Most of the fan base is up in arms over the acquisition of Gary Matthews Jr. But there is really not much to get upset about and it makes perfect sense, in an Omar Minaya type of way.
They say that generals are always fighting the last war. For Mets general manager Omar Minaya, that means he is doing whatever he sees fit to stock the team’s reserves, as the Mets were caught short after all of the injuries they suffered in 2009. He re-signed Alex Cora and seemingly inked half a dozen backup catchers. And the latest move on this front was acquiring Gary Matthews Jr. from the Angels.
There has been a lot of angst from Mets fans about this move. Matthews is a player in decline and he has a huge salary. However, the Angels are picking up most of the freight. There are conflicting reports out there as to how much salary the Mets are paying, but it is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million over two years.
But before we go off half cocked about this move, we need to understand it in its proper context. Matthews is a backup capable of playing center field. The Mets will be without Carlos Beltran at the beginning of the season, and Angel Pagan has not been a paragon of health throughout his career. Matthews opens the season as the fourth outfielder and becomes fifth on the depth chart when and if Beltran returns.
Was this a good move on Minaya’s part? In a word, no. But it is also not a move to lose any sleep over, much less one to light the torches over and send Minaya out of town.
We all know Minaya has a preference for veterans, so it should be no surprise that he looked to fill a backup role with a 35-year-old player. But there is no center fielder ready to step in from the high minors, so there should be little gnashing of the teeth over this move.
It would have been better to have simply re-signed Jeremy Reed, but Reed was not considered a high priority for the Mets earlier and he ended up signing with the Blue Jays back in January, before the Beltran mess became public.
But the reason Reed would have been better is because he would have been a minimum wage guy, rather than one making three times (or more) like the portion of the Matthews deal for which the Mets are responsible. Reed is the better defensive player, but Matthews posted an OPS last year that was 92 points better, a rather sizable difference.
Matthews may have been unhappy about his playing time in Anaheim but it is unlikely he will see more with the Mets. If he does, it is because Beltran has to miss significant time. He certainly is not playing over Jason Bay and it is very unlikely he will take playing time away from Jeff Francoeur, either. Personally, I don’t think he is ahead of Pagan in the pecking order, either.
Here are the ABs for Matthews the past four seasons: 620, 516, 426, 316. I see that trend continuing in 2010. Reed got 161 ABs for the Mets last year and that is a reasonable guess for how much playing time Matthews will receive in New York.
It is disappointing that the Mets gave up Brian Stokes in the trade. In 93 games over two seasons with the Mets, Stokes had a 3.82 ERA. He was a serviceable reliever and a good guy to have working low leverage innings. However, Jerry Manuel seemed reluctant to give Stokes much of a chance last year, putting Sean Green into more important situations than Stokes despite all evidence to the contrary that Green was going to be productive.
But the Mets had essentially already replaced Stokes when they signed Japanese reliever Ryoto Igarshi from Japan. They also have Kelvim Escobar as a potential replacement in the pen.
The bottom line is this is not a move for the fan base to get bent out of shape over. Matthews is not a very good player, but he is not going to have a very big role. Yes, he is overpaid, but the Angels are picking up the vast majority of the money he is owed. No, he is not worth Stokes, but the Mets showed little desire to give Stokes a bigger shot and they have ample replacements.
If this had been a trade for a typical fourth/fifth outfielder, hardly anyone would have paid attention. But Matthews is a name player with a big contract, so it became newsworthy. Don’t get caught up in the name on the back of the jersey. Instead, focus on the likely role he will have on the team before. Instead of moaning about what a bad move this is, put it in proper context and give it an appropriate response.