1. The White Sox are still in a holding pattern as far as addressing their HUGE UNDENIABLE PROBLEM IN THE OUTFIELD, but made a decisive move to address their source of mere nagging doubt at the back of the starting rotation.
One-year, $3 million to Mat Latos is the type of light investment in a risky, higher upside arm I was hoping the Jacob Turner signing would turn into if I stared at it long enough. With it, the Sox have shored up a back end of a rotation that literally hours before the deal was being identified by FanGraphs as uniquely bad with no credible backup options.
A name as recognizable as "Mat Latos," who as BP's Craig Goldstein noted, seem destined for a nine-figure deal not too long ago, combined with a "one-year, $3 million deal" should be a dead giveaway that we're dealing with someone at the nadir of their value. Latos has managed just 37 starts over the past two seasons, with his 2014 delayed by surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, and his 2015 campaign hampered by inflammation in that same knee, as well as hamstring and neck soreness, and protracted bouts of generalized badness.
When he returned from the disabled list in mid-June last year, Latos actually looked like himself for his old self for an eight-start stretch, recording 51.2 innings with a 2.79 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 10 walks through his first start after being dealt to the Dodgers, with his velocity recovering into the 91-92 mph territory. Then he fell apart so badly that he got himself cut from a playoff contender desperate for rotation depth, made a weird cameo with the Angels for 3.2 innings, and finished the worst season of his career with a 4.95 ERA over 116.1 innings, with 100 K, 32 BB and 13 HR.
2. But it was only one bad year! A bad, injury ravaged year, after a five-year stretch where he posted a 3.27 ERA (87 ERA-, for the record) over 901.1 innings. There's a slow rot of velocity from someone who used to live in the mid-90s who would now be happy just to average 92 mph, and despite holding his own at Great American Ballpark, he's hardly the archetypal pitcher for U.S. Cellular Field.
But it's a rare clubhouse that Mat Latos raves about or vice versa, or even neglects to publicly display a grudge towards (or vice versa), unless you count him getting through 3.2 innings in Anaheim without an incident as an accomplishment. Between Latos and Brett Lawrie entering a demure clubhouse with a centralized leadership structure, and Robin Ventura will really have some gristle to his reputation as a leader of men if he navigates this campaign without incident. The risk is reflected in the pay, but that will only be of so much comfort to his teammates and management by mid-June.
3. The risk is still easily worth it for the Sox. A typical Latos year would be a boon for them out of the No. 4 slot, and transform them into one of the best rotations in baseball. His more mild projections (Both Marcel and Steamer see him posting an even 4.00 ERA, but differ on the number of innings he can sustain himself for) would be a clear upgrade, and his complete flop is mitigated by the low salary, short commitment, and the fact that he himself is insurance to the original plan of Erik Johnson and John Danks at the back of the rotation.
It's hard to envision Danks getting pushed out of the rotation given what lows the Sox have sat through already, and Erik Johnson has pretty much nothing to gain from more time in Triple-A, but this signing was prompted by a lack of depth. Moving someone out because there's not room for Latos, Johnson and Danks all at once creates the problem all over again, and the Sox would be better served to let the season solve it for them. Whatever degree of physical and mental obstacles are in the way of Latos providing value on the field for the Sox, are matched by the distinct possibility that Danks' shoulder and waning stuff can't keep holding up, or that Erik Johnson just isn't good enough to live in an MLB rotation.
4. If seeking a strange, counter-intuitive source of encouragement on the Dexter Fowler situation, the lead-up to the Latos signing was...Jerry Crasnick breaking the story that the deal was complete, quickly followed by everyone confirming it was done. There were no leaks of the Sox talking to Latos, despite the fact that he was apparently in town.
So while the Sox remain uncomfortably silent on the issue of plugging the biggest festering hole in their roster, those seeking to be optimistic can find optimism in that Fowler could have closed on a condo three blocks from U.S. Cellular Field, be volunteering for the neighborhood club, and doing morning tai chi on his lawn in full uniform, and the Sox might be able to control leaks until the deal was finalized.
He is after all, just hanging around at an extremely affordable price.
5. Speaking of insurance signings...
Travis Ishikawa provides insurance to....no one really. The 32-year-old is primarily a first baseman, bats left-handed but only has a lifetime 95 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, and that includes work from better times in his career. That the 2014 Giants surged to World Series triumph while simultaneously being so drained of outfield depth that they had to give Ishikawa playing time is one of the more bizarre testaments to their Even Year BS.
Hopefully Ishikawa can give the Knights some good moments.