12:15pm: Latos’ deal comes with a $1.5MM base salary if he makes the Major League roster, and he can earn up to $500K worth of incentives based on a mix of starting- and relief-based milestones, per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi (Twitter link).
11:15am: The Blue Jays announced that they have indeed signed Latos. He receives a minor league contract with an invite to Major League camp this spring.
10:00am: The Blue Jays have agreed to a deal with right-hander Mat Latos, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet (via Twitter). Nicholson-Smith reported yesterday that the two sides were in negotiations. Latos is represented by the Bledsoe Agency.
Latos, still just 29 years of age, will add some depth for both the rotation and the bullpen in Toronto. The Jays figure to have Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano in their starting five this coming season, but Estrada dealt with a herniated disk in his back in 2016 while Liriano had an up-and-down season between Toronto and Pittsburgh. Latos, coming off a down season himself, at the least provides an experienced arm should one of those five struggle or sustain an injury.
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.
The past couple of seasons have been a struggle for Latos, and it’s possible that the root of his problems can be traced back to Spring Training knee surgery three years ago with the Reds. While Latos returned from that operation to enjoy solid bottom-line results in 2014 (3.25 ERA in 102 1/3 innings), his velocity was down about two miles per hour following the surgery. In the two seasons since that time, he’s never fully recovered the life on his fastball, and despite a solid 15-start stretch in the middle of the 2015 campaign, he’s logged a collective 4.93 ERA in 186 1/3 innings across the past two big league seasons.
Prior to the 2015 season, however, Latos was among the game’s most consistently excellent young arms. From 2010-14, he posted a 3.50 ERA or better each season with the Padres and Reds, averaging 8.2 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.
Latos could also provide a bullpen option for the Blue Jays, whose primary right-handed options at this time are closer Roberto Osuna and setup men Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini and Joe Smith. While the majority of Latos’ career has been spent as a starter, he’s made relief appearances in each of the past two seasons. He could conceivably look to earn a spot as a multi-inning reliever in the ’pen or hope that switching to shorter, one-inning stints could help him to regain some of the lost zip on his fastball.