Blue Jays acquire catcher Mathis from Halos
Toronto sends left-hander Mills to Anaheim in swap
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays solidified their catching position on Saturday afternoon by acquiring veteran Jeff Mathis from the Angels in exchange for left-hander Brad Mills.
Mathis comes to Toronto with the reputation of being one of the top defensive catchers in the game. He has been praised for his ability to work with young pitchers and block balls in the dirt.
The Blue Jays had been seeking a backup catcher since Jose Molina signed a free-agent contract with the Rays earlier in the week. That job will now to go Mathis, who will provide support to J.P. Arencibia and help mentor a young pitching staff.
"That's a big part of my game, getting to know the pitchers and getting to know what they like to do, how they throw the ball," Mathis told reporters in a conference call after the trade was officially announced. "I'm just excited to be able to work with a bunch of those guys, get to know them, see if we can get on the same page and have a good year."
Mathis has thrown out 24 percent of attempted basestealers during his six-year Major League career. His overall defensive abilities made him a favorite of Angels manager and former big league catcher Mike Scioscia.
Last season, Mathis led the Angels with 79 starts behind the plate and appeared in 93 games, during which time he tied for first among American League catchers with a career-best .995 fielding percentage. In Mathis' 375 career starts, the Angels won 216 games for a .576 winning percentage. The club's overall winning percentage in that period was .564.
It's the second time in less than a year that Toronto acquired a catcher from the Angels. In January, Mike Napoli was sent to the Blue Jays as part of the trade for Vernon Wells.
Napoli was dealt to the Rangers just four days later but Mathis is expecting his tenure in Toronto to last much longer. The native of Florida has already spoken to manager John Farrell and general manager Alex Anthopoulos about his role on the club, and looks forward to developing a relationship with the pitching staff when Spring Training opens in February.
"I like to tell them things that I see, and I also like them to ask me questions," said Mathis, who was deer hunting in northern Alabama when he heard about the trade. "I try to be as honest with them as I can -- but you have to get to know them and know how to handle guys. That's the biggest part of the catcher/pitcher relationship, is knowing how to go out there and approach different pitchers."
While Mathis has enjoyed a lot of success behind the plate, his production in the batter's box has been well-below average. The 28-year-old is a career .194 hitter, with a total of 26 home runs and 139 RBIs, and has posted a .257 on-base percentage in 426 games.
Mathis is eligible for salary arbitration and likely will make approximately $1.8 million in 2012, which made him a candidate to be non-tendered by the Angels.
Toronto also has top prospect Travis d'Arnaud waiting in the wings if Arencibia is forced to miss an extended period of time because of injury. But the club did not want to use d'Arnaud in a backup role at the big league level, and he likely will spend the vast majority of the 2012 season in Triple-A Las Vegas.
Mills' departure does not come as a major surprise since he did not appear to fit into the Blue Jays' long-term plans. The 26-year-old is 2-3 with an 8.57 ERA in 48 1/3 career innings in the Majors.
The Arizona native received a brief audition in Toronto's starting rotation in 2011, but struggled in four starts. Mills allowed 17 earned runs in 18 1/3 innings before being demoted to Triple-A and eventually settling into a role out of the bullpen.
Mills hasn't enjoyed much success in the big leagues, but he was Toronto's top pitcher in Triple-A this year. He went 11-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 24 starts and was named to a Minor League All-Star team for the second time in his career.
The 6-foot lefty was taken in the fourth-round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He is 36-28 with a 3.57 ERA in five seasons in the Minor Leagues.
The acquisition of Mathis means Anthopoulos can head to the Winter Meetings in Dallas on Monday with one less item on his to-do list. The Blue Jays continue to be in the market for a second baseman, a closer, and would like to add a frontline starting pitcher if the right fit becomes available.
The final pieces are still not in place, but Mathis is excited with what he sees so far. It will be his first opportunity to play with another organization since being taken in the supplemental round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.
"I enjoyed all of the time I was there, but I'm really excited about a new start, coming over to Toronto and really getting to know all of these guys and just win some ballgames," Mathis said.