The San Diego Padres selected right-handed pitcher Mat Latos in the eleventh round of the 2006 draft. He ultimately did not sign with the team until almost a year later, days before the draft of 2007. Drafted after his senior year of high school, Latos had the talent of a first-round pick, but lacked the maturity. This led to a disagreement between the Padres and its newly drafted player over the signing bonus. The Florida resident ended up pitching a year for Broward Community College before finally agreeing to a $1.25 million deal.
Latos rose quickly through the Padres’ minor league system and made his major league debut in July 2009, just over two years after signing with the team. He was 21 years old at the time and had never pitched above the AA level. Latos’ results over his ten starts that season were less than spectacular; over 50.2 innings, he had a 4.62 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 39:23. Latos began the following season in the Padres’ rotation and turned things around, despite a terrible month of April during which he gave up 14 runs over 20.1 innings. He finished 2010 with an ERA of 2.92 and 189 strikeouts over 184.2 innings. The right-hander’s strikeout total, ERA, K:BB ratio (3.78), and WHIP (1.083) all remain career-bests for him. He ultimately finished eighth in voting for the National League Cy Young Award. Latos produced solid numbers again in 2011, albeit with an ERA of 3.47.
Mat Latos’ success throughout his first two full major league seasons did not go unnoticed by other teams. It was in December 2011 that the then 24-year-old starting pitcher was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in a blockbuster deal that sent starter Edinson Volquez and three prospects to San Diego. The Reds’ general manager, Walt Jocketty, was quoted as saying of Latos, ‘He’s definitely a top-of-the rotation guy who will slot in well behind Cueto and, in time, will develop into a No. 1 starter.’
Jocketty’s assessment of Latos quickly proved to be accurate. During his first two seasons with Cincinnati, Latos made a total of 65 regular season starts, pitching 420 innings to a 3.32 ERA and a 1.186 WHIP. For a pitcher who made his home starts in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park, he only gave up 0.8 home runs per nine innings.
The right-hander’s two 2012 NLDS postseason outings brought mixed results. In game one against the Giants in San Francisco, scheduled starter Johnny Cueto lasted just a third of an inning before leaving the game due to back spasms. (He would not pitch again in the series, and was later put on the disabled list and replaced on the roster by pitcher Mike Leake.) Reliever Sam LeCure was brought in and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings. Mat Latos then entered during the third inning and allowed just one solo home run over the four innings he pitched. This excellent relief appearance by Latos not only saved the game for the Reds (they won 5-2), but also saved the bullpen from being overused during the series opener.
Latos’ second postseason appearance was just as memorable, but for the wrong reasons. Starting game five at home, the Reds were tied with the Giants in the series 2-2. The winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home game went smoothly through the first four innings for both teams’ starting pitchers, as Mat Latos and Matt Cain exchanged zeroes in the run column. Then the top of the fifth inning occurred and Latos’ outing rapidly unraveled. A single, triple, groundout, E6, walk, single, and Buster Posey grand slam later and the Reds were down 6-0. Latos’ day was over, and in just a matter of innings, so would be the Reds’ season. Long-time baseball writer Hal McCoy reflected on Mat Latos and his issues with immaturity in his newspaper column the following weekend, writing the following: “Latos is still a bit immature in that he lets things he cannot control bother him on the mound. Johnny Cueto used to be the same way, but he overcame it. Now Latos must grow up a bit and accept adversity and pitch around it. If you lose concentration pitching to Buster Posey, you are going to pay heavily — like giving up a grand slam at the worst time of the entire season.”
The end of the 2013 season is where Latos’ health issues began to arrive. Given number-one starter Johnny Cueto’s multiple trips to the disabled list throughout that season, the Reds had initially planned to start Mat Latos in the Wildcard Game against the Pirates. That plan changed when it was announced in the last days of September that Latos had bone chips in his elbow. He ended up having them removed in October via surgery. Then in mid-February at the start of Spring Training, Latos injured his knee while throwing. This resulted in a torn meniscus which required surgery as well. In April, it was announced that he had a flexor mass strain in his elbow. Mat Latos would not make his season debut until June 14. He would pitch well for the Reds the remainder of the season, posting numbers similar to those he delivered during his previous four seasons. Perhaps the most notable difference was the decline in his number of strikeouts per nine innings; 6.5 marked the lowest it had been in his career. Nevertheless, Latos had posted a 3.25 ERA over his sixteen starts. He was still seen as a potential ace and would soon be on the move again.
It was on the final day of the December 2014 Winter Meetings that a trade was announced that sent Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins in exchange for rookie starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani and a minor league catcher. It was reported after his trade from the Padres that Latos publicly criticized the Padres’ management, saying that they lied to him about his future with their organization. His pattern of bashing former teams would soon continue, as a February 2015 interview by reporter Ken Rosenthal would show. Rather than making remarks about management, this time Latos spoke about the state of the Reds’ clubhouse. Though no players were mentioned by name (though he did specifically mention “a closer”), he criticized a lack of leadership. It was with this interview that Latos had now burned bridges with both of his first two teams. His immaturity was still present.
The 2015 season was Latos’ final season before becoming a free agent. While with Cincinnati, many predicted that his next contract would easily be nine digits. That figure was soon erased as Latos struggled throughout the entire year. Perhaps there was no sign more indicative of how his season would go than his first start as a Marlin against the Braves. Playing at home in game two of the season, Latos gave up seven earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. His ERA, which then sat at 94.50, would not go below five until May 10. That only lasted for one start; it would not return under five until July 5. He spent time on the 15-day disabled list for left knee inflammation for several weeks from late-May to mid-June. Latos was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of July in a multi-team blockbuster that also involved the Atlanta Braves. Overall, he posted a 4.48 ERA with the Marlins.
Things did not get any better back on the west coast for Latos. Over six games (five starts), he posted an ERA of 6.66 over 24.1 innings of work. After an early September start, Latos again continued his trend of making public criticisms against his team, this time against the manager for pulling him out of the game too soon. (A game in which Latos gave up eight hits and four runs over four innings.) He was designated for assignment on September 17 and released on September 25.
However, Mat Latos’ season was not yet over. On September 28, with just seven days remaining in the regular season, the Los Angeles Angeles became Latos’ fifth team of his career and third of the season. He was signed for the major league minimum- around $19,600 for one week- as the Dodgers were responsible for the rest of his salary. Latos was signed to improve a weakened bullpen in a push to win a postseason spot. He appeared in two games. In the first, he pitched two scoreless innings. In the second, he gave up two solo home runs over 1.2 innings. Latos’ final combined 2015 numbers resulted in a 4.95 ERA and a 1.307 WHIP, career worsts. He averaged more strikeouts per nine innings (7.7) than in 2014 (6.5), but these numbers are still below his averages from 2010-13.
Latos is now a free agent for the second time in his career (the first being the three days between Los Angeles teams at the end of September). Rather than signing a nine-figure contract, MLB Trade Rumors is predicting that he will sign a one-year deal to rebuild value. Given that he just turned 28 years old, he is still young enough to turn things around. If Latos can pitch at a level in 2016 like he did from 2010-14, and stay healthy, he should be able to sign a substantial contract next winter. Personally, I could see him receiving a payday similar to what Jeff Samardzija just signed with the Giants, something in the range of five years and $90 million.