On Wednesday, news broke that the Blue Jays were nearing a deal with veteran right-hander, Mat Latos. The MiLB deal is reportedly worth 1.5 million, if he makes the team out of spring training, and of course, if it’s finalized.
The Blue Jays are still looking to add to their pitching staff, even after pitchers and catchers reported on Valentines day on Tuesday. Wednesday brought news that the Blue Jays were nearing an agreement on a minor league deal with Mat Latos.
Latos spent the 2016 split between the Chicago White Sox and the Washington Nationals, finishing 7-3 and a 4.89 ERA. After thriving early in his career with the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, the big right-hander has struggled to get back on track in recent campaigns.
After finishing 8th in Cy Young voting as a 22 year old in 2010, Latos looked like one of the brightest young arms in baseball. That year he finished with 14-10 and 2.92 ERA over 184.1 innings pitched. He also went 33-16 in his three season with the Reds from 2012-14 as well, before struggled more recently. Over the course of the 2015-16 seasons he pitched for 5 different organizations, mostly as a starter, and has largely struggled to regain his previous form.
Still just 29 years old, Latos could still have time to find the form that brought him so much success earlier in his career. He’s got a career record of 71-58, and a 3.60 in 186 career starts. Last season he had a career high 8 bullpen appearances, but he’s mostly been a starter throughout his time in the bigs.
The Blue Jays could be looking to use him as starting depth in Triple A Buffalo, or they could perhaps give him a look as a reliever, a role he got a bit more familiar with last season. At this point it’s hard to imagine Latos arguing with any opportunity at the MLB level, so don’t count him out as a potential long-man option.
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His fastball was down to an average of 90.4 MPH from his career high of 94.9 in 2009, so it’s possible a role in the pen would be good for him, as a velocity increase is common after the switch. The Jays have made some late improvements by adding J.P. Howell and Joe Smith on 1 year deals, but additional depth is always welcome on a pitching staff.
If the Blue Jays decide to keep him exclusively as a starter, he could provide important value for the franchise in that role as well. Manager John Gibbons gets to roll out one of the best 5 man rotations in the American League, but unfortunately the depth chart drops off pretty significantly after that. There has been a lot of talk about stretching out Joe Biagini into a possible starting role, but he performed so well in the bullpen last season that it’s hard to imagine him being moved.
An arm like Latos’ brings plenty of upside, with pretty minimal risk. If he ends up in Triple A, the Blue Jays are fortunate to have another starter with MLB experience in the wings. As a member of the bullpen, it’s possible that Latos may be able to focus on a couple pitches and find greater success than he has more recently.
Either way, it’s a nice, little move to make in the middle of February. Whether it works out or not, Latos is worth a shot on a MiLB contract.