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.