White Sox

Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track

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Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track

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.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Melky Cabrera: White Sox are ready for playoffs]

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.”

White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will reportedly be suspended 80 games for use of PED

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USA TODAY

White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will reportedly be suspended 80 games for use of PED

For the first time since new rules came into effect in 2005, the White Sox will reportedly see a major league player suspended for violating baseball’s ban on performance-enhancing drugs.

Welington Castillo, the team’s biggest offseason addition, will be suspended for 80 games, according to a pair of reports.

Manager Rick Renteria said after Wednesday's win over the visiting Baltimore Orioles that he couldn't comment on the reports. Castillo played in Wednesday's game, during which the news broke.

"For me, those at this particular moment are rumors," Renteria said. "MLB is the one that is in charge of that type of stuff. Until they release anything officially I can’t really comment on that."

The veteran catcher, slashing .267/.309/.466 with six home runs and 15 RBIs in 33 games this season, was brought in over the winter to help the rebuilding White Sox in both the short and long term. He had a career year offensively and defensively in 2017, and he was acquired to help develop a young pitching staff featuring big pieces of the future like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, and also to swing a solid bat and help this young team learn how to win.

If Castillo proves productive over the course of his two-year deal, the White Sox have a team option that could keep Castillo on the South Side for the 2020 season. That could make him a piece of the puzzle for when the rebuild reaches its apex and the team is ready to start contending for championships. But this news has the potential to change that dramatically.

Zack Collins and Seby Zavala are both having strong offensive seasons at Double-A Birmingham and figure to be the long-term answers behind the plate. But Castillo’s absence from any long-term picture could leave the White Sox without a veteran safety net in the years ahead, depending on how the team decides to react to this news now and in the coming seasons.

Castillo’s absence for the next 80 games could also have an impact on the development of aforementioned pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. Lopez, in particular, has been throwing really well this season, and Giolito has control issues to work through, as he leads the American League in walks. Without the veteran catcher brought in to help those guys transition to the major league level, how will the transition change for those two pitchers?

Omar Narvaez would be the logical choice to take over as the No. 1 catcher. As for who could take Castillo's place on the major league roster, the options are limited. Kevan Smith, who was edged out by Narvaez for the backup-catching job in spring training, is on the disabled list at Triple-A Charlotte, placed there Tuesday. The aforementioned Zavala is also injured at Double-A Birmingham, and it seems far too early to rush Collins to the big leagues. Alfredo Gonzalez is a catcher on the roster at Charlotte. A spot on the 40-man roster would need to be freed up to bring him to Chicago.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should be the plan to call up the White Sox prospects?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What should be the plan to call up the White Sox prospects?

SportsTalk Live is on location for White Sox Authentic Fan Night. Phil Rogers (MLB Network), Mark Carman (WGN Radio), David DeJesus and Ozzie Guillen join Kap to talk about Manny Machado Mania, Anthony Rizzo’s struggles and the White Sox plans for calling up their best prospects. 

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: