NOVEMBER 20: The Rangers have announced the signing.
NOVEMBER 15: The Rangers have agreed to a contract (pending physical) with free agent catcher Jeff Mathis, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). It’s said to be a two-year deal for the veteran receiver, with financial details not yet known.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way up front: Mathis is already 35 years of age and he’s an exceedingly unproductive hitter. Of course, even when he was 25 the deficiencies with the bat were well known. Over his 14-year MLB career, Mathis has rarely wavered too far from the anemic .198/.258/.306 mean batting line he has produced through 2,694 trips to the plate.
For virtually any other player, that sort of accumulation of statistics would not even be possible, simply because the opportunity would dry up. Mathis, though, is a rare bird. Not only is he still at the top of the class in many of the measurable tools of the trade, but he’s also regarded as a game-management savant.
Mathis just wrapped up a two-year pact with the Diamondbacks that promised him $2MM annually. For their money, the Snakes got 129 total games and just under 1,000 total innings behind the plate (plus three at second base and one on the hill).
During his time in Arizona, Mathis carried a 48 OPS+ that sits just shy of his lifetime 52 OPS+ mark. He also turned in a masterful 2018 pitch-framing effort, scored better than anyone but Tucker Barnhart at smothering balls in the dirt, and graded as average in controlling the running game. With his famed pitcher-whispering abilities mixed in, it’s eminently arguable that Mathis is the game’s best defender behind the dish — which, in fact, was the assessment of Sports Info Solutions (Twitter link).
For the Rangers, this move comes after the club rather surprisingly chose to bid adieu to Robinson Chirinos. The club chose to pay him a $1MM buyout rather than picking up his option for $4.5MM, an outwardly reasonable sum for the 34-year-old. Chirinos has steadily produced league-average-or-better offensive numbers over recent years but is not valued nearly so much for his efforts behind the dish. In particular, Chirinos received quite poor grades for his throwing and framing in 2018.
While Chirinos is reputedly a valued clubhouse leader, he evidently did not impress the team quite as much in squeezing value from the pitching staff. That’ll be the chief duty of Mathis, who’ll presumably see a fair bit of action and take a leading role in guiding a still-largely-undetermined group of hurlers. He could be paired with (and teach the dark arts to) Jose Trevino, utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and/or minor-league signee Jett Bandy, though the Rangers could still add options to the mix.