Latos will try to re-establish his value in the Windy City (Bucs Dugout)
Mat Latos falls into the latter camp. From 2010-2014 he was a great pitcher, first with the Padres and then with the Reds. He had a 3.27 ERA (116 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP, and 3.15 K/BB ratio over this time, during which he averaged roughly 180 innings per year. That brought him to the cusp of free agency; all he needed was one more productive year before he could hit the market at 28, presumably as one of baseball's most attractive free agents.
It didn't happen, which is why Latos just settled for a one-year, incentive-free $3 million deal from the Chicago White Sox. After being traded to Miami last winter, he promptly ripped his previous team (Cincinnati), which left a bad taste's in everyone's mouths. He then proceeded to have the worst season of his career, going 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA for three different teams. Latos also spent time on the Disabled List. As far as walk years go, his was the worst-case scenario.
So rather than leading one of the deepest free agent classes in years, Latos was largely forgotten about. Teams were quick to scoop up inferior pitchers such as Ian Kennedy and Mike Leake, paying them gobs of money while Latos sat on the shelf, collecting dust. Finally, the White Sox came calling yesterday, just in time for Spring Training.
What a steal for Chicago, who get a great pitcher still in his prime at a bargain rate. Because as bad as Latos seemed last year, his peripherals suggest otherwise. He still struck out more than three batters for every walk, for instance, and his FIP was 3.72--over a full run better than his ERA and just a tick worse than the previous year's 3.65. He was undone, it seems, by some bad luck on balls in play, an elevated HR/FB rate, and the second-worst strand rate of any pitcher with at least 100 innings. Natural regression to the mean says Latos will be better in 2016.
How much better is a different story. Chicago is a tough place to pitch, especially during the summer when the ball really flies. Just ask Jeff Samardzija, who endured an equally miserable contract year with the White Sox last season. Like Latos, Samardzija was also transitioning to the American League after spending most of his career in the Senior Circuit. It wasn't pretty.
Samardzija is just one of many cautionary tales for what can happen when an NL guy plies his trade in the American League. It helps that Latos is three years younger and has a more established track record of success. It also helps that he's truly pitching for his next contract. Samardzija knew he was going to make bank no matter what, and sure enough San Francisco gave him $90 million even though he bombed last year. If Latos has a year like that, he might not get a second chance. .
So even though his contract doesn't have any incentives for performance, it doesn't need any. The incentive is already built in. Latos has "only" made $22 million in his playing career (not including his current contract), which he could make in one season on his next contract should he return to form this year.
The White Sox are certainly hoping he does, as a healthy and effective Latos would give them a formidable trio at the top of their rotation along with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Coming off a disappointing season and with the Cubs looking like the best team in baseball these days, they could definitely use a bounce back.
Almost as much as Latos.