Matthews OK for Mets, if he doesn't play

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It took eating $21 million of the $23 million he was owed over the next two years, but the Angels were able to move Gary Matthews Jr. on Friday. They even netted a decent piece in return, getting reliever Brian Stokes from the Mets. That makes it a clear win for GM Tony Reagins, who had to have weighed releasing the malcontent at several points since inheriting his job and the brutal contract from Bill Stoneman.
For the Mets, though, one wonders what makes Matthews preferable to a couple of the still available free agents, most notably Reed Johnson. Is it just cost? The Mets will only pay Matthews $1 million per year for the next two seasons, whereas Johnson’s 2010 price tag is probably still in the $2 million range.
In general, teams want their regulars to be all-around players and their backups to be more specialized. That’s Matthews’ problem at this stage; he’s no longer a solid regular and he simply doesn’t have any big strength to his game. Teams used to love his center field defense, but he was never really that good in the first place and he’s pretty obviously declined over the last few years. A switch-hitter, he has OPSs of 744 against lefties and 739 versus righties in his career, rendering him useless in a platoon. He’s not going to supply a lot of power off the bench or speed as a pinch-runner. He’s never hit 20 homers or stolen 20 bases in a season, and he certainly isn’t going to start now.
It doesn’t mean there’s no place for Matthews in the majors. He’d probably serve as an adequate placeholder if a team needed to start him for a few weeks. It’s just that there’s no real way for a smart manager to take advantage of his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
Compare that to Johnson. The two players have a similar level of offensive ability, but Johnson has a career OPS of 841 against lefties and 707 versus righties. He’s also a better defender than Matthews. He seems like an ideal choice to split time with Angel Pagan while Carlos Beltran is out. After all, Pagan, a switch-hitter like Matthews, has a 717 OPS against lefties and an 805 OPS against righties in his 752 career at-bats.
In the end, it probably won’t matter much. Pagan will likely get every opportunity to serve as the regular center fielder until Beltran returns. The Mets didn’t acquire Matthews because they were infatuated with him; they did it because he cost them very little cash and a reliever who wasn’t going to be guaranteed a bullpen spot following the signings of Kelvim Escobar and Ryota Igarashi. Now that the outfield again appears set, it’s time for Omar Minaya to get back to work and use Bengie Molina’s money on a real talent.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.