Jerry Dipoto “checked off two boxes” on his winter to-do list with his first trade as Angels general manager Wednesday, adding catching depth and a player with a strong on-base percentage with his acquisition of Chris Iannetta from the Colorado Rockies.
But did he add another item by sending 21-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood to Colorado for Iannetta, a 28-year-old with a .357 on-base percentage in six big league seasons?
The Angels don’t have much depth beyond their big league rotation, and they parted with one of their top two pitching prospects in Chatwood, who struggled with his command in 2011 but showed much promise with his 95-mph fastball and big overhand curveball.
“Giving up Tyler wasn’t easy, but you have to give to get, and catching is very tough to come by,” Dipoto said. “If you’ve got [Jered] Weaver, [Dan] Haren, [Ervin] Santana, [Jerome] Williams and [Garrett] Richards, you’re not going in empty-handed. This was more reflective of how tough it is to find catching.”
Iannetta hit .238 with a .370 on-base percentage, 14 home runs, 55 runs batted in, 89 strikeouts and 70 walks in 112 games last season, and he should be a considerable offensive upgrade behind the plate over Jeff Mathis, who hit .174 with a .225 on-base percentage, three homers and 22 RBIs.
“It’s not often you can find a catcher who can help you [offensively], but he’s always had that skill set,” said Dipoto, the Rockies’ player personnel director in 2005, the year after Iannetta was drafted. “He’s always been a good OBP guy, and that was a motivating factor in the deal.”
Angels fans might not have Mathis to kick around much longer. A target of heavy criticism for his weak bat, Mathis is not expected to be tendered a contract by the Dec. 12 deadline, though Dipoto was noncommittal about Mathis’ future Wednesday.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Dipoto said.
Dipoto described Iannetta as “very solid” defensively, a player with “great makeup and leadership ability.” Iannetta threw out 30 of 100 base-stealers last season and has thrown out runners at a 25% clip throughout his career.
“At end of the day, this made a lot of sense because it answered a need at the big league level,” Dipoto said. “He fits in the clubhouse and brings a presence behind the plate that [Manager Mike] Scioscia will appreciate.”
Iannetta, who usually hit eighth for the Rockies, will make $3.55 million in 2012, and his contract includes a $5-million option for 2013 that he can void because of the trade.
“It’s a new situation, a new dynamic, and as time passes, I’m becoming more comfortable and really excited about this,” Iannetta said. “I’m looking forward to learning the American League and not hitting in front of the pitcher. That should be fun.”
Chatwood, rushed to the big leagues because of Joel Pineiro’s injury and Scott Kazmir’s ineffectiveness in April, went 6-11 with a 4.75 earned-run average in 25 starts, striking out 74 and walking 71 in 142 innings.
The former Redlands East Valley High star wobbled at times, but he also pitched several gems, including a seven-inning, no-run, four-hit win at the New York Mets on June 19 and a seven-inning, one-run, four-hit win at the Dodgers on June 25 in back-to-back starts.
“It was awesome coming up with the Angels and playing near home for the team that drafted me, and it’s definitely going to be hard leaving,” Chatwood said. “But it’s a business, and now I have to get ready to help the Rockies win games.”