10:26pm: Rivera will be guaranteed $2.8MM on his deal with the Angels, Fletcher reports (also via Twitter).
9:39pm: The Angels announced tonight that they’ve agreed to terms on a one-year, Major League contract with veteran catcher Rene Rivera. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the Halos have designated lefty Nate Smith for assignment. As Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register reports, via Twitter, Smith is undergoing shoulder surgery and is expected to miss the entire 2018 season.
By adding the 34-year-old Rivera, the Angels further bolster what is shaping up to be one of the top defensive clubs in all of Major League Baseball. Rivera isn’t likely to start in Anaheim, but he carries a superlative defensive reputation and will complement 2017 Gold Glove winner Martin Maldonado to form a terrific defensive duo behind the dish.
Rivera split this past season between the Mets and the Cubs, combining to bat .252/.305/.431 with 10 homers in 237 trips to the plate. That marked his most productive season since a career year with the Padres back in 2014, during which he batted .252/.319/.432 with a career-high 11 homers.
Overall, Rivera is a rather light-hitting catcher, as evidenced by a career .220/.271/.349 batting line and a .224/.280/.368 slash over the past four seasons. But, he’s also thrown out 36 percent of would-be base thieves in his big league career and has been remarkably consistent in that regard; Rivera has never posted a caught-stealing rate lower than the 30 percent clip he registered in 2016, and he halted a hefty 37 percent of stolen-base attempts against him this past year in 2017.
[Related: Updated Los Angeles Angels depth chart]
From a pitch-framing standpoint, Rivera was only a tick above average in ’17, but he’s been average or better in that regard in each season of his Major League career. Baseball Prospectus considered Rivera a roughly average defender at the position overall this past season, but he ranked as the fifth-most valuable defensive backstop in the game as recently as 2016, per their Fielding Runs Above Average metric.
The addition of Rivera pushes Carlos Perez and Juan Graterol, both on the 40-man roster, out of the picture as Maldonado’s backup. That’s especially significant for Perez, who is out of minor league options and now stands out all the more as a change-of-scenery candidate. (Graterol, meanwhile, has a pair of minor league options remaining.) The Angels have also picked up former Rays catcher Curt Casali on a minors pact this offseason, and the presence of Rivera further muddies his path to the big league roster.
As for Smith, he’s long been touted as one of the Angels’ best prospects, but injuries limited him to just 15 innings between Rookie ball (on an injury rehab) and Triple-A in 2017. A former eighth-round pick (2013), Smith tore through the lower minors and thrived with a 2.63 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 164 Double-A innings, but his effectiveness evaporated upon reaching Triple-A. In 192 career frames at that level, he’s pitched to a 5.06 ERA with 7.0 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.