The $50 million catch
Sometimes, when your favorite team makes a big transaction, it’s important not to overreact. It’s easy to make a knee-jerk reaction that usually falls either north of “OMG THIS IS THE BEST TRADE EVAR, THE METS ARE GOING TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES!” and or south of “WTF I HATE MY TEAM WHY DO THEY INSIST ON HATING ME, WE WILL FINISH 20 GAMES BEHIND THE NATS!” It’s important to try to fall somewhere in between, to try to keep a level head about this stuff, that rarely will any one move so drastically improve or so drastically ruin a team in one fell swoop.
Then again, the Mets just acquired Gary Matthews Junior.
Sorry, I’m not seeing any upside here.
Matthews has always been overrated defensively, thanks the the catch above. His career Ultimate Zone Rating in center field is -2.4 in 5906 innings, by far his largest sample size in the outfield. In particular, his center field play in three seasons for the Angels has been ghastly, putting up a -37.8 UZR last year (in a small sample, to be fair, only 435 innings) and a -12.2 UZR in 2007 in 1144 innings. Dewan’s +/- agrees, with a -24 +/- in 2007 and a -14 +/- in 2009*.
* In fairness, both systems ranked Matthews as being decent in CF in 2008, but the sample size was only 221 innings, roughly 25 games. I’ll take the 175 games worth of data over the past three years that says he stinks over the 25 games worth of data over the past three years that says he’s good.
But hey, at least Matthews has a strong enough bat to play center for the Mets, right? Sorry, hypothetical person who doesn’t know anything about baseball, Matthews’ bat has never been good outside of Texas, an extreme hitter’s ballpark. Since joining the Angels three years ago, Matthews has produced a slash line of .248/.325/.383/.708. That kind of production is simply not good enough to warrant starting in an outfield, even on a semi-regular basis. With Carlos Beltran not scheduled to return before late-April (and if I’m a betting man, I’m thinking more late-May/early-June), Matthews will be getting regular playing time.
What’s worse is, Matthews will take playing time away from a superior player. I know Angel Pagan isn’t a picture of health, but last year, he far out-performed Matthews, both offensively and defensively. In 87 games last year, Pagan produced 2.6 WAR, a total that far surpassed Matthews’ last three seasons for the Angels, where he actually produced -1.1 WAR. With that kind of lack of production, he would have fit right in with the 2009 Mets, but we were hoping to move past these things, weren’t we? What’s the point of blocking a good young player in favor of a 35 year old guy who was never that good? If the Mets really wanted an outfielder that bad, they could have easily brought back Jeremy Reed or Cory Sullivan.
I don’t care that the Mets aren’t paying Matthews more than $2 million over the next two years. All that means is when they designate him for assignment after this season, it’s the Angels that will have to foot the bill. I don’t care that the Mets gave up Brian Stokes, who was probably out of a job anyway with the bullpen improvements, and who wasn’t better than league-average. Acquiring Gary Matthews Jr, at any price, is not a sound baseball move. He’s not good, he’s not going to get any better at age 35, and if the team is actually dumb enough to start him, he’s blocking a better player. If they keep him on the bench, they risk him complaining to the media and becoming a problem (the reason, among many, the Angels were so anxious to dump him).
With the Mets losing out on Bengie Molina, and with the otherwise lack of any real baseball moves having been made this offseason, I had mistakenly thought that Omar Minaya was out of power, or at least had his balls chopped off by the Wilpons. Without any stupid panic signings for overrated players for far too much money, or trades of valuable assets for crap or unvaluable assets for even worse crap, it didn’t seem like a Mets offseason. This trade, though, is pure Minaya. Trading for a past his prime, overpaid, overrated malcontent in order to block a younger, better player has Omar written all over it. Welcome back, Omar. You haven’t been missed.