KC Royals Finalist For Scott Kazmir; Mat Latos Plan B


KC Royals rumors indicate that they are finalists for free-agent starter Scott Kazmir, along with the Orioles, Cardinals, Nationals, and Astros according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Kansas City Royals are one of four teams interested in Mat Latos, along with the Orioles, Pirates, Brewers, and Rays. MLB Trade rumors speculated that the 28-year-old Mat Latos is Kansas City’s “Plan B” if they can’t land Kazmir.

This analysis makes a lot of sense, though I still believe that Alex Gordon will need to make a decision before KC Royals GM Dayton Moore will make a major move that could compromise his ability to re-sign Gordon.

Such dithering could leave the Kansas City Royals without any of their three favored targets if Kazmir and Latos receive strong offers before KC determines if Gordon is within their price range.

Even in such a worst-case scenario, Dayton Moore still has the KC Royals recent success to fall back on. Good players always seem get missed in the free-agent frenzy and the Royals will have their pick in the later stages as players scramble to find a home. Heck, many of these players end up among the best bargains in free-agency since player agents lose negotiating leverage as opportunities dry up and teams spend their available money.

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Moore signed swingmen Chris Young and Joe Blanton under just such circumstances late in the process last spring. Young and Blanton produced 2.8 bWAR (Wins Above Replacement) in value for approximately $1.35 million in guaranteed money (though Young maxed his performances bonuses which brought his 2015 pay to around $5 million).

Even at $5.6 million, Young and Blanton were a screaming bargain if we estimate free-agent market value at $7.5 million/WAR—putting their collective production at $21 million.

If Moore wishes to select one position on which to “skate” in free agency, it would have to be pitching. Late in the process, pitchers will be ecstatic to land in Kansas City with a great defensive team behind them in a park that suppresses home runs. Guys who become resigned to one-year, “prove it” deals will see the KC Royals as a prime destination.

A little over a week ago, I wrote that pursuing Scott Kazmir made a lot of sense. Mat Latos is more of a question mark. Latos wallowed through a poor season in 2015, with a 4-10 record and 4.95 ERA in 21 starts. However, his strikeout rates, walk rates, and BABIP were all in line with his career norms.

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Mat Latos’ HR/9 (home run per nine innings) was a little high at 1.01 compared to his career rate of 0.84, but the big number that jumps out on his 2015 stat line is his low 63.8% strand rate. This stat line suggests that Latos’ issue was more about hit sequencing, which implies the problem was “bad luck” rather than degraded skills.

Mat Latos’ average fastball velocity actually increased over his 2014 performance from 90.7 mph in 2014 to 91.4 mph in 2015, however his velocity is down from the 94+ mph he notched early in his career and the 92.5 mph he averaged in his last full season in 2013.

On the negative side, Latos has suffered injury problems the last two seasons. He only pitched 102.1 innings in 2014. Foot and neck injuries limited him to 116.1 innings in 2015 as he shuffled from the Marlins, Dodgers, and Angels. Mat Latos also gave an interview with Ken Rosenthal last February (after he had signed with the Marlins) calling the Reds clubhouse a “circus” due to losing veteran leaders Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo.

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Certainly, such problems don’t exist in the Kansas City Royals clubhouse. The World Series champion KC Royals are clearly one of the most dedicated teams in the major leagues, but the sour grapes above makes you wonder if Mat Latos is a team cancer. Dayton Moore does have Edinson Volquez on his roster, who can give good insight into to such questions since he was Latos’s teammate in Cincinnati for two seasons.

Thus Moore is in a good position to judge whether Latos’ comments are a serious issue, or legitimate frustration about a bad atmoshpere.