Veteran catcher Jeff Mathis hopes to play in what would be a 17th Major League season next year, tweets T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. The 37-year-old Mathis is wrapping up a two-year deal with the Rangers right now, and Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram explored the reasons that Texas might look into bringing Mathis back despite his lack of production at the plate.
Mathis hasn’t hit a lick in Texas, nor was he really expected to. The Rangers signed him to a two-year, $6.25MM deal on the heels of a .207/.274/.297 showing at the plate in two seasons with the Diamondbacks. He’s gone on to put together an even less-palatable .160/.215/.244 output in 297 plate appearances as a Ranger. Mathis was signed entirely for his glove and the experience that he can bestow upon younger catchers and pitchers alike.
He hasn’t matched the defensive and framing numbers he put forth in his D-backs run this time around, but Mathis is still generally regarded as a defensive savant and, as Wilson writes, is the preferred receiver for right-handers Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. Wilson adds that Jose Trevino — the likely starter in 2021 with Sam Huff expected to open in Double-A or Triple-A — “loves” Mathis and has learned quite a bit under his tutelage. Manager Chris Woodward called Mathis’ knowledge and mentorship “invaluable.”
The question for the Rangers, of course, is whether they’ll aim a bit higher in looking for catching help this winter. The free-agent market will have defensively sound alternatives who can offer more at the plate than Mathis. Granted, J.T. Realmuto probably isn’t heading to Arlington, but the Rangers could look at quality defenders like Jason Castro or Mike Zunino who offer more ability with the bat.
That said, the Rangers are already leaning toward a youth movement and taking a longer-term focus. That mentality comes with a payroll reduction and lowered expectations in the win column. It’s tougher to entice free agents to sign with a team when the president of baseball operations is on the record having recently called 2022 and beyond “probably the more likely window for us” while plainly acknowledging that the team’s payroll will decrease. Mathis, on the other hand, has already expressed a willingness to discuss a return in a similarly limited role for the 2021 season, Sullivan notes.
There’s no guarantee that Mathis will be back with the Rangers or any other club next season. He hasn’t hit better than .200 in a season since 2017, and his perennially high strikeout rate has spiked to a career-worst 35.8 percent with the Rangers. The lack of offensive value is glaring, even if clubs still love the glove and the intangibles he can bring to a young team. But Mathis sounds like a man who plans to be a baseball lifer one way or another, telling Wilson, “Baseball’s all I know” and expressing interest in one day becoming a coach.
If offers as a player don’t materialize this winter, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rangers or any number of other clubs express interest in bringing Mathis aboard in a coaching or player development capacity. He’s played with the Angels, Blue Jays, Marlins, D-backs and Rangers across nearly two decades in the big leagues, making countless connections along the way that are now scattered throughout an even wider slate of organizations.