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Blue Jays give Jeff Mathis a two-year extension

Aug 14, 2012, 6:40 PM EDT

Jeff Mathis Getty Images

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.

  1. proudlycanadian - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    Alex Anthopoulos does not care what the SABR community thinks nor do I. Mathis is solid behind the plate, calls a good game, throws out runners and is respected by the pitchers. Signing Mathis was a necessary step prior to packaging either Arencibia or d’Arnaud for a starting pitcher. The Jays have a surplus of catchers and first basemen and AA has stated that during the off season all he wants to do is add starting pitching. This signing makes a lot of sense as it makes a trade from strength possible.

    • theawesomersfranchise - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:25 PM

      D’Arnaud? Packaged?
      Won’t happen

      • proudlycanadian - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:44 PM

        It depends on what they can get on the other side. Arencibia also has a raport with the pitchers. Arencibia’s ability to speak Spanish is an undervalued asset.

      • theawesomersfranchise - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:46 PM

        All I have is LOL

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM

      The Jays also signed Yorvit Torrealba to a minor league contract. As I wrote, they are positioning themselves to trade from strength.

      • Mark - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:59 PM

        No, they signed Torrealba so that he could be the backup and Gomes could play third base so we wouldn’t be forced to watch the hideous tandem of Hechavarria and Vizquel play 3B on a nightly basis.

      • proudlycanadian - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:05 PM

        Eh? Lawrie will be off the DL very soon. Torrealba has been assigned to double A.

  2. sarcasticks - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    He’s a backup catcher. His pitching/game management abilities are much more important than his offensive skills. He’s signed for the going rate for backups. He has a report with the pitching staff. It’s not a great signing, but not terrible.

  3. Mark - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:48 PM

    I don’t understand the point of this deal. If you let him go to FA was somebody really going to outbid you on him? Or worst case would you be forced to find another veteran backup for one year?

    I don’t get the thought process or urgency for extending Mathis. Between this and the Snider trade I’m lost as to what AA was thinking.

    • proudlycanadian - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:53 PM

      You trade from strength. For example, the Jays had a surplus of outfielders, so Snider and Thames were traded for needed bullpen help and Gose and Sierra were called up. Likewise, a catcher will be used in a trade for a starting pitcher. The Jays need starting pitching much more than they need two starting caliber (Arencibia and d’Arnaud) catchers.

      • Mark - Aug 14, 2012 at 7:57 PM

        The Jays do not currently have a surplus of major league calibre outfielders. Have you seen Gose? He’s got no contact skill whatsoever. Maybe he develops it spending the entire year in AAA, but his biggest flaw is a complete lack of contact and as we’ve seen he’s not ready. Marisnick has struggled. The Jays have 2/3 of an OF, and while moving Thames was the right move trading Snider certainly was not. The jays have a lot of OF prospect depth, but nobody who will make an impact any time soon.

        The Jays could have traded Arencibia, promoted D’Arnaud, and signed a veteran backup catcher on a 1 year deal for similar $$’s who would have easily outproduced and provided similar or greater defence compared to Mathis.

        I understand the concept of trading from depth. However, Jeff Mathis should in no way, shape or form be considered QUALITY depth. The Jays could have traded Arencibia and still signed a veteran catcher in free agency. Or they could have waited in FA for Mathis to have no leverage and sign him to a one year deal. Signing him for 2 years when he has no leverage and there are significantly better options makes no sense.

      • proudlycanadian - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:11 PM

        What is wrong with a 2013 outfield composed of Sierra, Rasmus, Davis and somebody named Bautista?

      • Mark - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:21 PM

        What’s wrong with it is that a LF of Davis/Sierra will be awful.

      • cur68 - Aug 15, 2012 at 1:46 AM

        “a LF of Davis/Sierra will be awful” No. Way. Given both gentleman’s offence the last little while and this: http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/08/12/rajai-davis-knows-timing-is-everything/
        the evidence is to the contrary Mark: Also, the difference between Thames & Snider are negligible but Thames made fewer errors in the field and grew better facial hair.

        Mathis got a decent deal, AA will work something out, and catching is the least of our boy’s worries. We need starting pitching depth.

  4. paint771 - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    Eh, unlike the writers here, this kind of signing – like the McGowan one – leaves me completely ambivalent. The difference between signing a backup catcher for $800k a year versus $1.5 million is peanuts – it’s the difference between a $8 million a year and an $18 million a year guy that kills you. You’d have to throw in several Mathis/McGowan’s to even make a dent in a Vernon Wells type contract.

    And, the Jays clearly feel there’s value in potentially overpaying a guy on a small-bill long-term contract, in cases where the player in question is a guy the staff likes, the coaches like, and the clubhouse likes. On the upside, the Jays now have the catcher position set for the next three years – no small thing – and what may be the best two catching trade chips on the market. They have a guy they can trust with their young pitchers, who can help mentor their catching prospect, who is solid defensively (underrated, in fact), and who may even have a better offensive horizon than people give him credit for (see Baseball Prospectus’ article by Ben Lindbergh on Aug 2 making that case).

    If you wind up eating it, so what? You blow a few hundred thousand a year, and you still get some upside – good will in the organization, clubhouse loyalty, signaling to veteran players who are a gamble or prospects that don’t necessarily project as All-Stars that Toronto is a good org to play for, etc.

    Frankly it’s kind of an interesting model. Overpay on those 400k-2 mil guys, value long-term club control, stay away from the monster contracts – it’s really not a bad idea at all. They could blow that money and effort on say retaining a Shawn Marcum or Alex Rios type, or they could have 20 potential H. Alvarezs, Villaneuvas, Encarnacions, Perezes, Bautistas, etc. Sure you’ll lose more often than you win – but then you look up and you have a contending young team on the cheap under control for years and the flexibility to suddenly overpay on the final few pieces you need, like starting pitching.

    • paint771 - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:01 PM

      Or, alternatively, you could be the Phillies.

      Too soon?

      • dirtyharry1971 - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:12 AM

        I hate the phils but at least they had their run, when is the last time the jays even mattered? Oh thats right, 1993…..good luck with that

    • cur68 - Aug 15, 2012 at 1:48 AM

      Solid analysis, paint.

      • dirtyharry1971 - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:44 AM

        yea solid analysis if you are wearing a blind fold maybe

    • dirtyharry1971 - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:11 AM

      So in otherwords the jays are now set going into the future with a couple of catchers who have zero power and can’t hit their weight. Excellent choice i must say!! Im all for moves like this!!

      • cur68 - Aug 15, 2012 at 10:56 AM

        Wow. All these comments about a team you don’t care about chimp? Its kind of sad really. Your only skill is throwing shit and you’re obsessed with with me and my team. Go wash yourself and get a life.

  5. dirtyharry1971 - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    I see the jays are making sure they keep their strangle hold on last place for next year as well.

  6. jaysjunkie - Aug 16, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    Jesus, I knew Mathis was a bad offensive catcher, but I didn’t realize his numbers were THAT bad.

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