When the Angels traded Mathis away to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitcher Brad Mills on Sunday, they completed a necessary two-step process to enhance the second-most important defensive position on the field—both at present and in the future.
In getting rid of Mathis, the Angels purged themselves of a career .194 hitter who hit just .174 in 2001 with three home runs and 22 RBI.
Doubtfully destined for a resilient mid-career revival, Mathis demonstrated his current strength is not as a primary catcher, but as a backstop or late defensive replacement instead.
Perhaps after several years as a backup catcher in Toronto—or any other city, if he happens to be traded again—Mathis will emerge as a true starter, but he was not the strong catcher the Angels were hoping for in the wake of Mike Napoli's trade out of Anaheim.
With the Angels already having placed Mathis in the primary starter's role and seeing him flounder since Napoli's departure, keeping and demoting Mathis to secondary status in 2012 would have been a poor move.
Even though the Angels will acquire a humdrum pitcher in Brad Mills (8.57 ERA over his past three seasons), the Angels win by placing their confidence in Hank Conger as the team's immediate backup catcher.
Just as Mathis' role increased upon Napoli's exit, Conger likewise moved up to the No. 2 slot in the Angels' depth chart for catchers.
With Iannetta in and Mathis out, Conger will remain at No. 2 in 2012, providing him consistency and peace of mind. The Angels would have done irreparable harm to Conger's MLB career had he been pushed back to No. 3 or demoted to Triple-A.
Though Conger performed better than Mathis in 2011, his numbers were still far below average—a .209 batting average with six home runs and 19 RBI. His on base percentage was just .282.
Still, Conger is only 22 years old and just as recently as 2010 had been considered the Angels' No. 2 overall prospect.
By sticking with Conger as their backup, the Angels have given Conger the freedom to continue to develop as a young ballplayer unimpeded by an overstocked bench or poor state of mind.
Even if Mills never takes the mound in 2012, the Angels have come away with a very successful trade by virtue of Mathis' eviction and Conger's reassurance.