The Blue Jays are “far along” in contract talks with free-agent righty Mat Latos, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Nicholson-Smith notes that there’s no guarantee that the Jays will finalize a deal with the Bledsoe Agency client, but they’ve been in touch with Latos’ representatives multiple times over the past couple of weeks.
The 29-year-old Latos opened the 2016 season with the White Sox and got off to a strong start, logging a stellar 0.74 ERA through his first 24 1/3 innings with the South Siders. That excellent mark was buoyed by a .167 BABIP, though, and the 13-to-7 K/BB ratio that Latos logged in those four starts also served as a bad omen. Over the next six weeks or so, Latos posted a 7.25 ERA with 18 walks against 19 strikeouts before being released in mid-June. He’d later hook on with the Nationals and toss 9 2/3 innings, during which he yielded seven runs on 11 hits and five walks with 10 strikeouts.
Latos now sports an unsightly 4.93 ERA in 186 1/3 innings across the past two big league seasons, and he’s seen his average fastball velocity dip from 92.6 mph to 90.2 mph in the wake of knee 2014 knee surgery. However, he did enjoy a nice run of 15 starts in the middle of the 2015 season, and prior to that campaign, he was an excellent young arm for the Padres and Reds. Latos posted an ERA better than 3.50 each season from 2010-14, averaging 8.2 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in that time while making a smooth transition from the pitcher-friendly Petco Park to the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Certainly the diminished velocity and poor results in late 2015 and in 2016 are red flags, but Latos would be more of a depth option for Toronto than an expected contributor.
The Blue Jays are set in the rotation with Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano. The bullpen picture is a bit murkier even after the signings of veteran free agents J.P. Howell and Joe Smith. That duo will join closer Roberto Osuna, setup man Jason Grilli and sophomore Joe Biagini. Latos could conceivably fight for a spot alongside that quintet or head to Triple-A to open the season — assuming a minor league deal is the ultimate outcome — where he’d look to get back on track and await an opportunity at the Major League level.