Filling a starting pitching rotation when a Major League Baseball team is building to win “now” is costly. This applies in terms of both money and young talent. The Miami Marlins were in such a position this past off-season, preparing for the season we are now at the mid-point of.
Since the failure of the 2012 free-agent splurge and subsequent quasi-fire sale in the following off-season, Miami’s front office had billed 2015 as the season in which the revamped roster would compete. In the interest of supplementing that, the Marlins shipped starting pitching prospect Anthony DeSclafani (along with catcher/first base prospect Chad Wallach) off to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for veteran starting pitcher Mat Latos.
Latos was attractive to Miami because of his contract status and résumé. He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, making his $9.4 million 2015 salary a short-term commitment. Coming into this season, he had compiled a 60-45 record through 153 career starts in six major-league seasons. Through that body of work, he had allowed 353 earned runs in 951.2 innings for an earned run average (ERA) of 3.34. Injury concerns aside, the Marlins seemed to be adding a quality arm to their rotation.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Miami would have been better off keeping DeSclafani and Wallach. The Marlins have far underachieved as far as the front office’s billing is concerned, currently sitting at 36-51 and 11 games out of the National League East division lead. Latos has played his part in the failure.
Through 14 starts and 75.1 innings pitched so far in 2015, Latos has a 4.90 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is at its lowest point of his career and he has already allowed more earned runs than he did in all of 2014. He logged two more starts in 2014 than he has to this point in 2015. Additionally, he has made those injury concerns valid with some time spent on the disabled list.
There have been rumors flying about Latos being dealt to a contending team looking to add rotation depth. That event taking place would make the review of this deal less horrific if Miami could get some value in return for Latos similar to what they gave up to acquire Latos. Given Latos’ performance so far this season, and the data on DeSclafani, that seems unlikely, however.
DeSclafani is not only costing Cincinnati almost $8.9 million less this year than Latos would have, but is outperforming Latos for that bargain price. In three more starts and 25.2 more innings, DeSclafani has a 3.65 ERA, 1.25 points lower than Latos’. DeSclafani’s batting average allowed on balls in play is 16 points lower than Latos’. Nearly three percent fewer fly balls hit off DeSclafani this season have turned into home runs than have fly balls hit off Latos, quite a feat considering the fact that DeSclafani has pitched his home games this season in a notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark, while Latos has done so in a stadium with the exact opposite reputation.
DeSclafani’s lack of service time will mean that the Reds will have inexpensive control over him for the immediate future. He won’t be first-year arbitration eligible until 2018, and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021. There’s no guarantee that DeSclafani will continue to produce at the same level he has to this point, but even if he does regress, the price tag will be such that Cincinnati can manage that situation.
The move made by these two teams back on Dec. 11, 2014 made sense for both teams. The Reds wanted to clear Latos’ salary and acquire skilled youth in a rebuilding effort. Miami wanted to add a proven arm to a starting pitching rotation that it expected to be competitive in 2015.
The plan hasn’t worked out for the Marlins, and that skews the perception of this trade for Miami. Thus far, Cincinnati has gotten everything it wanted out of the deal.
If Latos was sporting a sub-3.50 ERA and the Marlins were 15 games above .500 right now, DeSclafani’s solid outings for the Reds wouldn’t sting as much for Miami fans. If DeSclafani proved himself unable to challenge major-league batters and was toiling unremarkably in the Reds’ farm system, the return on Latos could be questioned by Cincinnati fans.
Some of the damage for the Marlins can be undone if they can deal Latos away before the non-waiver trade deadline, but that’s uncertain. Right now, hindsight is cruel to Miami and benevolent to Cincinnati as far as this trade is concerned.