A relatively minor transaction was announced by the Blue Jays Monday, when pitcher Mat Latos was outrighted to Triple-A Buffalo. He had the right to elect free agency, but instead he accepted the assignment to the minors. Team that with the fact that Latos is only 29 years old and it got me thinking that Latos' career is a perfect illustration just how hard it is to have a very good and long career in Major League Baseball.
Latos was a full-time starter for the first time in 2010. Through 2013, he'd put together four straight healthy and overall pretty damn good seasons. It was fair to say he was among the best starters in baseball who hadn't (yet) made an All-Star team. He was 51-35 with a 3.27 ERA (116 ERA+) and averaging 200 innings per season. That's not an ace, but it is a mid-rotation -- or even a number two -- workhorse. He was an integral part of two straight Reds playoff teams.
Think about a pitcher with that sort of resume heading into free agency. Ian Kennedy's last four seasons before free agency were considerably worse and he got five years and $70 million, just to name one example.
It really looked like Latos was on track to getting close to nine figures.
Instead, Latos suffered a knee injury in the spring of 2014 and he hasn't been the same since that year. He has claimed that the Reds' medical staff rushed him back. We aren't going to dive deep into that, but it's worth mention that he wasn't bad in 2014. It was 2015 when everything started to fall apart.
Latos was 4-7 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 16 starts for the Marlins. He was traded to the Dodgers, where he would post a 6.66 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. After being released the Angels picked him up and he pitched to a 4.91 ERA in 3 2/3 innings.
Last year, Latos got off to a very good start for the White Sox, but in his last seven starts he had a 7.25 ERA and was released. Latos would reunite with former manager Dusty Baker upon signing with the Nationals, but in 9 2/3 innings he posted a 6.52 ERA. This year with the Blue Jays, Latos made three starts, putting up a 6.60 ERA and 1.80 WHIP.
None of this is because Latos is lazy or is used to be doing "steroids" and stopped or anything else. Players regress in the face of the top-flight competition in Major League Baseball. It happens.
It's possible Latos gets everything fixed and has a career renaissance. We've seen it before and we'll see it again, even if it's not Latos. For now, though, let him be yet another reminder at just how fleeting success can be in baseball. This game is unbelievably difficult and more often than not success is short-lived.