With left-handers Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon at the top of the starting rotation, the White Sox were good to go in 2016.
With unproven right-hander Erik Johnson and lefty John Danks, who has become more of an innings-eater than a tough matchup since his shoulder surgery in 2012, the Sox were thin at the back of the rotation. Only Jacob Turner, claimed off waivers from the Cubs before signing as a $1.5 million free agent, was listed on the depth chart behind them.
The Sox addressed that area of need Tuesday by signing 28-year-old right-hander Mat Latos to a relatively inexpensive one-year, $3 million deal. Sandwiched between a 4.62 ERA over 51 innings as a 2009 rookie with the San Diego Padres and a 4.95 ERA with three teams in 2015, Latos posted ERAs of 2.92, 3.47, 3.48, 3.16 and 3.25 in two seasons with the Padres and three with the Reds. A three-time 14-game winner, Latos owns a career 3.51 ERA.
“Mat adds another quality veteran arm to our rotation and also increases our overall pitching depth, which always is essential to having a successful season,” general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “While we believe in the futures of several of our young starters, the chance to add a pitcher of Mat’s caliber was too good of an opportunity for us to pass up. He has proven over his career that when healthy, he takes the baseball and logs quality innings.”
After averaging 32 starts and nearly 200 innings during a four-year stretch, injuries curtailed the 6-6, 245-pound Latos’ effectiveness. He had bone chips removed from his right elbow before the 2014 season and tore cartilage in his left knee during spring training of that year.
Latos created a stir last February when he ripped former Reds teammates and the team’s medical staff, suggesting he was rushed back too soon after surgery.
“You look at the Reds after we lost Bronson [Arroyo]. Everything went to s—,” Latos told Fox Sports. “You look at it after we lost Scott Rolen [after 2012]. Everything went to s—. When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.
“After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our [clubhouse attendants], like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a guy with a year-and-a-half in the big leagues wandering around the clubhouse, hanging out. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that’s what happens. You can’t have that … it turns into a circus.”
Reds manager Bryan Price called Latos’ comments “a bunch of tabloid B.S. that’s unnecessary.”
Said veteran Skip Schumaker: “It’s really disappointing because we have a really good training staff, one of the best I’ve been around. I’ve been around a long time. I’ll just say it’s addition by subtraction and I’ll leave it at that.”
Latos will be reunited with new Sox third baseman Todd Frazier, acquired from the Reds in a December trade. Frazier, a two-time All-Star, played with Latos for three seasons in Cincinnati.
Latos earned $7.25 million from the Reds in 2014 and $9.4 million from the Marlins in 2015, so he’ll work for significantly less pay from the Sox, who receive a potential upgrade for their rotation while giving Latos an opportunity to get his career back on track and rebuild his value.
It’s unclear what Latos’ addition means for Johnson and Danks. Johnson bounced back from a terrible 2014 season split between the Sox and AAA Charlotte by earning pitcher of the year honors in the International League in 2015 before posting a 3.34 ERA over six starts in Chicago. Danks is in the final season of a five-year deal that pays him $15.75 million this season.
Since undergoing shoulder surgery, Danks has posted ERAs of 4.75, 4.74 and 4.71. The Sox’ record in games Danks started during that span is 32-52.