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Matthews OK for Mets, if he doesn't play

Jan 22, 2010, 4:58 PM EDT

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.

  1. gary mathews jr - Jan 22, 2010 at 7:54 PM

    Thanks for the motivation to have a breakout season…

  2. Moses Green - Jan 22, 2010 at 8:24 PM

    There’s no motivation strong enough for you to comeback (you already had your breakout and that only happens once.)
    You’re finished and you weren’t even that good in your 2 good seasons of baseball. Exactly 2 seasons of double digit “Salary Value” from fangraphs.

  3. Fred - Jan 22, 2010 at 10:32 PM

    Hey Gary
    Your salary and be on a MLB team should be motivation enough.

  4. Old Gator - Jan 23, 2010 at 12:24 AM

    I have to sympathize with Gary, not only because he had to carry all his life the crushing burden of expectations that he’d ever be good enough to wash his daddy’s uniforms. Can you imagine bringing a nagging, subconscious sense of inadequacy and failure to Omar Minaya’s Mutts? Within a week of reporting to Spring training he’s going to feel not only like he had been there during that dystopian September of 2007, but that he caused the whole thing.

  5. Sven-Erik - Jan 23, 2010 at 5:40 AM

    Give ’em hell, Gary!!!! Good Luck!!!

  6. Matt S. - Jan 23, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    “there’s no real way for a smart manager to take advantage of his strengths and hide his weaknesses.”
    Aren’t strengths and weaknesses relative? And does it matter if Matthews has no real strength if he has no real weakness, when he’s a bench player?
    Matthews has a better ops than Pagan against lefties. Doesn’t that mean he’s stronger than Pagan against lefties, and could be started in a platoon?
    Francoeur batted under a .700 ops versus righties last year, and isn’t much better over his career. Wouldn’t Matthews be the logical play there too? He would be superior to Johnson here, as well.
    I’m not saying that Matthews WILL be used as a super platoon player, just that he could be, and it would make sense to do so.
    Most likely, Minaya is scared of injuries, and cheap depth at all three positions is good.

  7. draculae - Jan 23, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    Hey Gary – Welcome to NY and best of luck to you. As for your comment, I would have thought that 23 million dollars over two years and a key role in a first-rate organization would have been enough to motivate you. But in any event, you’d better be motivated in New York Mr. Matthews, because if you’re not – Met Fans and the Big Apple Press will “drink your milkshake”. They’ll drink it dry.

  8. draculae - Jan 23, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Some clarification. By “first-rate organization” I meant the Angels. The current Mets regime is a train wreak (so given you’re recent past a cynic might think you’ll fit right in). Met fans, however, are top notch – as compassionate and knowledgeable as any you’ve ever met. So as I said, “Welcome to New York”.

  9. Ruby Shangraw - Jan 24, 2010 at 3:17 AM

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  10. mike - Jan 27, 2010 at 6:54 PM

    i honestly believe the mets are making a mistake by not addressingthe pitching issues this off season. also another mistake is having murphy at first base possible patooning with tatis if they sign him. delgado is a force and with us not addressing the pitching we need all the offense we can get. therefore conclusion for this year is same results.

  11. plyometric training - Feb 1, 2010 at 8:35 PM

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  12. Glenn Rock - Feb 11, 2010 at 3:28 PM

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