With a 2.72 ERA over his last six starts, Mat Latos looks like a completely different pitcher to the one that allowed seven earned runs in less than an inning in his first start of the year. After his stint on the DL with knee inflammation (on a knee that had been operated on previously), he has looked like the pitcher that the Marlins thought they were getting during the off-season.
Latos has become a double-edged sword for the organization. On the one hand, it must be frustrating for the front office to watch him round into form now that the Marlins are well out of the playoff race. Before Latos was injured, he was verging on awful, which is reflected by his 4.48 ERA on the season despite his recent impressive run of performances. At a time when the Marlins were relying on him to be a top of the rotation starter, he just didn't deliver.
On the other hand, Mat Latos is now drawing interest from contending teams as the trade deadline looms. For a ballclub that was looking for a playoff spot as soon as possible, the Marlins are 16 games under .500 and must start building for next year and beyond. To do this, the franchise will look to trade veterans with expiring contracts for talented prospects that are close to the major league level.
Latos is the Marlins' most valuable trade chip at this point. He is a free agent at the end of the season who is earning $10 million from the Fish already, so he is unlikely to be in Miami next year. He was only ever a one-year rental to help the team contend this year, and rather than leave the team for nothing during the winter, the Marlins will likely trade him before the calendar flips to August.
Contending teams always need starting pitching down the stretch, and Latos certainly showed what he is capable of last night with seven shutout innings in Arizona. The Fish traded Anthony DeSclafani and minor league catcher Chad Wallach for Mat Latos, and will probably be very happy if they can receive a pitcher anywhere near to major league ready for his services. In hindsight, losing DeSclafani was a costly move as he has arguably performed better than Latos over the season.
The Marlins need to move on from this, though, and just get the best prospects possible to replace minor league depth. A strong farm system is the basis of a contending team down the line, and all seven of Miami's affiliates are in last place. The way that the Marlins have positioned themselves means that they have to gain prospects at the deadline and then seriously target the top free agents.
Trading Mat Latos and Dan Haren, among others, will put the Marlins on the path to a better future. In the best case scenario, the Fish will be able to ride the wave of Latos' strong performances and recieve a good haul of prospects in return. If this happens, then the Latos move might be beneficial for the team - in the end.