Even with the Toronto Blue Jays now gathered in Dunedin, Florida to begin major-league Spring Training, the team’s front office is still making moves in preparation for the 2017 season.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reported that the Blue Jays were nearing a deal with veteran right-hander Mat Latos. The minor-league deal is reportedly worth $1.5 million if he makes the 25-man roster out of Spring Training and includes $500k in incentives.
Multiple sources including Nicholson-Smith have confirmed the news since it broke yesterday:
#BlueJays confirm that they've signed Mat Latos.
It's a minor-league deal.
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) February 16, 2017
Mat Latos minor-lg deal is worth $1.5m if he makes the team + up to $500k in incentives, per sources. Mix of starting and relief incentives
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) February 16, 2017
Despite a strong start, Latos had a forgettable 2016 campaign as he split time between the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals. In his first four starts with the White Sox, he logged 24 1/3 innings with an unreal 0.74 earned run average. Things went downhill fast for the righty, as he posted a whopping 7.25 ERA with 18 walks and 19 strikeouts over the next month and a half.
After being released in mid-June, he was picked up by the Nationals where he posted a 6.25 ERA with 11 hits, five walks and 10 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings. Overall, the 29-year-old finished 2016 with a 7-3 record and 4.89 ERA in 70 innings.
Latos hit the spotlight in 2010 with the San Diego Padres when he finished 14-10 with a 2.92 ERA and career-high 189 strikeouts in 184 1/3 innings. His efforts were good for eighth in the Cy Young voting that year. Stretching from 2010 to 2014, the righty was one of the best young pitchers in the game, logging a solid 3.27 ERA in 143 starts between the Padres and Cincinnati Reds with 185-plus punchouts in all but one season (2014).
With Toronto’s rotation arguably one of the best in the American League, its highly unlucky Latos could challenge for a spot in Spring Training but the depth chart drops off significantly in talent after the starting five, which makes him a viable alternative if someone were to struggle or get injured.
Alternatively, the Blue Jays could look to try him out in the bullpen. Latos made a career-high eight relief appearances last season, so moving to the ‘pen wouldn’t come as a total shock to the righty. With a decreased workload, he could cut down his pitch repertoire and regain velocity on his fastball that averaged just 90.4 mph in 2016, according to Brooks Baseball.
Nevertheless, an arm like Latos’ brings plenty of potential with very minimal risk. Still just 29 years old, the righty has plenty of time to find his old form and contribute to the Blue Jays however he’s needed.
In 186 career starts, Latos is 71-58 with a 3.60 ERA.