Marlins interested in retaining vet Mathis
Backstop popular in clubhouse, serves as a mentor to Realmuto
MIAMI -- The Marlins are not expected to be extremely active on the free-agent market, but they've already expressed interest in retaining one of their most popular clubhouse veterans who is now on the market.
Miami is open to bringing back catcher Jeff Mathis, one of three players from the 2015 roster who is now a free agent.
President of baseball operations Michael Hill said the Marlins have already "reached out" to Mathis about re-signing. How quickly the two parties could complete a deal is unclear, because the 32-year-old is in a position to explore other possibilities.
Affordability shouldn't be an issue with Mathis, who made $1.5 million this year. The question is whether there will be a more attractive offer elsewhere, especially at a time that catching depth is thin. Since filling the backup-catcher role isn't necessarily a high priority for a number of clubs, establishing a value for Mathis may take some time, unless he is seeking a sure thing and agrees to a quick return.
Miami's other two free agents, infielders Don Kelly and Casey McGehee, are not expected back.
The Marlins acquired Mathis from the Blue Jays in 2012 as part of a 12-player trade. In his three seasons with Miami, he's emerged as a leader in the clubhouse and a mentor to young catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Mathis also earns praise from his teammates for his handling of the pitching staff.
The knock on Mathis is his offense. He batted .161 with a .214 on-base percentage in 103 plate appearances this season. And Mathis is a career .194/.254/.306 hitter in 11 seasons.
But Mathis' value isn't at the plate. It's in his defense, his ability to work with pitchers, his insight and his presence on the squad.
If Mathis does return, it would allow the Marlins to give catcher Tomas Telis more time to develop at Triple-A New Orleans. A switch-hitter, Telis was acquired from the Rangers in July as part of the Sam Dyson trade.
Like Telis, Realmuto is 24. It's doubtful Miami would carry two relatively inexperienced big league catchers, especially with some of the young pitchers on the staff.
Realmuto is one of the more athletic catchers in the National League. In 126 games in 2015, he hit .259/.290/.406. Realmuto added 21 doubles, seven triples and 10 home runs and drove in 47 runs.
Ideally, the Marlins would like a veteran to continue to help groom Realmuto.
Miami isn't expected to spend heavily in the open market. But if the Marlins trade center fielder Marcell Ozuna, Dexter Fowler, who impressed with the Cubs, could be a potential free-agent target.
The free-agent pitchers who could be in the mix to sign with Miami are lefty Scott Kazmir and right-handers Aaron Harang, Doug Fister, Kyle Kendrick, Colby Lewis and Tim Lincecum.