The Los Angeles Angels will be paying Gary Matthews Jr. a total of $21.5 million during the next two years to play baseball for somebody else.
It’s strange, but true.
Matthews, 35, signed a 5-year contract worth $50 million with the Angels heading into the 2007 season, but it didn’t work out for either side. He hit only .250 with four homers as a spare outfielder this past season and asked to be traded. The Angels obliged, shipping him to the Mets for a relief pitcher named Brian Stokes.
Matthews is scheduled to make $23.5 million the next two years. As part of the deal, the Angels will pay him $21.5 million to play for someone else and the Mets will pay him the remaining $2 million to play for them. Both clubs think they made a good deal.
“You know, that’s part of the game,” Angels General Manager Tony Reagins told Perfect Game USA. “Obviously, you’re not excited about writing that type of check, but at the end of the day you have to look at what’s best for your club. And when we evaluated the whole process, we felt we were able to add an arm that could help us and get some cash back (the $2 million). It made sense to take the route that we took.”
Matthews hit .248 with 26 homers and 168 RBIs in three years with the Angels, hardly what they bargained for after he had a productive season for Texas in 2006 and signed with L.A. as a free agent. The Angels signed Torii Hunter to play center field in 2008 and added Bobby Abreau to play right field in 2009, leaving Matthews with only 316 at-bats this past season.
“Gary wanted to be traded. He wasn’t happy with his role in Anaheim,” said Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick. “He wasn’t a problem in the locker room or anything. He never voiced his opinion to any of the players; he was a happy guy in the locker room.
“He just wanted to play every day,” said Kendrick. “Nothing against anybody else, he just wanted to play. You can’t fault anybody for that, because we all want to play every day. So I think the Angels made the move that was best for them and best for him as a player.”
Reagins and Kendrick spoke with Perfect Game USA this past week when they were inducted into the Cedar Rapids Baseball Hall of Fame in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The Angels have made several key changes since losing to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series last season. John Lackey, one of their top pitchers, signed with Boston for $82.2 million over five years. Chone Figgins, their third baseman and leadoff hitter, signed with Seattle. And Vladimir Guerrero, an Angels star for many years who struggled with injuries last season, went to Texas. That left holes to fill, and the Angels think they have.
Los Angeles signed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui as their new designated hitter, replacing Guerrero. They got Joel Pineiro, who won 15 games with St. Louis, to replace Lackey in the starting rotation. And they’re ready to give Brandon Wood a chance to become the new third baseman. In addition, they think they’ve bolstered the bullpen with Scott Shields (back from knee surgery), Stokes and Fernando Rodney.
“A lot of change. Change is good,” said Reagins. “You know, you get accustomed to seeing the same faces … and once those faces change it’s a little tough. But we’ve been able to bring in some talented players that are going to be able to fill the roles that we think are important for us to get where we want to be. We lost a lot of good players, we brought a lot of good players in, and we think we’re in a good position.”
Wood, 24, has been in the Angels organization since 2003, waiting for his chance. Now it’s here.
“I know Brandon very well and I know what he’s capable of,” said Kendrick, who played with Woods at three stops in the minors. “He’s a very capable player. He’s getting an opportunity this year and hopefully he’ll make really good on it. I think he can get the job done.”
“He’ll have an opportunity to go out there and play, and play every day. I think that’s what a young ballplayer wants,” said Reagins. “He wants an opportunity to go out there and play. We know it’s in him. Now he has to go out there and prove it at the big-league level on the biggest stage in the world.
“He has the ability to be a very good major league player,” said Reagins. “Now he just has to go out there and do what he knows how to do.”
The Angels have proven players at every spot except third base, but Reagins does not think the hot corner is a question mark for his club.
“From the outside people will say, ‘Hey, you’ve got a young kid out there playing third base,’ but we had that situation with Howie (Kendrick), we had that situation with Erick Aybar (at shortstop), we had that situation with Kendry Morales (at first base), and all those guys came out fine,” he said. “So I expect Brandon Wood to follow suit and go out and perform. With us, we think we develop our players well, and sooner or later they have to get an opportunity. What they do with that opportunity is on the player.”
Reagins likes his club.
“We feel the club is strong,” he said. “And I have financial flexibility to add players if I need to, whether it be in spring training or at the trade deadline or during the season. So the makeup of the club may not be what you see right now, if we feel the need to go out and do something else.”