Jeff Mathis Rumors

Angels Agree To Terms With Jeff Mathis

The Angels have agreed to terms with Jeff Mathis to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration with the catcher, according to a team press release.  Mathis will earn $1.7MM in 2011, reports Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

This was Mathis' second arbitration year, and he earned $1.3MM in 2010 after winning an arbitration case with Los Angeles last February.  (The Halos offered $0.7M.)  Mathis, 27, has served as the Angels' backup to Mike Napoli behind the plate for the last four seasons.  Mathis has just a .199/.265/.311 slash line in 1079 career plate appearances, but the Halos value him for his defense.

Mathis is the second arb-eligible player to settle a contract with the Angels in as many days, following Alberto Callaspo's $2MM deal yesterday.  Los Angeles still has six more players eligible for arbitration, including such notables as Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, Napoli and Jered Weaver.

Mike Napoli’s Trade Value

The problem with Mike Napoli, as Mark Saxon of puts it, is that he "is a 'tweener,' too inconsistent strictly as a hitter, not reliable enough as a catcher."  The Angels might not want to give such a "tweener" an arbitration raise above the $3.6MM that Napoli earned this season, which is why there have been rumors that Los Angeles will try to move Napoli over the winter.  

Given the dearth of power-hitting catchers, many teams would be willing to overlook Napoli's defensive shortcomings for a catcher who has 92 homers in 1778 career plate appearances and a career .839 OPS.  As an everyday player, however, Napoli has his limitations, many of which were on display this season.  Napoli has received a career-high 484 plate appearances thanks to his taking over the lion's share of time at first base after Kendry Morales was lost for the season in May. 

His power notwithstanding, Napoli has an underwhelming .247/.332/.488 slash line entering Friday's action.  These numbers are largely due to the fact that the right-handed hitting Napoli struggles against right-handed pitching; he has a .704 OPS vs. righties this year, as opposed to a whopping 1.082 OPS against southpaws.  (Napoli's career OPS splits are .798 against righties and .962 versus lefties.)  If put back into his comfort zone of facing primarily left-handed pitching, Napoli can be a force.  If a team has a left-handed hitting, defensive-minded platoon partner at catcher, Napoli is an ideal complement.

The catching market is always tough to predict in advance, but here are a few potential trade partners for the Halos…

* Florida.  The Marlins are known to be looking for catchers, though Napoli may be too expensive for their liking.

* New York.  Left-handed hitting Josh Thole will be the Mets' starter next season, so Napoli could be brought in to complement both Thole and another lefty bat (Ike Davis) at first.

* Chicago.  As with the Mets, the White Sox will have a youngster (Tyler Flowers) taking over the starting job.  This is presuming the Sox won't bring back A.J. Pierzynski, though Chicago could also maybe have a hole at first depending on if Paul Konerko signs elsewhere or retires.

* Texas.  Napoli could finally give the Rangers some stability behind the plate, though it's hard to see L.A. making a deal with their division rivals.

* Boston.  The Red Sox made a waiver claim on Napoli in August before the Angels pulled him back, and will need a catcher if Victor Martinez leaves as a free agent.

* Baltimore.  Speaking of Martinez, Napoli could be the Orioles' catcher/first base/DH backup plan should the team's pursuit of Martinez fall short.

If Napoli was dealt, Los Angeles would be left with Jeff Mathis and rookie Hank Conger behind the plate.  Conger, LAA's first-round pick in the 2006 draft, has an .825 OPS in 1705 minor league plate appearances and was rated the 84th overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America's preseason rankings.  Mathis is entering his second arbitration year after earning $1.3MM in 2010, but has had an overall poor season (as outlined by Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times).  The Angels could go into 2011 with a totally overhauled catching corps should they trade Napoli, non-tender Mathis and acquire a new veteran backstop to play alongside Conger.

Odds & Ends: Rangers, Red Sox, Wilson, Dodgers

Links for Saturday..

Odds & Ends: Nationals, Angels, Royals

As the West Coast games get started, here are some tidbits to snack on…

Olney’s Latest: Smoak, Davis, Ripken, Mathis, Lowell

In today's blog post at ESPN (Insider required and recommended), Buster Olney writes that Rangers' first base prospect Justin Smoak is off to a strong start in Triple-A and could push Chris Davis either out the door or onto the bench. Smoak is hitting .300/.475/.567 with two homers in 40 plate appearances so far this year, while Davis is off to a .194/.265/.290 start with 10 strikeouts in 34 plate appearances.

Here's the rest of Olney's rumors…

  • A possible reason why Orioles owner Peter Angelos declined to hire Cal Ripken Jr. is because of "concern about whether the addition of the legend would lead to office politics and ugly fallout." 
  • With the Angels carrying three catchers, Olney speculates that Boston could be a trade match for Jeff Mathis, and wonders if the talks could be expanded to include Mike Lowell given the Halos' troubles at the hot corner. Red Sox catchers have thrown out just one of 17 base stealers this season, and Mathis has thrown out 23% of would-be base stealers in his career.

Mathis Wins Arbitration Hearing With Angels

Jeff Mathis won his arbitration hearing with the Angels and will earn $1.3MM this year instead of the $700K salary the club offered, according to Ronald Blum of the AP (via Yahoo). The Angels have reached deals with all of their arbitration-eligible players now that Mathis and Erick Aybar have set contracts.

Mathis, 27 next month, shares the team's catching duties with Mike Napoli. Mathis appeared in 84 games for the Angels last season, hitting .211/.288/.308 with five homers. This is Mathis' first year as an arbitration-eligible player and he isn't expected to become a free agent until after the 2012 season.

Mets Notes: Adrian Gonzalez, Marquis, DeRosa

The incomparable Marty Noble answers many of the fan inquiries with his usual mixture of information and wit. Among other ideas, he considers:

  • Just what would it take, hypothetically, to bring Adrian Gonzalez to Queens? Noble believes a package of John Maine, Fernando Martinez and Ike Davis "and perhaps more would be one to consider seriously."
  • Noble likes Joel Pineiro more than Jason Marquis, adding that "I know the Mets are interested in [Bengie] Molina."
  • He says that while Mark DeRosa wouldn't be a top priority, "If they can't bring back Alex Cora, DeRosa would an even better fit."
  • He counters a fan's proposal to trade "Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and Omir Santos to the Angels for Erick Aybar, Gary Matthews Jr., Ervin Santana and Jeff Mathis" with one of his own: "How about Perez for the rights to Albie Pearson?" Pearson was the 1958 AL Rookie of the Year, of course.

As usual, Noble is must-reading.

Stark On Rockies, Angels, Pierre

In his latest article, Jayson Stark also discusses the many Rockies and Angels thought to be available. Here are the latest rumors:

  • The Phillies are "hunting quietly" for right-handed outfielders. Ryan Spilborghs is on their radar.   
  • One official said Dan O'Dowd would consider moving "anyone" on the Rockies.
  • The Rangers are believed to be watching Huston Street closely.  
  • Jason Marquis could become available too, but some think the Rockies should hang on, given his success. 
  • The Angels seem willing to listen on Mike NapoliJeff Mathis and their entire infield, which consists of Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins.
  • They appear to have interest in young, high-upside pitchers, which could mean they're unsure they'll re-sign John Lackey after the season. 
  • The Dodgers are "sending out signals" that Juan Pierre could be available when Manny Ramirez returns. It's unclear whether the Dodgers would pick up any of the $15MM or so remaining on Pierre's contract.  
  • Among top starters, Erik Bedard is "most frequently connected with the Phillies," but many people around baseball doubt he would fit in Philadelphia.
  • Phillies prospects Lou Marson and Michael Taylor are likely available, but J.A. Happ, Antonio Bastardo, Dominic Brown, Kyle Drabek, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald and Carlos Carrasco would be much harder to acquire.
  • One scout thinks the Pirates may have acquired three future stars for Nate McLouth  

Looking Beyond Varitek

According to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, a slew of catchers are being shopped to the Red Sox.  Among them: Jeff Mathis, Mike Napoli, Brian Schneider, Miguel Montero, John Buck, Ramon Hernandez, Bengie Molina, Carlos Santana, Kelly Shoppach, Victor Martinez, Jesus Flores, Kenji Johjima, Jeff Clement, Yorvit Torrealba, and the Rangers’ guys.  Silverman says the Braves, Cardinals, and Rays also have catchers available.  It seems that teams are asking for players like Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, or Lars Anderson in some cases.

On the Jason Varitek front, Scott Boras told the AP yesterday that he’s had no financial discussions with the Red Sox.  He expects the matter to be discussed after Thanksgiving.  Curt Schilling commented last week about Varitek possibly playing fewer games in 2009, but Boras shot down the idea of a reduced role.

Giants Like Kotchman And Mathis

Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News writes that the Giants recently inquired with the Angels about first baseman Casey Kotchman and catcher Jeff Mathis.  Baggarly speculates that the Halos might like the idea of a reunion with Bengie Molina (owed $12MM over the next two seasons).

Of course, the value of the two Angels players far exceeds that of Molina.  No deal is close; Angels GM Tony Reagins was frank about that.  The Giants don’t have much in the way of valuable trade chips.  They’ve got overpriced, undesirable veterans plus a strong core of young pitching that they need to keep.

The Angels theoretically could part with Kotchman if they think Kendry Morales is ready (or if they wanted to shift Garret Anderson or Juan Rivera over to first, though neither has played there).  Mathis could be traded now; a separate deal with the Giants could make sense.