The Blue Jays add some much needed starting depth, signing free-agent right-hander Mat Latos to a minor league deal.
It’s not a position of need, but the Blue Jays weren’t willing to stand pat with just the five projected starters on the roster. On Thursday, they made their first move to add some insurance, signing veteran right-hander Mat Latos to a MiLB deal. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet first reported Wednesday how close the Blue Jays were to the signing:
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) February 15, 2017
This was followed by confirmation Thursday:
#BlueJays have agreed to sign RHP Mat Latos per sources
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) February 16, 2017
With contract terms coming from David Bules, who is speculated to be a friend of Latos:
This is similar modus operandi to the Jarrod Saltalamacchia move earlier in the winter, as well as other moves of this front office’s past: Junior Lake, Domonic Brown, Scott Diamond, Jose Tabata, Jesus Montero, all fit in this mold. Offer a proven MLB player or former top prospect who is running out of options a chance at earning a job with the big league club. If he pans out, it’s a great signing for the Blue Jays. If not, see if he’ll head to Buffalo and if he throws up the deuces and refuses assignment, it was only a minor league deal.
That being said, this is definitely the most interesting roll of the dice the Blue Jays have taken with this tactic. A 2006 11th round pick of San Diego, Latos exploded onto the scene in 2010. In his first full season in the majors, the then 22-year-old hurled his way into Cy Young contention on the surprisingly strong Padres, going 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA and a 9.2K/9 rate. Jed Hoyer decided to sell high on his young ace in December 2011, shipping him to Cincinnati with a surprisingly good return (four eventual major leaguers, including Edinson Volquez).
Latos pitched well in Cincinnati, going 33-16 with a 3.31 ERA over three seasons. The wheels started to come off in 2015, after he was traded to Miami for former Blue Jays prospect Anthony DeSclafani. Latos got off to a rocky start in Florida, pitching to a 4.48 ERA in 16 starts, and it got even worse when he moved to the Dodgers at the deadline. The Virginia native lasted six games in La La Land, with a demonic 6.66 ERA before he was released and banished to the Angels.
He attempted to re-establish himself in 2016 with the White Sox, but he only made it through 11 starts before being released again. Latos ended the season in the Nationals bullpen, with a WAR of -0.6. Despite all this, Latos is still considered a decent enough starting option that MLB Trade Rumors listed him third on available starting options remaining earlier this month.
As a depth move, it’s great for the Blue Jays to sit and wait to see if Latos has made any headway on the gopher ball issue that has dogged him the past two years. The reason Toronto will be Latos’ sixth team in a little over two years is because 12% of the fly balls he’s given up have left the yard. His fastball has lost four miles per hour off his peak Padres velocity and batters were teeing off on it.
To compensate, Latos has been experimenting with his grips in an attempt to change the look of his fastball. What started as a simple four-seam/two-seam combo expanded to a cutter in 2012 and a splitter in 2015. In addition to the slider, changeup and curveball he already threw, that means that Latos has up to seven pitches in his arsenal. The splitter has seen a notable uptick in use the past two years, but it tops out at 82mph, and got hammered last year.
There are two main benefits to this signing for the Blue Jays. Despite all the stickers on his suitcase, Latos just turned 29. If he can reach back even to 2014 and find what made him a success, he’ll be a great signing and a welcome replacement if one of the Blue Jays starters go down to injury (which if you listened to Jays From the Couch Radio, you know that the Blue Jays are due).
Also, even if he doesn’t make the team as a starter, there’s no reason Latos couldn’t make like Gavin Floyd and start working out of the bullpen. Early results from his bullpen sessions aren’t stellar, considering he has a 8.10 ERA in eight career relief appearances, and was dreadful for Washington, dreadful enough to be given zero consideration for the playoff roster. However, much like Joe Biagini, if he goes into a season knowing his role and getting into a rhythm, the sheer number of pitch options he has can make him a tough jigsaw to figure out in the 6th or 7th inning.
To stick around, Latos will have to show he’s worked on compensating enough for the loss of heat to make him half as effective as he was in sunny San Diego or less than sunny Cincinnati. If he’s willing to accept a role as a 6th starter, even in Buffalo, it’s a very savvy pickup this late in the game for the Blue Jays. At the very least, he’s improved Toronto’s pet ranks, with the aptly named “Cat Latos.”
Cat Latos is a most welcome addition. Blue Jays fans have to hope Mat adds as much value as his kitten companion.
*Featured Image Credit: Mr. Halpin UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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