Marlins Flip Mat Latos to Dodgers for -1 Prospect

The headline isn’t the way the Marlins would put it. It’s not the only way to interpret Wednesday’s trade — it’s just one way to do so. The Dodgers, who’ve been in the market for rotation help, convinced the Marlins to sell them Mat Latos. The price for Los Angeles: accepting, along with Latos, Michael Morse. To soften that blow, the Marlins have thrown in a competitive-balance draft pick, to be made after the end of the first round. Now, technically, the Dodgers are sending the Marlins three minor-league pitchers. So it’s not a pure sale, and we don’t know who those players are, so maybe a conclusion shouldn’t be jumped to, but this one feels pretty safe. Those pitchers are presumably the equivalent of nothing. They won’t be as valuable as the player that draft pick turns into. The Marlins sold an asset at the deadline, and they’re the ones effectively losing the best prospect.

Don’t be thrown by the presence of Morse. While nothing’s impossible, he’s unlikely to ever suit up. His addition doesn’t have 25-man roster implications, as he’s probably going to be dumped right away. He’s in here because he’s a little expensive, through next season, and the Marlins hate signing paychecks. He’s this trade’s equivalent of Carlos Quentin in the Craig Kimbrel trade from April. Quentin was accepted by the Braves and immediately designated for assignment. Morse will probably land somewhere in the American League, or with the Phillies.

Follow the money. Once the trade’s complete, the Marlins will be saving about $14 million. So, that’s what the Dodgers are taking on. God knows they can take it. What’s the value of the competitive-balance draft pick? I don’t know, let’s call it a few million dollars. Maybe as many as $10 million, depending on who you talk to. It’s likely to exceed the value of the three players the Dodgers are sending away. So maybe you can think of this as the Dodgers agreeing to take on $8 – 10 million. And, for the rotation, they get to plug in a nifty little Latos. It’s an upgrade at the direct cost of zero young talent.

Tricky maneuver, at this time of year, but it’s a benefit of being the Dodgers, and of trading with the Marlins. The Dodgers can afford anybody. The Marlins are more interested in saving money than they are in adding talent. In the Marlins’ defense, saved money can turn into added talent, but this is taking the indirect route. Instead of getting a better prospect for Latos, the Marlins are clearing Morse. It’s not unethical or stupid or anything, it’s just very Marlins, as it fits the organizational pattern. Some of the Marlins’ money will be re-invested. The rest of it — well, you know.

Here’s the thing about Mat Latos. He’s not exciting. Not in the way he used to be. He’s run into injury problems, and his ERA’s in the mid-4s. It would be easy to think, “okay, great, but the Dodgers still need Cole Hamels.” And Latos isn’t as good as Cole Hamels. But he’s better than Carlos Frias, and what Latos has done lately has been extremely encouraging. A couple months back, Latos went on the disabled list with a knee problem. You’re going to see a table. We’ve got Mat Latos from 2012 – 2013, Latos from 2014 through early 2015, and Latos since he came off the DL. There’s promise, here.

Version of Latos ERA- FIP- xFIP- K-BB% SwStr% Strike% Fastball
Latos, 12-13 85 88 96 14% 10% 66% 92.6
Latos, 14-early 15 110 95 107 11% 8% 65% 90.6
Latos, post-DL 15 78 90 84 19% 12% 68% 92.1

The most important column might be the last one — Latos has mostly recovered his lost velocity. Even when he was below 100%, he was still throwing strikes, but he was more hittable. Now compare his recent numbers to what he did a few years back. The strikes are there. The whiffs are there. The overall performance is there. He’s not the same pitcher, but he’s added a twist. There’s a lot to like about recent Mat Latos, so this could mean more than people think.

The other day, the Astros traded for Scott Kazmir, as a rental. Kazmir seems like the sort to post an FIP- around 90 or so. He’s a better-than-average starting pitcher, with some durability questions. If you believe in Latos’ recovery, he also seems like a better-than-average starting pitcher, with some durability questions. For Kazmir, the A’s picked up Jacob Nottingham as the centerpiece. They also got another guy, but Nottingham has had a breakout 2015. Latos didn’t fetch the Marlins a Nottingham. Instead of trying for a Nottingham, they shed money. Maybe Latos is viewed with greater skepticism, and the NL does remain weaker than the AL, but it’s easy to see how the Dodgers could emerge happier with their trade than the Astros. Since getting healthier, Latos has been really good.

They say Latos is also sort of a prick. He’s had a reputation since he was a teenager. Perhaps some of that’s still true, and perhaps that contributed to Latos drawing a lesser trade return. Nobody badly wants to trade for an unpleasant son of a bitch. But it’s not like we’re in there, seeing how he interacts. It’s not like we know how fragile the Dodgers’ clubhouse might be. From what’s been written, the Dodgers have dealt well enough with Yasiel Puig. How much damage could Latos do, in the thick of the pennant race? How much does he still deserve his reputation, anyway? The Blue Jays have talked a lot about adding character guys. The Dodgers have talked about it less. Of the two, it’s the Dodgers who’re in playoff position.

The Dodgers wanted to help their rotation. They found a guy who seems to be on the upswing, a guy who can help quick, and it didn’t cost a single notable player, it appears. That doesn’t mean the Dodgers are done. They can still afford to do plenty more, and it’s worth noting we still don’t know the identities of the three minor-league players, so maybe there’s another component of all this. With things coming to a head, maybe the Dodgers are working on Hamels, and they’re close, and they’re planning to include Morse to offset the cost. There are options. There’s still room in the rotation, depending on your faith in Mike Bolsinger and Brett Anderson.

For the moment, though, the Dodgers are up one Latos. He’s a pretty good one, on his own.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Jim Bowden
According to sources there is a third team involved in the Dodgers/Marlins trade which is bigger than being reported