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Jeff Mathis signs with the Phillies

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Former Texas Ranger catcher Jeff Mathis has signed a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies

Texas Rangers v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Jeff Mathis, who turns 38 next month, seemingly was at the end of his major league career when his two year deal with the Texas Rangers wrapped up after the 2020 season. Mathis slashed .159/.212/.252 in 110 games over two seasons for the Rangers, bringing his career slash line to .194/.253/.300, and given his age and inability to hit, it seemed unlikely he’d be back for 2021.

But Mathis hasn’t retired yet — instead, he’s got a minor league deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that was announced earlier this week, but which I overlooked amidst all the power and weather drama we were dealing with. Phillies starter J.T. Realmuto has a broken thumb that is expected to sideline him for at least a couple of weeks, though given the nature of thumb problems it wouldn’t be shocking if he wasn’t ready to go to start the season. If he’s not, Mathis could end up making the roster.

Mathis, as Rangers fans well know, is legendary around baseball for his pitcher handling and game calling skills, and his abilities in that regard have allowed him to hang around for at least parts of 16 seasons despite never having an OPS+ of higher than 72 in a full season (he went 1 for 3 in 5 games in 2005, and so technically had an 81 OPS+ then). He may well defy the odds and spend some time on a major league roster in 2021.

The Phillies announcement earlier this week on non-roster invitees included some other names Rangers fans might take note of. Most prominently there is Neftali Feliz, one time wunderkind who has never been the same since his 2012 Tommy John surgery. He hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2017, when he put up a 5.48 ERA in 49 games between the Kansas City Royals and the Milwaukee Brewers, and hasn’t been with a major league team at all since becoming a free agent at the end of 2018 after spending the year in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ organization.

Feliz is still just 32 years old.

Also getting invites are Michael Ynoa, who you may remember was an extraordinarily highly touted J-2 signing of the Oakland A’s back in 2008, and who the Rangers supposedly offered more money to, only to have Ynoa eschew that and sign with Oakland. Given what we know now about how the international free agent market operates, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that the A’s already had a verbal agreement worked out with him, and I’ve always harbored the suspicion that missing out on Ynoa led the Rangers to get much more aggressive in how they pursued talent in the J-2 market.

In any case, Ynoa never really panned out, got traded to the Chicago White Sox after the 2014 season in the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija to Chicago and brought, among others, Marcus Semien to Oakland, and while he appeared in 45 games for Chicago in 2016-17, posting a 4.42 ERA in 59 innings, he hasn’t been in the big leagues since.

Also getting an invite is Travis Jankowski, former San Diego Padre first round pick who was the subject of much speculation for several years as a possible trade target for the Rangers, given that he was a quality defensive center fielder who would fit the Craig Gentry role the Rangers were looking to fill for quite a while after Gentry was dealt to Oakland. The Rangers have Eli White now, who I think they are hoping is the Poor Man’s Craig Gentry, but if you go and search LSB for “Jankowski” you’ll see quite a bit of discussion about him a few years ago.

And finally (not “finally” in the sense that these are the only players the Phillies gave NRIs to, but “finally” in the sense of guys I’m talking about here) there is Ivan Nova. The 34 year old Nova has been talked about as someone the Rangers might be interested in/should take a look at/maybe could get for almost as long as he’s been in the majors (he’s been in the majors since 2010, just so you know). He’s one of those guys I find myself thinking, wait, was he briefly a Ranger?, and is one of those players who it feels like will eventually wash up on the Rangers shores, like Pedro Astacio and Tyson Ross did.