MLB hot stove: Rangers sign game-caller extraordinaire Jeff Mathis to two-year deal

The Texas Rangers have officially signed free-agent, veteran catcher Jeff Mathis to a two-year contract.

Mathis, 36 in March, is joining his fifth MLB team. He came up with the Angels, then moved on to the Blue Jays, the Marlins, the Diamondbacks, and now the Rangers. The 2018 season was his 14th in the big leagues. The 35-year-old has led all Major League catchers with 17 defensive runs saved, 5 more than any other player at the position in 2018.

This past season Mathis authored a .200/.272/.272 (44 OPS+) batting line with one home run in 218 plate appearances. He is a historically awful hitter. Over 2,000 hitters (2,178 to be exact) have recorded at least 2,600 plate appearances in the big leagues. Here is the bottom of the career OPS+ leaderboard:

2,178. Bill Bergen: 21 OPS+
2,177. Cy Young: 45 OPS+
2,176. Pud Galvin: 46 OPS+
2,175. Hal Lanier: 50 OPS+
2,174. Tommy Thevenow: 51 OPS+
2,173. Jeff Mathis: 52 OPS+

As our R.J. Anderson explained earlier this year, Mathis continues to get work because he is widely regarded as an elite game-caller. Pitchers love love love throwing to him. Mathis is a good defender when it comes to blocking balls in the dirt and framing, things like that, but his work with pitchers is unparalleled.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks
Veteran backstop Jeff Mathis has hooked on with the Rangers. USATSI

The Rangers declined their $2.375 million option for catcher Robinson Chirinos earlier this offseason. Chirinos is pretty much the exact opposite of Mathis. He's a quality hitter relative to the positional standard but leaves a lot to be desired behind the plate. Mathis figures to share time with Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Jose Trevino behind the plate in 2019.

Texas is in a rebuilding phase right now and they have a lot of work to do with their pitching staff. In terms of ERA, only the 115-loss Orioles received worse rotation work in 2018. Whatever they do with their pitching, Texas will move forward knowing they have a premier game-caller behind the plate.

Mathis did not rank among our top 50 free agents. Up to this point, no major league free agent had signed with a new team this winter. Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees and Jung Ho Kang re-signed with the Pirates.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories