Is it April 1 already?
Believe it or not, the Blue Jays signed backup catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year, $3 million extension with a $1.5 million option for 2015, the team announced Tuesday.
It’s a pretty amazing statement, given that, of the 461 players with at least 1,000 plate appearances the last eight seasons, Mathis has the game’s worst batting average, on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+ since he debuted in 2005. He’s a career .196/.256/.312 hitter with 32 homers and 158 RBI in 1,336 at-bats.
Now, Mathis has been better this year; he’s all of the way up to .215/.252/.415 with six homers in 135 at-bats. However, most of that success came early. Since May 6, he’s at .209/.220/.374 in 115 at-bats. Playing an expanded role with J.P. Arencibia hurt, he’s hitting .118 in 34 at-bats this month.
Of course, it’s not much money. $1.5 million per year is a pretty standard rate for a backup catcher. Mathis, though, is turning 30 next spring, and it’s not like he projects to take a big step forward. He figures to remain a disaster offensively, without being all that great defensively. He is throwing out baserunners at the best rate of his career this year (an impressive 39 percent), but he’s never been so good previously.
What this contract suggests is that the Jays don’t see themselves ever going to a tandem of Arencibia and top prospect Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate. That could mean Arencibia, the weakest defender of the group, will become trade bait next summer or maybe even this winter.
But the real stunner here is that Jeff Mathis now has job security. Jeff Mathis! The SABR community will be none too happy with Alex Anthopoulos over that fact.
MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports that Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz has been sporting a new look around Busch Stadium with a pair of “strobe glasses,” technology-enhanced specs designed to help athletes focus on the ball. Like a strobe light, the lenses of these glasses affect a player’s vision by rapidly changing opacity, giving its wearers the illusion that the objects they see are moving more slowly than normal. Once a player adjusts to the new speed of play, they gain a greater sense of control and are able to time their actions with more precision.
Diaz isn’t the first MLB player to utilize the technology, just the first Cardinals’ player to do so. It’s been tested by Bryce Harper, Corey Brown, Tommy Joseph, Austin Hedges and Joe Mauer, among others around the league, and has been used for everything from refining a catcher’s reflexes behind the plate to tweaking a hitter’s ability to track a pitch. Per Langosch, Diaz has been using the glasses to hone in on the ball during pregame drills, increasing both his confidence and response time on the field and improving his defense at short.
The shortstop has been the focus of some concern this season after seeing a sizable dip in his production at the plate, and his five fielding errors, 0.6 UZR and 0.6 fWAR haven’t helped matters, either. He sustained a minor thumb injury during an at-bat on Friday night, and was left off of the Cardinals’ starting lineup on Saturday, though manager Mike Matheny didn’t rule out his ability to pinch-hit during the series. While the strobe glasses are a good start, Diaz will need more than a pair of specs to match the spotlight-worthy performance he turned out during his rookie season in 2016.
Red Sox’ left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez may finally get a chance at cracking the rotation again, assuming all goes well in Double-A Portland first. Rodriguez took the field prior to the club’s afternoon session with the Angels, firing 68 pitches in a simulated game as he prepared for an upcoming rehab assignment in Portland on Thursday.
The 24-year-old southpaw suffered a right knee subluxation during pregame warmups on June 1, and it’s been a slow path to recovery ever since. It’s not the first time Rodriguez has had issues with his right knee — he sustained a similar injury during spring training last year — and this time around, the Red Sox weren’t about to gamble with their starter’s health. Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Rodriguez was put in a knee brace and underwent exercises designed to help him regain some mobility and stability while he worked back up to full strength on the mound.
He’ll still need to prove he can throw a 75- to 80-pitch outing in Double-A, and barring any significant setbacks, will likely rejoin the Red Sox’ pitching staff when they visit the Rangers next month. In the meantime, the club will continue to cycle starters through the No. 5 spot, which has seen no fewer than three different pitchers since Rodriguez hit the disabled list. The lefty is 4-2 in 10 starts this season after logging a 3.54 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and career-high 9.6 SO/9 through his first 61 innings.