Texas Rangers Sign Veteran Catcher Jeff Mathis

For the second season in a row, the Texas Rangers were the first team to sign a new player through major league free agency. Last year, it was announced that the Rangers would sign Doug Fister on Monday, November 20th, 2017.  Slightly less than one year later, on November 15th, 2018, the Rangers announced a two-year agreement with catcher Jeff MathisAt this time, the financial terms are not yet available.

The veteran, who will be 36-years old in March, just wrapped up another two-year deal with the Diamondbacks that paid him $4 million. Over that time, he slashed a rather anemic .207/.274/.297 with just three home runs. Now while many may wonder how a catcher with no bat can keep receiving multi-year deals, and the answer to that question is strong defense.

The average range factor for a catcher in the NL last season was 9.17 and in the AL it was 9.07. Mathis managed a 9.85 RF/9 last season and an even better 10.11 in 2017. Furthermore, he caught 36% of potential base stealers in 2018 and 42% in 2017. The league average in that statistic typically sits between 26% and 28%.

It’s no secret that the Rangers are not expected to compete this season, but nonetheless, declining catcher Robinson Chirinos‘ rather inexpensive club option still comes off as a head-scratcher. The 35-year old catcher slashed .222/.338/.419 last year with 18 home runs, but it seems that the Rangers are more interested in a defense first catcher. Unfortunately for Chirinos, he struggled mightily defensively in 2018, as his range factor was a rather paltry 7.56 with a caught stealing percentage of just 10%.

In need of a stout defensive catcher and a veteran backstop on a young team, the Rangers and catcher Jeff Mathis agreed to a contract yesterday.Click To Tweet

The current catching situation in Texas is a bit jumbled. While the nearly 24-year old Isiah Kiner-Falefa looked solid enough with the bat last season, his glove is considerably better at second, short and third than it is behind the plate. Nevertheless, I would consider him to be the favorite to start behind the plate for the Rangers with Mathis backing up.

Looking into Triple-A, Jose Trevino and Jett Bandy seem likely to split time behind the plate with Trevino more likely to serve as the emergency catcher, as he’s on the 40-man roster.

Trevino is similar to Mathis in that he can be considered to be an all-glove catcher. Last season, Trevino slashed just .234/.284/.332 in Double-A Frisco over 201 plate appearances, but with that being said, he also posted a range factor of 9.15 with a 33% caught stealing percentage. His glove is also exceptionally strong throughout the infield, similar to that of Falefa’s. It seems likely that Trevino will play throughout the diamond in 2018, opening up playing time for Bandy.

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