Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Mathis’ reign of terror is almost over. Jerry Dipoto looks to have pulled off his first move as Angels GM by getting the team a new slugging catcher:
So there it is. Chris Iannetta is now the primary Angel catcher and Jeff Mathis should soon be getting his non-tender papers. Hooray! On that upgrade alone, this deal is a winner.
Ironically, Iannetta is a catcher with very good power who draws a lot of walks. Remind you of someone? Yeah, I know, the Napoli jokes are tired but they are unavoidable right now. At least Dipoto had the foresight to remedy the problem that his predecessor created by dumping Napoli. However, that doesn’t mean Iannetta is the next Mike Napoli. For starters, Iannetta has a career .235 average and has struggled with consistency. More to the point though is that Iannetta has been less than impressive away from the thin air of Coors Field as exemplified by his Mathisian .587 road OPS last season. That means there is a risk that he won’t be the offensive savior some are already painting him to be. Still, even in his worst season in which he hit .197, Iannetta still posted a .310 OBP and .383 SLG. Meaning even when he sucks, he still gets on base and hits homers. So there is some risk, but not too much.
What Iannetta doesn’t have much of a risk of is falling into Scioscia’s doghouse because of his defense the way Napoli did. Iannetta may not inspire an over-the-top lovefest from Lyle Spencer with his defense, but Iannetta grades out as no worse than average behind the plate and possibly even pretty good. His arm is mediocre, but he gets good marks for all the other stuff (blocking pitchers, framing, etc.).
Now for the somewhat controversial part of the deal, giving up Tyler Chatwood. Opinions are already all over the place on him being traded for Iannetta (who appears to only be under team control for one year at about $3.6 million, though he has a team option for 2013 that may or may not void because of this trade). Prior to the 2011 season, Chatwood was the Angels top pitching prospect, but then he got rushed to the majors and stunk the joint up, really killing his perceived potential. Yes, he is very young and still possesses good stuff, but his performance has never been anything special aside from one season in Advanced-A ball. As a result, some Angel fans are bemoaning his loss since he could be pretty good someday, but several outsider opinions are grading this trade as a steal for the Angels because they think Chatwood will never amount to anything.
Best case scenario for the Angels is that Iannetta flourishes in a new environment, as he had been under a lot of pressure in Colorado to live up to his potential so a change of scenery could really help, and Chatwood never amounts to anything. Worst case scenario, Iannetta ends up not hitting in Anaheim and gets dumped after a year while Chatwood goes on to be a mid-rotation staple for the Rockies.
My money is this will be a lot closer to best case scenario for the Angels, though there is still one mitigating circumstance we haven’t discussed yet: Hank Conger. Does this mean the Angels are giving up on him? It very well could. Iannetta is good enough to catch 115+ games in a season, so Conger may not have a role in the majors this year. That means they could send Hank packing or just send him back to Triple-A to work on his defense and then challenge Iannetta in 2013. Or, since Iannetta mashes lefty but is more ordinary against righties, the switch-hitting Conger could platoon with Iannetta, though I find it hard to believe they gave up a prospect like Chatwood for a part-time player. We won’t know the answer to this part of the trade for awhile yet, but don’t be at all surprised if Conger’s name starts being prominently mentioned in trade rumors at the Winter Meetings.
In summary, this seems like a good deal for the Angels that will help them contend this season, but carries a small chance of making them look bad five years from now. Sounds like a risk worth taking to me, especially if it finally puts to an end all the Mathis and/or Napoli jokes.
CORRECTION: I remember incorrectly about Iannetta’s framing, he actually graded out poorly, so maybe his defense could become a bit of an issue for Scioscia.