The Rangers are in agreement with veteran catcher Jeff Mathis on a two-year deal, according to a Thursday night report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:
#Rangers in agreement with free-agent catcher Jeff Mathis on a two-year contract, pending a physical, sources tell The Athletic. Mathis, who will play next season at 36, batted only .200 with a .544 OPS in 218 PAs with the #DBacks last season, but teams value his defense highly.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 16, 2018
Mathis, who was selected in the first round of the 2001 MLB Draft, will be heading into his 15th big-league season next year, and he’ll be in position to play a 16th with the second year being tacked onto the deal. The 36-year-old Mathis is very possibly the longest-tenured bad hitter of the 21st century, having posted a .198/.258/.306 slash line (.564 OPS) with 48 homers over 2,694 career plate appearances. He’s ultra-valuable on defense, however — so much there’s a strong argument to be made that he’s the best defensive backstop in the majors, as Sports Info Solutions pointed out on Thursday night:
Jeff Mathis led all catchers with 17 Defensive Runs Saved.— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) November 16, 2018
He had the highest pitch-blocking success rate and was among the leaders in pitch-framing
He won Fielding Bible Award despite catching only a little more than 500 inningshttps://t.co/F2Rlg6iQ4o
Mathis was part of a three-way catcher rotation for most of the last two seasons with the Diamondbacks, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s utilized in Texas. Despite his longevity, he’s never played in more than 94 games in a season, so one would think that Texas will at least need another platoon-type catcher, if not a legitimate starter for Mathis to back up. Free agents on the market this offseason include Brian McCann, Matt Wieters, Devin Mesoraco, Martin Maldonado, Kurt Suzuki, Rene Rivera, Nick Hundley, and former Ranger Jonathan Lucroy — all of whom probably fit into the first category more than the second — as well as Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos, who figure to be the highest-paid free-agent cathers this winter. It’s also possible that this will be the point at which Jose Trevino, the No. 25 prospect in the Rangers organization and the only full-time catcher currently on their 40-man roster, will reach the big leagues on a full-time basis. But with him having only three games of major-league experience, it’d seem shortsighted to guarantee him a spot on the 25-man roster, let alone to make him half of a full-fledged timeshare with Mathis. Utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who caught 35 games last year, could also be part of the catching mix, though he also doesn’t seem like a player that should be counted on to start 70 or 80 games behind the plate.
The Rangers will be undergoing a complete makeover behind the plate heading into 2019, as they declined their option on starter Robinson Chirinos (thus forcing him to play in the Japan All-Star Series in the uniform of a team that just cut him) and outrighted backup Carlos Perez off the 40-man roster earlier this month. Texas has lacked a long-term starting catcher since Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez left via free agency after the 2002 season; he was the last Rangers catcher to make three straight Opening Day starts.