The Blue Jays signed Mat Latos to a MiLB deal on Feb 16th, with an invitation to spring training. On Saturday, Latos looked great in his appearance, but also mentioned he’d be willing to accept an assignment to Triple A Buffalo, if necessary.
With just over 2 weeks to go until Opening Day, the roster picture is starting to become a little more clear for the Toronto Blue Jays. Perhaps the biggest question mark remains in the bullpen, where they have many arguably suitable candidates vying for 2 or 3 spots.
One of those arms is veteran Mat Latos, who started for the Blue Jays on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays. The big right-hander looked very good, throwing 3.2 innings, allowing 2 walks and 2 earned runs. He cruised through the first 3 frames, allowing just a single walk, before the Rays got to him in the 4th.
The performance could help Latos get more consideration for the bullpen picture, but it’s just as likely the Blue Jays prefer to keep him as a starter, providing much needed depth for the 5 established rotation pieces. Beyond the guaranteed 5 starters, the Blue Jays don’t have a great deal of depth, mostly looking at guys like Latos, and perhaps Casey Lawrence to join the rotation, if the need arises.
In Latos’ case, he has the option to elect free agency if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, an option put into his contract to make signing an MiLB deal more enticing. That said, it doesn’t sound like Latos is interested in moving on to another team. According to Arash Madani, the 29 year old is committed to the organization, at least for now.
This news has to be a relief for the Blue Jays brass. Not that Latos is expected to be a crucial piece of the team this year, but every team needs starting depth and the Jays are no exception. They managed to go through 2016 with a freakish amount of health from their starters, something that can’t be expected to happen on the regular.
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While it’s possible that Latos could be featured in the bullpen, his willingness to pitch in AAA makes it less likely. For a pitcher with a lifetime record of 71-58 and a 3.60 ERA, it’s a position he likely never expected to find himself in. As a 22 year old who finished 8th in NL Cy Young voting in 2010 (14-10, 2.92), It’s surprising that he’s fallen this far, prior to his 30th birthday.
And that may be the reason Latos is willing to pitch in AAA, because he still believes in himself as a starting pitcher. He may eventually convert to a bullpen arm, as many starters eventually do, but it’s likely that the Virginia native would like another shot to re-establish his dominance as a member of a MLB rotation.
It’s also possible that he’d working toward repairing his tarnished reputation, as there are conflicting reports about “character issues” with previous teams, such as in Cincinnati when his concerns around the training staff were met with a response of, “consider the source”, from Walt Jocketty, then Reds’ GM. It could be viewed as an unselfish move to accept a minor league assignment, something that could ultimately work in Latos’ favour as well.
Regardless how they choose to use him, it sounds like Latos is committed to Toronto, a definite plus for the Blue Jays. If can continue to throw like he did on Saturday, don’t be surprised to see him contribute to the roster, in one way or another.