Hello, NL Central fan. A lot has been happening in your division lately! Sluggers leaving, other sluggers leaving, sluggers allegedly getting pinched for banned substances -- there hasn't been a team in the division that's improved so far this offseason. Well, until the Reds acquired Mat Latos, that is.
You might not be too familiar with Latos. He played on the West Coast, where most of the weekday games don't end until after midnight Central time, and he played for the San Diego Padres, which you might have thought was some sort of fictional team like the New York Knights, Coast City , or Yogi Yahooeys. Nope, they play in the National League with real uniforms and everything. And you should get familiar with this Latos fellow.
First things first: Mat Latos is as unlikable of a player as any you'll come across for the next decade. You're unaware of this now, but you'll be glad to have him in the division. Every division needs a villain, and Latos can be all things to all people. His villain quotient isn't just high because he looks like the kid who wouldn't stop picking on Daniel LaRusso.
I mean, that certainly doesn't hurt. But more importantly, he's going to be one of your least favorite players because he can't help it. He's a world-class sneerer, a smarmy fist-pumper of the highest order. He's a dugout chirper even on the days he's not pitching. He'll sign baseballs with "I Hate SF" on them; he'll sign glossy 8x10s with "I Hate Cameron Maybin" on them.
He's the perfect villain in a harmless kind of way. He's easy to dislike for silly reasons -- it's not like he's burned down an animal shelter. Yet. But he also has another required component to being a perfect villain: He's good.
He's really good. The Reds gave up a ton to get him, and while the two biggest pieces in the trade (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso) played at positions where the Reds were already set long term (with Devin Mesoraco and Joey Votto), that still doesn't take away that they Reds just used their two best trade chips in the same package. It was a bold move. But it's the kind of package that a team would need to give up for a pitcher like this who isn't going to be a free agent until after the 2015 season.
To answer the question you're already shouting at the computer screen: Yes, he can pitch outside of Petco Park.
Those are his career splits. Yes, Petco Park is named that because of the packs of St. Bernards that roam the outfield with flagons of brandy around their necks, looking to soothe center fielders who are emaciated, cold, and forgotten. No, that doesn't automatically make Mat Latos a mirage.
Since 2000, only a handful of pitchers have thrown more than 200 innings in their careers with a K/BB ratio of 3.00 or better before turning 24. Latos has the combination of control and strikeout stuff that every team wants from a young pitcher. And he's going to be around for the next four seasons if the Reds will have him. They gave up a lot, but compared to the rest of the NL Central, the Reds greatly improved in the short term.
No, he's not perfect. He's a bit of a fly-ball pitcher, and that might cause him a little trouble in Cincinnati. He hasn't broken the 200-innings barrier in a season because of nagging injuries. And, again, he might have some issues that extend off the field.
But he's already good, with the potential to dominate. As glad as I am to have him out of the NL West, I'm sad to lose one of the more dislikable players in the division. Those are the guys who make baseball fun. Enjoy him, NL Central. Except for when he's, you know, shutting your team down. That's no fun.