GLENDALE, Ariz. — An “interesting” offseason for Mat Latos has the starting pitcher in White Sox camp on a deal the club found to be too good to turn down.
The right-hander reported to spring training on Friday morning at Camelback Ranch, 10 days after he finalized a surprising contract with the White Sox. Many analysts and observers have described the one-year deal worth $3 million as a bargain for the first-time free agent.
One of many veteran free agents still on the market, Latos reportedly bypassed other teams’ offers and said he’s happy to be with the White Sox.
“It was interesting,” Latos said of the offseason. “We had conversations and talks, offers on the table, it was a matter of finding the right fit.
“Kind of figured everything out and decided it was a good fit.”
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Latos didn’t get too in depth on what must have been a stressful offseason.
While he has been hurt the past two seasons, Latos has a strong track record. The 28-year-old went 51-35 with a 3.27 ERA from 2010-13. But same as many of his talented peers, Latos found himself without a home as the calendar flipped to February.
Given how many veterans are still available — Dexter Fowler, Yovani Gallardo and Ian Desmond, to name a few — Latos must feel lucky. General manager Rick Hahn does, noting in a statement last week that the opportunity to sign Latos was “too good” to pass up. Even though this year’s free agent class was loaded with talent, Hahn said the number of players still available is unexpected.
“I didn’t see it going this long,” Hahn said. “I don’t think anybody really predicted it to go this long. Every year there are a few guys who sign after camp start, or around Valentine’s Day or so, who wind up being quality contributors. But it does appear there are a fair amount more out there this year than in years past.”
Latos’ poor health the previous two seasons likely played a role in him still being available this late in the offseason.
He had bone chips removed from his right elbow two offseasons ago and then suffered a left knee injury in 2014 spring training. He didn’t make his 2014 debut until June, and his knee issues lingered into 2015, when he went 4-10 with a 4.95 ERA in 24 games (21 starts).
But Latos still managed to find a comfortable landing spot with the White Sox.
He cited working with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Robin Ventura as reasons to feel comfortable.
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Latos also wanted to reunite with catcher Dioner Navarro, who made quite an impression upon him even though he only caught Latos seven times near the end of the 2012 campaign with the Cincinnati Reds. He went 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA in his final five starts of the 2012 regular season, all caught by Navarro. The two — who shared a big hug Friday — worked well enough for the veteran to become the pitcher’s “hashtag — personal catcher,” Navarro said with a smile.
“We kind of clicked,” Navarro said. “He can be really good. I think he’s going through a rough patch right now. But he’s going to be out of it, and hopefully I’ll be part of this season.”
Latos hopes his offseason work with a physical trainer to strengthen the left knee helps him get past a time he described as “extremely frustrating.” Last spring, Latos had 90 CCs of fluid drained from his knee. Two months later he went on the disabled list. He threw a bullpen session on Friday and said he feels good.
Now, Latos wants to prove he can return to the form he displayed early in his career — which likely would make next offseason a little easier.
“I feel great,” Latos said. “I spent all winter in Miami working out with a physical therapist. ... We attacked some of the points that were weak during the year and fixed what was bothering me.
“I feel like I have to go out and pitch like I used to before the injury. I struggled with the injury, it was something I never had to deal with, having back-to-back surgeries. It was something to overcome, and I feel like the training program I was on during the offseason will help.”