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Latos learns to let arm do the talking

White Sox righty aware reputation cost him on free-agent market
March 6, 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first pitchers and catchers report date was Feb. 17. The regular season ends Oct. 2. If the World Series goes the seven-game distance, it will wrap up the first week of November. In the event that you've not yet dedicated the layout of the Gregorian calendar

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first pitchers and catchers report date was Feb. 17. The regular season ends Oct. 2. If the World Series goes the seven-game distance, it will wrap up the first week of November. In the event that you've not yet dedicated the layout of the Gregorian calendar to memory, just understand that the baseball season compromises an extraordinarily high percentage of it, even for the teams that don't reach the postseason.
What this means, ultimately, is that the people surrounding you matter. And they matter enough that teams have been known to take character considerations into considerable account when deciding how to dole out the dollars.
Would you agree, Mat Latos?
"One hundred percent," Latos said.
To be clear, Latos' 2015 free-agent walk year was a flop, one spread across three clubs. Neither the numbers nor the continued adjustment to slightly diminished velocity did much to augment Latos' market value.
But as Jeff Samardzija, the guy Latos essentially supplants in the White Sox rotation, can attest, a wasted walk year doesn't make you totally toxic in the marketplace. Samardzija, by any objective measure, was one of the worst-performing starting pitchers in baseball last season, but he has 90 million reasons to believe he survived that season just fine.
Actually, take a look at how Samardzija and Latos compare in their careers:
Samardzija: 131 starts, 6.46 innings per start, 4.14 ERA, .253/.310/.411 opponents' slash, 1.25 WHIP, 3.21 K/BB ratio
Latos: 174 starts, 6.11 innings per start, 3.50 ERA, .237/.294/.369 opponents' slash, 1.18 WHIP, 3.04 K/BB ratio
So the Shark has been a little more efficient, while Latos has been more effective. Now look specifically at their 2015 stat lines:
Samardzija: 32 starts, 214 innings, 4.96 ERA, .273/.319/.446 opponents' slash, 1.29 WHIP, 3.33 K/BB
Latos: 21 starts, 111 2/3 innings, 4.92 ERA, .267/.314/.415 opponents' slash, 1.31 WHIP, 3.06 K/BB

Latos made fewer starts, but that was due to a knee issue, not an arm issue, as well as the Dodgers' eventual decision to banish him to the bullpen. Basically, their 2015 seasons were a wash -- as in, equally awful. Latos is also younger -- 28 years to Samardzija's 31.
Samardzija got $90 million over five years from the Giants. Latos got $3 million for one from the White Sox. If there are clear mechanical concerns about Latos that detract from his upside, sure, you don't expect him to command as much money as Samardzija, a guy whose raw stuff has held up well. But we're talking about an $87 million difference here.
Latos knows it wasn't just his numbers that hurt him this offseason. His mouth contributed to the cause.
Back in his Padres days, Latos had a reputation as a handful, criticizing umps or resisting instruction. But the controversy crescendo was reached a year ago, when he arrived to the Marlins in a trade from Cincinnati and proceeded to rip the Reds in a interview, questioning their rehab methods and clubhouse culture. The Dodgers took a chance on Latos midyear, and he quickly irked some folks there when he publicly complained about being yanked from a start in which he gave up four runs in four innings.
So when it came time to look for a new home, Latos' reputation preceded him. But now that he's landed with a White Sox team that got him on what basically amounts to a risk-free contract, he said he's learned his lesson.
"Maybe I needed a wake-up call," Latos said. "I'm very direct, and I've just got to pick and choose my battles and learn to just hold onto some things. If I had some issues with things that went on with Cincinnati, I needed to keep them to myself. That was just a slip-up on my part. That was me dummying up. Just a bad lapse of judgment."
Honesty can be refreshing, especially to those of us who seek it from players, coaches and executives as part of our reporting. But the culture of the game -- the age-old inclination to keep what happens in the clubhouse from seeping out into the public -- often has a way of silencing the loudest voices.
It's too early to say whether Latos' "wake-up call" takes, but for now, the White Sox have a guy making a conscious effort to toe the line.
"[Teams] don't represent [players]; we represent them," Latos said. "I don't mean this in a bad way, but we're kind of like puppets on a string. We represent them and we have to put on our best show, our best game face and represent them in a professional manner."
The White Sox were obviously well aware of the controversy surrounding Latos, but they're equally aware of how such issues can sometimes be overinflated.
"Had we allowed such stories to stop us from pursuing players in the past," general manager Rick Hahn wrote in an email, "we likely would not have wound up with guys like Bobby Jenks, A.J Pierzynski or a handful of others that have contributed to our past success. Instead, we try to get to know the player ourselves. In talking to Mat and his representative, it was clear that Mat was aware of the knock on him in that regard, and that he was motivated to contribute in a positive way to our club both on and off the field. While I realize it is early, he has certainly very much delivered on his end thus far."
Latos has yet to make his Cactus League debut with his new club. He'll be throwing on the back fields at Camelback Ranch on Monday. Latos is working with respected pitching coach Don Cooper, trying to reclaim his lost effectiveness. He's adamant that he was finding his rhythm after coming off the disabled list with Miami last summer (he had a 2.96 ERA and .577 opponents' OPS in seven starts from June 13 to July 26), and that rhythm was what made him attractive to the Dodgers in the trade market. But Latos found the trade jarring.
"In this game, when you start pitching well, you stay in that groove," Latos said. "You just wonder what might have happened had I stayed in Miami."

Maybe Latos would have stayed in rhythm and commanded more money. Maybe he had dug such a hole for himself that a bidding battle was never going to happen. But Latos still has supporters in this game (Josh Byrnes, the executive who traded him from San Diego and later was part of the Dodgers' front office that acquired him from Miami, said he believes Latos has truly matured), and, with the Sox, he has an opportunity to round out an underrated starting staff and rebuild his value in time for what portends to be a thinner free-agent class next offseason.
"We'll see how it goes," Latos said. "I'll take care of what I can take care of in this clubhouse and fight with the 24 other guys in this clubhouse to win games and take it from there."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.