The Toronto Blue Jays and Jeff Mathis have agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $3 million that includes a club option for the 2015 season that will pay the back up catcher another $1.5 million if it’s picked up.

It’s easy to mock the commitment of funds to a position player who offers as little offensively as Mathis does. However, there’s a lot more beyond offense that a player who fields such a demanding position might provide in terms of value. There’s a lot beyond defense, too.

I don’t know how to measure all of these things. At Getting Blanked, we’ve had Matt Klaassen put together rankings for us to better understand the defensive value a catcher might provide.  The astute among us will remember the writing of Mike Fast for Baseball Prospectus, before he was snatched up by the Houston Astros, informing us of the value to be had in framing pitches. Some of us might even point to Mike Scioscia’s effusive praise for the manner in which Mathis specifically handles the pitchers he catches.

All of this is to say that Jeff Mathis provides more value than most of us are likely able to calculate and therefore understand.

Even going by what we can calculate and understand, spending such little money on a position that is only likely to receive 220 plate appearances, while saving runs through 500 innings a year isn’t a bad way to spend money. It ensures a veteran presence at a position that’s called upon to coach other players more than any other.

Perhaps more importantly, or at the very least interestingly, the Mathis extension makes it a little bit easier to justify trading the team’s current starting catcher, the injured J.P. Arencibia. With catching phenom Travis D’Arnaud waiting in the wings for an eventual big league call up, Mathis provides the type of familiar with which teams typically seek to couple young players.

It’s something that will have to wait to be seen, but Arencibia, whose power is good for a catcher, doesn’t have the overall offensive capabilities to transfer to any other position, and may best serve the team as a trade chip in off season negotiations that will hopefully lead to the acquisition of coverage for more pressing needs.

Comments (15)

  1. Travis is going to be so mad. I’m going to troll the s*%t out of him!

  2. The fuck?
    Shall I book my ticket out of town?

  3. Agree with this.

    C is one of the few positions where intangibles really matter, IMO. To me, it makes the most sense if they plan on having TDA next year be “the guy”. Paying someone like Mathis to show him the ropes as he gets through his first season isn’t the worst use of funds.

  4. But Barry Davis said d’Arnaud will be spending 2013 in AAA! So we’re stuck with Mathis!

  5. And why couldn’t they have waited until free agency for the career 568 OPS hitter to find out that there wasn’t a chance in hell anybody would have guaranteed him a second year on the deal?

    Or you know, they could have signed a better backup catcher for the same money.

    Keep in mind this is a player who had a 4 year run of being worth -13 to -23 runs with his bat and he had as little as 218 and as many as 328 at bats during that time. So he has to be worth 10-20 runs with the glove over 500 innings to simply break even with how poor his bat is. I don’t feel comfortable suggesting any player, for any position, is worth 10+ runs with the glove.

    Mathis is one of the worst players in baseball and the Jays just extended him for a 2 year deal. And you don’t see a problem with that? You don’t see how the Jays could have simply waited in FA and picked out a solid backup for the same amount of money?

    This is actually worse than the McGowan signing. McGowan can’t hurt the Jays with a negative performance. Mathis is likely to be a below replacement level player in 200 or so at bats. The Jays are paying for a player who has a better shot of hurting the team than helping it.

    And as an aside, since I brought up McGowan, who you enjoyed doing an I told you so post on…I’m waiting for the “I made a huge mistake post” when you said the Jays fucked up by extending Janssen. You know, the one where you said he wasn’t worth his contract and wouldn’t perform like he did over the past 2 years…

    • I wonder if you are a great example of one of the people who cannot see or understand the defensive value and other features Mathis offers as suggested in the article,

      • I understand the defensive ability Mathis brings to the table. But I JUST finished pointing out that he’s typically worth -13 to -23 runs offensively, meaning that to have any value his defence has to be worth at least 13-23 runs over 500 innings. As you can see from the article linked above, Mathis has been worth 2.5 runs defensively in the 1288 PA sample.

        In career season offensively he’s been worth -3.9 runs with the bat. I’m sure you can do the math here to see the bat has more negative value then the positives he brings with the defence.

        Even if you believe his D is more valuable then that, the Jays could have waited till FA and signed him to a one year deal, or simply found another catcher in FA who is a better defender (which isn’t as hard as you think it is) in a guy who isn’t a career 48 wRC+. Remember, 100 is league average here. No amount of defence will make up for that. Ever.

        To put things in perspective here, John McDonald has a career 57 wRC+. Jeff Mathis makes John McDonald look like a slugger. We’re talking about a guy in Mathis who is the single worst hitter (lowest OPS of any player since 2005 with 1000 AB) AND player in the major leagues here. There is no way his defence is good enough to make up for his lack of hitting skills. It’s as simple as that.

        • I’d suggest that there’s a lot we don’t know about regular defensive analytics. Then I’d say that there’s a ton more we don’t know about how MLB clubs evaluate catching defensive metrics. I don’t think you can make the above statements without knowing how the team evaluates Mathis. Also, it’s fine and good to suggest that they could just pick him up in FA, but there’s something to be said for the value of knowing what you have. There’s a risk that another team would sign Mathis. He’s a cheap back up that won’t be expected to provide more than 220 PAs at most to showcase his god awful offense. At the same time, if whatever the hidden value the Blue Jays believe Mathis has doesn’t come into fruition as he declines past age 30 season, the team could let him go without much pain at all. It makes sense to me.

  6. once again everybody seems to forget about how difficult it is to attract players to play in toronto.

    the blue jays will probably never be able to attract the type of players we dream about for a number of reasons, so they make signings like this, on a very likeable guy who is well received throughout the league, to show they are loyal to those who dont try and run out of town.

    this show of loyalty is recognized by players throughout the league and starts to change the perception of playing for the blue jays around the league.

  7. Wow, I thought Parkes was gonna go to town with quoting all those crap offensive seasons Mathis had for the Angels and then throw muck at the Jays Front Office for this. I’m surprised

  8. Complaining about this signing is like complaining that your wife bought a head of lettuce for $1.49 at the supermarket instead of paying $1.29 at a produce stand.

    You needed it, it was in the ballpark of market value – stop whining

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