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.
On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”
There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.
It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:
On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.
“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”
One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.
None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”