Signing Jeff Mathis gives Mike Hazen, general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, payroll flexibility
Just before the winter meetings and after deciding to non-tender Welington Castillo, the Arizona Diamondbacks moved quickly to acquire another catcher. As things turned out, that move unofficially happened on the same day.
Late last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly agreed to terms on a two year, four million dollar contract with free agent Jeff Mathis. FanRag Sports first reported the deal and Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic divulged the terms. The deal was finalized during the winter meetings. Mathis signed a two-year deal for a reported $2 million.
Last season, the 34-year-old Mathis completed his fourth straight season with the Miami Marlins as the backup to J.T. Realmuto. Mathis played in 41 games and hit a career best .238.
Before joining the Marlins in 2013, Mathis spent the previous season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“There’s a lot we likes about him,” said general manager Mike Hazen. “Familiarity with some of the relationships here was important. Overall, we’ve always seen him from afar and (manager Torey Lovullo) had him in Toronto. That was not the only reason, but he gives us a level of comfort there. His reputation in the game is fairly well known and just his overall defensive skill set is very strong.”
The Los Angeles Angels drafted Mathis, a native of Marianna, Fla. native with the 33rd pick in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft. After being called up in August 2005, Mathis spent the first six full seasons of his career (2006-2011) in Anaheim.
Mathis is not known for his offensive prowess, but the Diamondbacks are getting a player with a reputation as a great clubhouse leader, game caller and pitch framer.
With Castillo set to earn around $6 milion dollars during the arbitration process, Hazen was creatively looking for payroll flexibility.
Letting Castillo become a free-agent and bringing in Mathis saves the Diamondbacks around $4 million. Along with the trade of Jean Segura to the Seattle Mariners, Arizona trimmed $11 million from their 2017 budget.
“We’re trying to create strategic payroll flexibility,” Hazen said. “I think it opens up some opportunities for us going into the winter meetings to address some other areas that we needed to.”
Impressive skill set
A catcher’s primary responsibility is defense, and in Mathis, the Diamondbacks are getting one of the productive. He made a career out of being a backup.
In 5484.1 career innings caught, Mathis owns a career .991 fielding percentage. Last season, in 310 innings, he committed just three errors.
Last year, Mathis was worth 2.7 wins to the Marlins with his defense and he controls the running game. He threw out 10 of 23 attempted base stealers.
Hazen said Mathis is penciled in for 50 to 60 games this coming season, but said the catching position remains fluid.
In addition, Mathis does a great job blocking pitches. He allowed just one passed ball and accumulated a 2.596 zone rating to go along with a 9.76 range factor.
Mathis is respected by his pitchers in part because of his superior game calling. Mathis owned a 3.31 catchers earned run average, while Realmuto had a 4.22 CERA.
As well, Mathis earned his pitchers plenty of extra strikes. According to StatCorner’s 2016 data, Mathis had a 9.9 oStr%, (the percentage of pitches caught outside the strike zone, called a strike) the fourth highest mark in baseball.
Mathis’ framing saved his pitching staff four runs above average, seven runs better than Castillo.
Opportunity for Chris Herrmann
One reason Hazen felt comfortable parting ways with Castillo was the emergence of Chris Herrmann.
Herrmann dealt with injuries and played in just 59 games, but when he did start, the 29-year-old was productive.
In 166 plate appearances Herrmann slashed .284/.352/.493 with a 117 wRC+. With RISP, Herrmann hit .429 with a 134 wRC+ in high leverage situations.
Herrmann provides new manager Torey Lovullo with versatility, something Castillo does not offer. He can play in the outfield and at first base. Herrmann also hits from the left-side, which is valuable to any team. The Diamondbacks lineup tends to top-heavy with right-handed bats.
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