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.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.