The Phillies announced Tuesday that they’ve signed veteran catcher Jeff Mathis to a minor league deal and invited him to Major League Spring Training. The Phils also confirmed previously reported non-roster invites for veterans Neftali Feliz, Brandon Kintzler, Bryan Mitchell, Ivan Nova, Hector Rondon, Michael Ynoa, Ronald Torreyes, Travis Jankowski and Matt Joyce. Mathis a client of Jet Sports Management, would earn $1.8MM if he makes the roster, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
Mathis, 38 in March, just wrapped up a two-year stint with the Rangers. He didn’t hit well at all in Texas, but the Rangers surely weren’t expecting him to provide anything with the bat, either. Mathis hit .207/.274/.297 in the two prior seasons with the D-backs and was nonetheless signed to a two-year deal almost exclusively for his defensive prowess behind the dish.
Long considered one of the best all-around defensive catchers in the game, Mathis will head to Spring Training with the Phillies as the quintessential veteran mentor for the team’s younger players. It seems difficult to envision him cracking the Opening Day roster with J.T. Realmuto re-signed to a new five-year deal, Andrew Knapp the likely backup and a third catcher, Rafael Marchan, on the 40-man roster. But Mathis can work with Knapp and the 22-year-old Marchan on their defensive aptitude behind the plate and has no shortage of veteran insight to share with the pitching staff after spending the past 16 seasons in the Majors.
Mathis has appeared in 945 Major League games and tallied 3006 plate appearances between the Angels, Blue Jays, Marlins, D-backs and Rangers. He’s just a .194/.253/.300 hitter in that time, but at his peak he controlled the running game brilliantly and was among the league’s best both in terms of pitch framing and blocking balls in the dirt.
As one might expect for a player as he enters his late 30s, Mathis has seen his defensive ratings dip in recent years, but he made known back in September that he hoped to continue his playing career and the Phillies are giving him the opportunity to do so. Mathis can always head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, and it’s common for veterans of this nature to have multiple out dates in non-guaranteed deals, allowing them to return to the market near the end of camp (and/or early in the regular season) if they haven’t been added to the Major League roster.