- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
After the Mets completed their trade for Gary Matthews Jr. on Friday, committing about $2.5 million and a middle reliever to land him, one talent evaluator dug into his team's scouting reports, wondering if maybe his general impression that Matthews was a player in decline was wrong.
The reports for his team were clear: Matthews is a player to be avoided. Slow bat. Declining range. And above all else, a player who wants to be a regular and will be an unhappy distraction in your clubhouse when he's not in the lineup every day.
Said an executive with another team of the Mets' efforts to acquire Matthews, which have been extensive, including the discussion of one possible four-team deal this winter: "Baffling."
The Angels signed Matthews to a five-year, $50 million deal after he had a strong 2006 season, in which he reached career highs in batting average (.313), homers (19) and OPS (.866). It wasn't long after that Matthews was linked, with intense scrutiny, to past acquisition of human growth hormone.
His OPS the past three seasons: .742, .675 and .697; the last number ranked 90th among 104 outfielders with at least 300 plate appearances. His slugging percentage of .361 ranked 96th among 104 outfielders with at least 300 plate appearances. He is now 35 years old.
The Mets are seeing something in him that other teams are not seeing -- especially the Angels, who also have a need for an extra outfielder but essentially ate $21.5 million just to get Matthews off their team.
I asked a scout with a team not involved in this deal for his observations on Matthews' play. His response:
"I still see Matthews as an expensive extra outfielder. The Angels knew they were fooled by his Texas numbers before they went after Hunter. He should still be able to play center field while Beltran is out, but he hasn't shown any sock since he was outed for receiving shipments of HGH a couple years ago. His bat has been dragging through the zone the last couple years. Nevertheless, he should benefit from getting more consistent at-bats in NY than he had been getting in Anaheim."
His defense? Well, Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information sent along his year-by-year UZR/150 ratings from FanGraphs. Let's just say there's a trend in the numbers:
2002: 23.8 (1st among 107 outfielders with at least 500-plus innings)
2003: 6.6 (33rd of 105)
Some scouting reports on Gary Matthews Jr. aren't kind. He can't hit for average, can't hit for power and his defense is in a steep decline. Why did the Mets make this deal?