The Alex Gordon signing means that the 2016 iteration of the Kansas City Royals is finally beginning to come into focus. The featured relievers are all set in place. We don't know for sure who will be in the field on Opening Day, but we have a pretty good idea.
The rotation is a different story.
All signs point to the Royals picking up a free agent pitcher at some point in the next couple of months. Right now the rotation consists of Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy, and Chris Young with veterans like Dillon Gee, John Lannan, and Chien Ming Wang as dark horse candidates. Minor league guys like Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte probably aren't ready to fill the gaps in the rotation quite yet, and while a trade is certainly possible, the team can't afford to deplete the farm system too much without causing major problems down the road.
The Gordon signing suggests the Royals want to win now (or rather, keep winning), and the backloaded contract allows the Royals a small bit of flexibility for the next year or two so they can find that last piece of the rotation. But that's it. It's a small bit of flexibility — the budget is still very tight. The team isn't going to go out and spend top dollar on the best remaining pitcher. They'll need to get creative. The Royals have recently been linked to Ian Kennedy, and on Thursday, Kevin Ruprecht wrote that Cliff Lee would be a great fit for the team.
Another pitcher who the Royals have been linked to is Mat Latos.
Latos performed well throughout the first five seasons of his career, but he faltered in 2014 due to injury, and then had a horrible, no-good, very bad 2015. Last season, his ERA jumped over a point and a half to 4.95. He posted a career-worst WHIP and his worst WAR since his rookie season.
|Mat Latos, 2013-2015|
Following an offseason trade from the Reds, Latos began the year in Miami. Whether it was because everything Jeffrey Loria touches eventually crumbles to dust or for some other reason, Latos struggled from the beginning. He was shelled and didn't last an inning in his first start, but managed to hang around until the trade deadline, when he was traded to the Dodgers.
In Los Angeles, Latos made just five starts before being relegated to the bullpen. He gave up 19 runs in 24.1 innings and was ultimately cut just over a week before the playoffs. Presumably finding him hitchhiking out of Los Angeles, the Angels took him in as a reliever to help their playoff push. Latos gave up two runs in two appearances. The Angels did not make the playoffs.
Latos has had a history of rankling teammates in the clubhouse. Brash behavior lead to clashes in the minor leagues. After being traded from San Diego, he slammed the Padres organization, saying he didn't mesh well with teammates, adding "all I know is I'm in the playoffs. They're home watching me." After Cincinnati traded him to Miami, he again criticized his former teammates and accused the Reds of rushing him back from injury.
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So why should the Royals take a look at Latos? Well, he fits the bill of "cheap" — he'll be looking for a short contract to rebuild his value. And he's not as bad of a pitcher as his 2015 stats suggest.
His 2015 FIP (3.72) is in line with what he produced in 2014 (3.65), suggesting he's probably not as good as the 3.25 ERA he posted in 2014 but not as bad as 2015's mark. Latos gave up slightly more line drives than usual in 2015, and his slider wasn't as effective as it had been in the past. His fastball velocity was also a tick slower than usual. But beyond injuries, there aren't any glaring red flags that suggest Latos can't return to for
Latos was a solid starter for the Padres and Reds from 2010 through 2013. He underwent surgery on his knee in late 2013, and said the Reds may have rushed him back from that injury. While he was relatively good throughout his 16 starts in 2014, he then suffered a bone bruise on his elbow in September. It's possible that his injuries eventually derailed his delivery mechanics, contributing to his poor 2015.
Still only 28, Latos should be in the prime of his career and able to bounce back from a down season. Will he be the same pitcher that received Cy Young votes in 2010? Not likely. But he could turn out to be a good middle-of-the-rotation starter for whoever takes the bait.
The Royals were linked to Latos earlier in the offseason, but his hot stove hasn't been all that hot so far. He's worth a look, especially if things remain quiet for the right-hander. The fact he could sign a short-term deal should be attractive to the cost-conscious Dayton Moore who has a bevy of free agents to worry about in a few seasons. The big concern will be health — Latos is very good when he's playing at 100 percent. He hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last couple of years. Character is also a concern, but the Royals may be confident enough in the character of their core right now to take a chance on a guy like Latos.
Latos would be a risk, but he has a high ceiling and the Royals have to feel good about their ability to gamble (and win) on discarded pitchers. They're bound to lose one of those gambles soon, but with their tight budget, they have no choice but to spin the wheel and hope their number comes up one more time.
And when it comes to filling the holes in the rotation, it's better Latos than never.