Cat Latos, the cat belonging to former Reds and Padres and Dodgers and Angels and Marlins and White Sox and Nationals pitcher Mat Latos, always seemed like a target of the Toronto Blue Jays back during the Alex Anthopoulos days, but despite rumours over the years, the clubs was never quite able to land him.
Now, though Alex is long gone, it seems the Jays are finally going to get their feline. Sadly, the reason they’re able to do so is that the pitcher who comes along as part of the package appears now to be a shell of his former self.
Yep, Latos is no longer the guy who spurred this amazingly dumb comment I just came across on a message board post from 2012: “Toronto trades prospects for Buehrle on a bad contract but won’t sign Jimenez for a more valuable deal. Toronto trades top prospects for Dickey but won’t pony up for a budding ace in Latos. Disgusting.”
The report insists that “there’s no guarantee the sides will reach a deal,” but says that the Jays have been in contact with Latos (the human) in recent weeks, and is “far along” in discussions. And a tweet from David Bules (I don’t know either) says that Latos is, in fact, on his way to Dunedin to sign a minor league deal with an invite to camp, which will pay him $1.5 million if he makes the big leagues, and could rise to as much as $2 million with incentives.
I know, I know, there’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract. I laugh because… well… it’s Mat Latos.
Richard Fitch of the Cauldron has an excellent piece on Latos’s acrimonious exit from Cincinnati, and the verbal grenades he lobbed at the medical staff there and locker room culture once he was out the door. And that’s not even the half of it. Back in 2010, Bay Area Sports Guy chronicled the three most memorable off-field Latos moments when the pitcher was dealt by the Padres out of the division, and Andrew Baggarly wrote at Giants Extra about the shit that just seems to follow this guy around, dating back to before he was drafted. “Immaturity issues,” which Baggarly says Latos acknowledges, “caused him to be available in the 11th round when the Padres drafted him a couple years ago.”
And I’m pretty sure that’s not even the half of it. So… this could be an adventure! But if Latos has anything at all left in the tank, it’s certainly possible it will be worth it.
The thing about that is, uh… why the hell would we think Latos has anything left in the tank?
He’s certainly not the hard thrower that he was when he burst onto the scene with a fastball sitting at 94 as a Padres rookie in 2009. Last season he was sitting at 90, though his velocity ticked a little bit upward at the end of the year, when he made a number of relief appearances for the Nationals — something that could bode well for a transition into the bullpen.
Is that what the Jays could be looking for? There’s certainly appeal to adding swingman types to this roster, and we saw last year that this front office likes the flexibility guys who can either start or relieve will bring. Joe Biagini, Gavin Floyd, Jesse Chavez, and Aaron Sanchez all began 2016 with undefined roles that grew clearer over the course of Spring Training, and once again the club lacks for both rotation depth and established bullpen options. Floyd is back but a question mark; Biagini is being stretched out but seems almost certain to return to the ‘pen; Mike Bolsinger could end up in relief instead of triple-A because he’s out of options; Rule Five pick Glenn Sparkman has a chance to be this season’s Biagini, but they’ll have to keep him on the roster all season or return him to the Royals. Beyond that there’s not a whole lot!
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder if this is more like last year’s Brad Penny acquisition than anything that will actually make an impact, but hey, it’s worth a shot! Latos is still just 29 (which seems crazy to me), and in 2015 out 100 big leaguers in 116.1 innings, walking just 32, and posting a very respectable FIP of 3.72. His numbers were similar in 2014, and it was only just back in 2013 that he was almost a five win pitcher by FanGraphs’ version of WAR.
If he can get back to anywhere close to even last year’s level, Latos could genuinely take a job in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, or find himself as a key depth piece in Buffalo. And if he signs here, he’ll be coming into a situation where the competition for those kinds of roles doesn’t look especially stiff.
Thing is, FIP is sometimes a little behind the curve when a pitcher starts losing it, and in 2016 Latos posted a 5.32 mark over 70 innings. He struck out just 42, walked 30, and allowed 38 runs — ugly numbers, and strikeout and walk rates that fell entirely in line with how he pitched in three starts for the Nationals’ Triple-A club.
In other words, let’s not get too excited just yet about what Latos-related madness might be in store for us this season. Let’s totally enjoy the idea that he might be a guy to keep our eye on in camp, though! Because one gets the feeling that he’s not going to be terribly difficult to spot.