Gary Matthews, Jr.: Should He Stay or Should He Go?


Hardly a week had gone by since the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were eliminated from the playoffs before they hit their first offseason obstacle.

His name is Gary Matthews, Jr.

In what will likely be an emotional and turbulent offseason for the Angels, who saw no less than three star players and several more reserves filing for free agency already, the team’s chief concern has become a bench player who is still under contract for two more years.

Perhaps, though, that is why Matthews chose to make his irritating move now.

The starting outfield for the Angels is already set, but the team did have three outfielders enter the free agent market this week in Vladimir Guerrero, Robb Quinlan, and Reggie Willits.

Guerrero may be offered a contract, but it likely won’t amount to much and expectation are that he’ll be flailing away for a new club next season.

Quinlan has been a fine reserve off the bench, but his defensive abilities are somewhat limited and the Angels have plenty of young talent coming down the outfield and infield pipes—where Quinlan serves as a backup.

As for Willits, he is out of minor league options this year. That means that, if the Angels were to re-sign him, he would have to make the Major League squad out of Spring Training or else be released.

Given the circumstances, and the number of prospects waiting in the Angels’ wings (too easy), we’ve probably seen the last of “Three-and-Two” Willits at the Big A.

It’s possible Matthews has taken a look at all of this and decided to strike while the iron was lukewarm, figuring he can for the Angels’ hand before the ink is dry on any new contracts.

Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, and the newly re-signed Bobby Abreu occupy the starting spots in the outfield, but the Angels have often forsaken a traditional designated hitter in favor of rotating a fourth outfielder in and out of the DH position, giving the starters a break on defensive.

If Matthews could accept that kind of a role, instead of a traditional starting spot in the field, the Angels could be sitting pretty come 2010.

His numbers weren’t stellar on offense, but many of his 50 RBI came in critical, late-inning situations where they either tied the score or put the Angels ahead. For a .250 hitter, he proved the difference in several tight games.

Unfortunately, ol’ GMJ seems to think himself too good for a rotating outfield role.

He has been demanding a starting job since Spring Training of last season and it looks like he won’t settle for anything less.

But Matthews fails to understand that baseball is not a democracy, it’s more like indentured servitude with a little capitalism thrown in for good measure. He has no more right to demand playing time from the Angels than I do.

His offensive production doesn’t support this prima donna attitude either.

Matthews had just 316 at-bats this year, but managed to strike out nearly 100 times while popping only four home runs, and while he did have some timely hits with runners in scoring position, it’s hardly enough to justify his incredulity.

Not to mention,  if he does indeed want to be traded, all of the whining and crying can only serve to hurt his image.

Teams will put up with a certain level of immaturity from players, as long as they produce. Jose Guillen and Milton Bradley are unconscionable pains wherever they play, but they still manage to play because they drive in runs.

Matthews doesn’t share that same level of talent with a bat and thus does not enjoy that same level of forgiveness from front offices.

Teams are also less likely to make a decent offer if they know a trade is coming out of necessity rather than desire.

If Matthews keeps running his mouth to the press about how unfair life is, the Angels will have fewer and ultimately less appealing trade options, and may ultimately be forced to keep him.

Considering the uncertainty of the future of the Angels’ bench and outfield in the years to come, it might behoove them to keep Matthews around for the duration of his contract. He has big league experience, is still an adequate defender, and runs the bases well—when he gets on.

However, if the Angels choose to trade him they need to do it quickly, and one destination stands out above the rest: Toronto.

Everyone and their mother’s agent knows the Toronto Blue Jays are going to entertain offers for ace right-hander Roy Halladay this offseason. The team brass was clearly upset about not moving him at the trade deadline last season, and showed it by firing the general manager.

The Angels were involved in those trade talks in July, and now they may be in need of another starting pitcher if John Lackey signs elsewhere.

They could offer Matthews, who would replace Alex Rios in left field, along with any two pitching prospects in the minors. If that’s not good enough, toss in Brandon Wood to replace Marco Scutaro at shortstop.

The Jays would be crazy not to take that deal, but if they decline, so what? The Angels can only stand to gain from making that offer, and lose nothing if it doesn’t work out.

Matthews doesn’t have to be moved the way Guillen did after the 2004 season. He can easily be worked into the Angels’ plans for next season, and since he is still under contract for two more years, the team isn’t worried about trading him to get some value before he becomes a free agent.

About the only thing they can’t do is bench him for another season. He is making far too much money to just rot away in the dugout.

Either play him in some sort of four-outfielder package, or trade him and unload that salary.