The National League Central is there for the taking with the St. Louis Cardinals still reeling from the loss of Albert Pujols, and the Milwaukee Brewers likely to lose Prince Fielder and be without Ryan Braun for the first 50 games.
Who will grab it?
Well, we can't completely disregard St. Louis with Adam Wainwright returning, but they won't be running away and hiding. It appears Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are going with a longer term approach to fixing the Chicago Cubs, so it may be a couple years before we hear noise from them (even if they do land Fielder). Who knows when we'll hear from the Pittsburgh Pirates in a meaningful way again. Maybe never. And in the case of Houston Astros, no chance at all before they head to the AL West.
That leaves the Cincinnati Reds with a window of opportunity to jump up and win the division in 2012, and remain firmly in the mix heading into 2013. Based on his aggressive trade on Saturday, it's apparent general manager Walt Jocketty is willing to pay the price in terms of prospects to take advantage of their opportunity.
As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal first reported, Jocketty parted with his best two trading chips, first baseman Yonder Alonso and catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, along with right-hander Edinson Volquez and a potential future closer in relief prospect Brad Boxberger, in exchange for San Diego Padres young ace Mat Latos.
Latos, who just turned 24 last week, will enter his fourth season with 27 wins under his belt and a 3.37 ERA in 72 career starts. In case you're wondering, he owns a 3.57 in 41 road starts, so you can't just point to Petco Park to explain his early success. Latos, without question, has the physical tools to survive and even thrive in a more hitter friendly environment such as the Great American Ballpark.
But as Dan Hayes of the North County Times pointed out on Twitter, it's not Latos' talent that is called into question, it's his maturity. We've discussed those maturity issues a time or two here on Big League Stew. Hayes cited one source that says there was "a ton" of concern within the Padres front office about Latos' ability to overcome those maturity issues going forward. So that makes an already great return for San Diego look even better when you consider the stress relief.
It also makes the price Jocketty paid looked like an even bigger gamble. In fact, some are already labeling it a desperate and foolish overpay after his early offseason plans didn't pan out. It's difficult to argue with that viewpoint. I'm not sure I'd be willing to give away that much talent, even with a winnable division staring me in the face, but it's obvious Jocketty isn't nearly as concerned about Latos, and views him as an impact pitcher who will anchor their starting rotation.
How right or wrong he is about that will shape the Reds future.
If we must declare an immediate winner in the trade, I'd give the edge to San Diego and their GM Josh Byrnes. But if Latos can take the necessary steps to help keep his emotions in check, stay healthy, and Cincinnati wins a couple division titles with him leading the way, it'll be more than worth it to them and worth reconsideration by the rest of us.