6:50pm: Latos will have multiple opportunities to opt out of the deal over the coming months, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets.
3:04pm: Free agent right-hander Mat Latos tells Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago/670 The Score that he’s inked a minor league contract with the Nationals, pending a physical (Twitter link). He’ll report to the minors for now if the physical checks out.
Latos, 28, opened the season with the White Sox and posted a pristine 0.74 ERA through his first 24 innings on the South Side of Chicago, but things quickly went awry. That ERA came despite a 13-to-7 K/BB ratio and was largely propped up by a .167 average on balls in play and 97 percent strand rate. Latos seemed like a regression candidate, but the extent of his regression likely included some poor luck — particularly in the home run department. Over his next seven starts, Latos pitched to a 7.25 ERA with a 19-to-18 K/BB ratio in 36 innings. He was tagged for an alarming nine home runs in that time and ultimately carried a 4.64 ERA at the time of his DFA and release from Chicago.
Latos has been beset by knee injuries in recent seasons, and the result seems to be greatly diminished velocity. His heater sat near 94 mph when he first came up and settled into the 92.5 mph average range from 2011-13, but he’s averaged just about 90 mph over the past two seasons while working as a starter. That has almost certainly contributed to a vastly diminished marks in terms of swinging-strike rate and strikeout rate.
When at his best from 2010-14, Latos could be relied upon for an ERA in the low 3.00s with above-average strikeout rates and very solid control. However, he’s struggled greatly in each of the past two seasons now and hasn’t given much of an indication that his missing velocity is returning or that he’s learning to succeed with a lesser fastball. He’ll hope to do so for a Nationals organization that recently saw Stephen Strasburg land on the disabled list with an upper back strain. However, with the number of rotation options in D.C. — Lucas Giolito has entered the rotation in place of Strasburg, and the Nats also have Austin Voth and A.J. Cole as options at the Triple-A level — perhaps his best path back to the bigs with the Nationals would come via the bullpen. That’s speculative on my behalf, though Latos did make three appearances out of the bullpen between the Dodgers and Angels late in the 2015 season.