The Miami Marlins and catcher Jeff Mathis agreed to a one-year, $1.5-million deal early on Friday that includes 100,000 in incentives. Mathis has been with the Marlins since coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays in the huge 2012 offseason trade between the two clubs. Mathis returns for another year as the team’s backup catcher. Rookie J.T. Realmuto played well last season and should continue to get the lion’s share of starts behind the plate.
With the Marlins lacking depth at the catching position throughout the organization, agreeing to bring back Mathis was the logical if unexciting choice. When Mathis was injured last season, the Marlins tried employing Jhonatan Solano as their backup catcher, but he hit .050/.095/.100 in 7 games. The Fish acquired Tomas Telis from the Texas Rangers, but did not give him much of a chance to play in September and will likely have him start at Triple-A in 2016. Telis struggled in his brief stint with the Marlins, but projects as a decent hitting backup receiver.
Mathis appeared in 32 games for the Fish last season, hitting only .161/.214/290 in an injury-shortened year. His career numbers aren’t much prettier, as he’s slashed .194/.254/.306 in 666 career games. Among hitters with at least 2000 plate appearances since Mathis’ rookie year of 2005, he holds the lowest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Jeff Mathis has literally been the worst hitter in baseball throughout his entire career.
Still, hitting is only half of the game and is markedly less important in a backup catcher. Mathis has always been known for his defense, and has posted positive defensive numbers in every season of his career. He provides value to his team through calling a good game, working with the pitching staff, and playing solid defense. Despite his futility at the plate, he has compiled 1.4 rWAR in his career. That’s split strongly of course, with -3.4 offensive WAR (oWAR) and 8.7 defensive WAR (dWAR). He can also serve as a mentor for 24-year-old J.T. Realmuto as he tries to improve upon his rookie season.