pitching talent. In 2009, Baseball America’s list of the Reds’ top 10 prospects featured nine position players and Kyle Lotzkar. In 2015, there are only three position players on the list joining Robert Stephenson, Rasiel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and so on. Stephenson, Lorenzen and DeSclafini have comparable experience, age, innings pitched and games started to what Cueto, Leake, Bailey and Latos had two seasons before the latter group began completing full seasons in the starting rotation. Cingrani and Iglesias are wildcards with high ceilings at the moment.

Even if Cueto and Mike Leake leave for greener contracts after this year, we could see another solid starting five making nearly every start as early as 2016. The departure of Latos and Alfredo Simon means that the consistent starting rotation we’ve grown accustomed to the last three years is gone, but probably not for long.

I’ll remember Latos’ time on the Reds fondly. But hopefully when I think back on 2015, I’ll get images of Reds as far as the eye can see at the All Star Game, Cueto and Bailey competing for a Cy Young, Bruce lacing homers into right, and Votto spraying doubles all over the field, scoring Billy from whichever base he had just stolen.

20 Responses

  1. sultanofswaff

    Like you, I’ll never blame Latos for the HR to Posey in the playoffs. My scorn is reserved for Hanigan. They had Posey perfectly set up for a breaking ball away, but Hanigan called for a fastball in. To this day it makes no sense…….

    • Steve Mancuso

      I blame Dusty Baker. The Reds bullpen was available. Game Five, no reason to save them. Chapman for two, Marshall for one or two, Broxton for one or two, Sam LeCure, and you’re at the fifth inning. Latos was on fumes. In a 0-0 game, Baker’s strategy, to keep Latos in there until he gave up runs, was doomed to fail. Baker managed like he did every other game. That’s his biggest weakness as a manager and one of the reasons his teams’ success in the postseason doesn’t match the regular season.

      • lwblogger2

        I’m not a Baker basher but yes, he didn’t manage with that same sense of urgency that you would have seen from a Torres, or a Bochy, or a LaRussa. He needed an out there more than anything and with Latos in trouble, rattled, and seemingly on fumes, he had some better options for getting outs.

      • jessecuster44

        Sounds like Baker’s game 4 strategy with Leake. Or Baker’s 2013 WC game strategy with Cueto. Or Baker’s 2010 Game 1 strategy with Volquez.

        I dislike Dusty Baker.

      • THEGAFFER

        Agree, Baker did the same thing so many times (even the 2003 Bartman Cubs and 2002 Giants WS team). He never got the idea of a “win or go home” game.

      • Kyle Farmer

        If Frazier had been in at 3rd base in Homer’s epic game 3, there likely would never have been a game five. Seems like I remember that Mat was pitching sick that day and yet Dusty still never went to the rested bullpen. Glad they were ready for Opening Day 2013. Dusty Baker gives me a headache. Ugh.

  2. sultanofswaff

    I think the Reds should be open minded when it comes to filling out the back of the rotation. Obviously, Iglesias can’t just step in and give you 200 innings, but he could give you 90 as a starter and another 40 from the bullpen. Conversely, Stephenson or Lorenzen could be held to a 70 innings limit early on with the intention of sliding into the Reds rotation later in the year for 90-100 innings. We know that organizations crave certainty, but keeping an open mind could maximize the value we bring to the #5 spot and help stretch these guys out so they can pitch 180-200 innings in 2016.

    • Drew

      I would be shocked to see Iglesias in the starting rotation this season. Given his most recent background I think the Reds see as him a mini project this season and don’t want to thrust him into the deep end so quick. Unless he just blows them away in ST, at best I see him out of the pen in very selective spots this season, but wouldn’t be shocked to see him at AAA to start the season building up stamina and control.

    • JB WV

      Like it or not I think we’ll see Holmberg in the 5 spot, if not in the beginning, eventually. The front office likes him a lot.

  3. Jason Lawrence

    I remember thinking that Posey was so dialed in at that point that he’d lay off anything out of the zone. It was a 3-2 pitch, right? So tough when you get to that point.

    And I think you’re right they need to be open-minded about the 4 and 5 spots. They’re going to have to be, at least to some extent. I would just hope there’s a plan coming out of spring training

  4. redsfan06

    It’s understandable why the Reds traded Latos. Nonetheless, It’s still a disappointment to see him go. I am prepared to feel the same about Cueto. Wish Mat well going forward and can only hope the Reds find a way to fill in for his loss.

    • sultanofswaff

      We’re really in a spot with Cueto. Trade him now and you could set the team up with 2 legit cost controlled players, solidifying the core for years to come. If we wait, we gain the benefit of competing this year, but you only get a comp pick that may or may not pan out 4 years down the road.

      High stakes poker. I’m partial to trading him, especially given the fickle nature of the injury bug.

      • Drew

        Or option 3, they ink him to a new deal which I still think is a strong possibility

      • Matt WI

        To me, the comp pick is highly unlikely to be worth more than whatever present day value they can obtain. Or, at least, it will always be as equally uncertain as any prospects they obtain, so get the bang for the buck.

  5. Art Wayne Austin

    The timing of the trade was unfortunate after Latos’ purchase of a home. Leake was ready to move on but as Phillips and Latos discovered the front office is partial to ex-Cardinal and home-grown players. I suggest management establish better avenues of communication to avert similar circumstances. I know Latos was a better trade option for Miami than Leake because of his Florida roots. it’s even conceivable Leake will be pitching for a California team before the season is over, however periodic status reviews could eliminate such misunderstandings in the future.

    • Jeff

      Phillips? What did the front office do to Phillips besides over pay him in an ill-advised contract extension?

      And I hate to break this to you but if you are a baseball player and you don’t have a lock down no trade clause, you should probably expect to be traded at any moment. These things are never discussed with players before they happen. Nor should they be.

  6. doctor

    Good post on Latos. I recall being ecstatic with the “young” gun rotation of Cueto, Bailey, Latos and emerging Leake(all age 26 and under) and the wily Bronson. Looked like Reds were set up to make multiple years of deep runs in playoffs. That aspect sure closed in a hurry, with only Bailey certain to be around.

  7. mrredlegz

    IF, If, if they remain competitive past the break, the 4th and 5th starters’ spots may be a boon for this team. Use Iglesias, Stephenson and Lorrenzen sparingly early on so they have plenty of innings left and are somewhat “fresh” come late August/September. Let ’em sink or swim when rosters expand so we know what we have for 2016.

  8. WVRedlegs

    I will miss Mat Latos in the rotation. No doubt. I was exstatic when the Reds traded for him. I said the day after the trade on here, that the biggest beneficiary from this trade, other than Latos himself, would be Homer Bailey. HB came into spring training noticably bigger, about 15 pounds, and that friendly competition propelled HB to be a better pitcher.
    The only bad thing about Latos was his elbow injuries at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014. Whoever signs Latos to a 4 or 5 year deal after this season risks having him spend at least one year on the DL as Tommy John surgery is a real possiblibilty for him in the future. That is a big risk. But i hope he pitched well for the Marlins this year. Good luck Mat, in baseball and in being a new father.

  9. dradg

    I was at Game 1 of the NLDS, right by the Reds bullpen. I’ve never felt from a sporting event the rush of adrenaline I felt when Mat jumped off the bench to pitch in that game. I started following Mat when I lived in SD (literally one block from Petco), and knew he was a Giant-killer. That easily is one of my top five moments as a Reds fan.

    I hate that Mat is no longer a Red. Once he joined, he became my favorite player. I wish him nothing but the best of luck in Miami, and hope he gets a standing O when/if he pitches in GASP this season.

    Great article!