In a bit of surprising news, the White Sox Tuesday agreed to a deal with SP Mat Latos to a 1 year, $3 million contract according to CSN's Dan Hayes. Latos, who pitched parts of last year with the Marlins, Dodgers and Angels, is coming off his worst year as a professional, having pitched just 116.1 innings of 4.95 ERA ball in 2015. This, combined with his off-the-field reputation of being a bad dude (earned by him calling out the Reds’ coaching staff, among other things) is likely why he was signed for basically the same money as Felipe Paulino two years ago.
Not everything about Latos is negative, however. Though his last two years have been plagued by injury and poor performance, he’s still just a few years removed from being a bona fide No. 2 starter. This is a pitcher who, from 2010-2013, averaged 32 starts and 200 IP per season while maintaining a 3.27 ERA with San Diego and Cincinnati. While he is unlikely to achieve that level of performance again, there is some upside here, even if it’s much more likely he’s a back-end guy at this juncture of his career if healthy. Even in that case, there’s significant value in pushing Erik Johnson, Chris Beck and Jacob Turner one slot down on the depth chart. For $3 million, this almost seems like a no-brainer so long as a clubhouse that has already added Brett Lawrie can withstand a guy like Latos.
In this sense, Latos and Lawrie both seem to be the manifestation of an active attempt by Rick Hahn and Co. to find talent that comes relatively cheap because of baggage tied to the players. While holes have been filled, the onus is now on Robin Ventura to maintain steadiness in the clubhouse, something that has been cited as his best strength by people defending his continued employment. In an ideal world, a winning team makes this easy, but if things blow up, the 2016 White Sox may be even more painful to watch than past iterations of the team.
The best way to ensure things don’t blow up, of course, is to build a talented roster, and currently the White Sox seem almost there. The Avisail Garcia-sized hole in RF remains, however, and attempting to contend with a player who has shown no signs of being MLB-caliber seems quite ill advised. Considering the substantial difference of that and starting, say, Dexter Fowler in the outfield every day, this one move seems to be the difference between an incomplete offseason and a great one by the White Sox.