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.

Report: Mike Trout as recognizable to Americans as NBA’s Kenneth Faried

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On Monday, the Washington Post cited Q Scores, a firm that measures consumer appeal of personalities, with regard to Angels outfielder Mike Trout. According to Q Scores, Trout is as recognized to Americans as NBA forward Kenneth Faried, who has spent seven seasons with the Denver Nuggets and is now a reserve with the Brooklyn Nets. Trout’s score was 22, which means just over one in five Americans know who he is.

We have talked here at various times about Trout’s lack of marketability. He has expressed zero interest in being marketed as the face of baseball. Additionally, based on the nature of the sport, it’s harder for baseball to aggressively market its stars since star players don’t impact teams the same way they do in other sports. LeBron James, for example, carries whatever team he’s on to the NBA Finals. James has appeared in the NBA Finals every year dating back to 2011. Trout, despite being far and away the best active player in baseball and one of the best players of all time, has only reached the postseason once, in 2014 when his Angels were swept in the ALDS by the Royals. Trout can’t carry his team to the playoffs and his team hasn’t helped him any in getting there on a regular basis.

Baseball is also more of a regional sport. Fans follow their local team, of course, and don’t really venture beyond that even though games are broadcast nationally throughout the week. The NFL schedule is much shorter and occurs once a week, so fans put aside time to watch not just their favorite team’s game, but other games of interest as well. A June game between the subpar White Sox and Tigers doesn’t have much appeal to it since it’s one of 162 games for both teams, and both teams will play again later in the season. Comparatively, a game between the Bears and Lions has more intrigue since they only play twice a year.

It’s kind of a shame for baseball that Trout isn’t bigger than he is because he is a once-in-a-generation talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. In fact, Trout is so good that he’s still underrated. He’s on pace to have one of the greatest seasons of all-time, going by Wins Above Replacement. Despite that, he’s anything but a lock to win the MVP Award at season’s end because the narratives around other players, like Mookie Betts, are more compelling.

Trout’s marketability is an issue that isn’t likely to be fixed anytime soon. Trout is who he is and forcing him to ham it up for the cameras would come off as forced and unnatural. Major League Baseball will simply have to hope its other stars, like Betts and Bryce Harper, can help broaden the appeal of the sport.