The White Sox signed Mat Latos to a one-year deal for $3 million dollars yesterday. Latos is 28 and has been in the majors for parts of 7 seasons. He was with three different clubs last season and it appears some of that is due to personality issues as much as skill.
There seem to be a lot of people giving pause to this signing, but almost no one-year deal is bad. And a one-year deal for a starting pitcher that only costs $3 million is pretty much “no lose” territory.
Latos has had two not great seasons in a row, and has only started 37 games over that time, so there are some durability issues. His stats from last season are fairly consistent with his career numbers, although his batting average on balls in play (BABIP), a stat I routinely bring up, was considerably above his career mark, indicating he was probably a bit unlikely last season. Moving around from team-to-team probably didn’t help that. His FIP was 3.72 (FIP is basically ERA adjusted for poor fielding), which would have ranked him in the mid-30s if he had enough innings to quality. 3.72 is about the same FIP as Felix Hernandez and Jordan Zimmerman had last year. It is better than Samardzija or Danks had last season, and about what Carlos Rodon had.
Back to the contract. $3 million in MLB salary terms is pretty small. It probably amounts to like the 10th highest salary on the team. The White Sox paid Jeff Keppinger $3.5 million in 2013, Ronald Belsario $3 million, Matt Lindstrom $4 million and Scott Downs $3.75 million in 2014 and Emilio Bonofacio $3 million in 2015. Yeah all of those guys sucked, but that shows the caliber of player you normally get for $3 million. The other key is that none of those guys is a 28-year old starting pitcher.
This doesn’t even factor in that Latos likely has a major chip on his shoulder after not getting a better deal and is out to prove he is worth more. Or the fact that Don Cooper has a track record of getting more from guys than expected. And Latos only has to be at most the #4 starter behind Sale-Quintana-Rodon. He, John Danks, Eric Johnson and Jacob Turner appear to be the guys in play for the 4th and 5th starter spots. Latos had about the same fWAR as John Danks did last season. Most Sox fans will not see this as a positive, but Danks threw 9 more starts and got paid five times as much as Latos will this season.
Frankly it seems odd that so many people are pooping on this signing. It’s extremely low risk to sign a 4th/5th starter for one year. If Johnson and/or Turner are amazing eating $3 million isn’t the end of the world. If Latos somehow gets back to his 2013 form the Sox rotation will be the best in baseball. If the most likely occurs and Latos ends up about as good as he was last season, he’s still a sufficient #4 starter on this team.