Jeff Mathis’ Angels career came to an end Saturday when the team traded the weak-hitting catcher to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Brad Mills, a 26-year-old left-hander who spent parts of the last three seasons in the big leagues.
Mathis, who hit .174 with three home runs and 22 runs batted in last season, became expendable when the Angels acquired catcher Chris Iannetta from the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.
Mills has a 2-3 record and 8.57 earned-run average in 14 big league appearances, nine of them starts. General Manager Jerry Dipoto did well to get something for Mathis, who had little trade value and was not expected to be tendered a contract by the Dec. 12 deadline.
Dipoto gave up promising 21-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood in the Iannetta trade, and the Angels don’t have much rotation depth beyond Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards will compete for spots, and the Angels are pursuing several starters, including C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, in free agency.
“I don’t know how the rest of the off-season will shape up, but Brad will come in and compete for a rotation spot,” Dipoto said. “Creating overall depth on the pitching staff is a primary focus, and we’re in a better position today than we were yesterday.”
Mills, a fourth-round pick out of the University of Arizona in 2007, was 11-9 with a 4.00 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 1571/3 innings at triple-A Las Vegas last season. His fastball tops out at about 90 mph and he has an above-average changeup and a good curve.
The athletic and agile Mathis has been one of baseball’s best defensive catchers since the Angels called him up in 2006, but he has been one of the game’s weakest hitters, with a career .194 average, .257 on-base percentage, 26 homers and 139 RBIs in 426 games.
Mathis was a frequent target of criticism among Angels fans. Compounding their frustration, Manager Mike Scioscia often played Mathis over power-hitting catcher Mike Napoli, who was traded last winter and then hit .320 with 30 homers and 75 RBIs to help the Texas Rangers reach the World Series.
But Mathis was a favorite of Angels pitchers, most of whom preferred to throw to him more than any other catcher, and his game-calling skills and overall defensive play were very good.